The fact that teens go through a transition period is not at issue. We see it in our homes, on TV, at the mall. Just about everywhere we go, there are those teens, doing their very obvious transition thing! For many adults, this period is uncomfortable to witness. We may find it frightening, sad, or offensive. Some of us have the luxury of ignoring it, as we have no teens in our lives. But some of us have no choice; we are surrounded by Teen Spirit! Often we feel powerless to help; we’re busy, they’re scary, we feel incompetent, they refuse our offers. The truth is they DO need our help; how else are they to learn how to become happy and productive adults?
I’ve been playing with the Caterpillar-into-Butterfly analogy lately. The caterpillar/teen goes along, happily munching leaves, when nature calls for a change. The caterpillar/teen enters its own little world and is set apart from “society.” This period is a mystery to biologists but within this structure (the cocoon) nature is able to transform the fuzzy, prickly caterpillar/teen into a gorgeous butterfly/adult.
It’s a cute comparison, right? Notice, however that something doesn’t match up: where is the analogous cocoon when we’re talking about teens? Imagine a butterfly being formed outside the cocoon. It couldn’t happen. What safe structure is available for their delicate and dramatic transformation? If you take time to observe teens you notice that they are most passionate about their lives when they belong to a system. For some it’s a strong family system, for others it’s school or a sports team or a club or church group. Others may find their purpose and passion through the responsibilities of holding down a job. Unfortunately, when left to their own devices, and having few tools to cope with impending adulthood, teens will create their own structure to give them a sense of safety. Sadly, for some, a gang or drugs or having babies provides the structure they lack anywhere else.
How can parents create structure for their kids?
1.A strong sense of family is crucial. It doesn’t matter what the family looks like as long as there is a strong sense of unity and common purpose.
2.All children need to feel safe. For a child this means that their parents are dependable, trustworthy and consistent in their behavior. It means that, when making decisions that affect their children, parents take into account their kid’s particular physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and psychological needs and limitations as well as their strengths. It means that the parents get to be parents, even when it’s inconvenient or tiring or frightening and the kids get to be kids, even when it’s boring or “unfair” or restrictive.
3.To learn respect and compassion and kindness, kids need to see these demonstrated DAILY within their home. Love and acceptance should never (NEVER) be withheld. We may disapprove or despair of our child’s behavior (and administer an appropriate consequence or arrange for an intervention such as coaching or counseling) AND we still offer words of love and acceptance, for this is when our children probably need it the most.
Just as the caterpillar needs a structure to fulfill its destiny and complete its natural, even divine, transformation, so too a teen MUST have structure in order to fulfill his/her sacred life purpose. If a parent or other adult does not provide such structure during adolescence it can by pieced together by the wounded and healing adult later in life. Regardless, structure is imperative.
Copyright February 2008 Margit Crane
All Rights Reserved