We know so much more than we used about the teen brain and it’s fascinating! We have solid evidence which tells us why teens are impulsive, why they need to hear boundary messages repeatedly to learn, and why it’s so, so much fun for all of them to break rules.
Teens are not great at responsibility. They look mature, more mature than they ever have. Everyone seems to have noticed this. We keep hearing things like “They’re so grown-up these days!!” “So mature, so much earlier!” Well, here’s the thing – it seems they’re not as mature as we thought. They just look like they are.
Actually, the newest research shows that psychosocially, brains are now maturing later than we thought. That teenagers are now teenagers until as late as 25 … some say even 28… (sorry!!)
That means we can’t absolve ourselves of our “grown-up” job. We need to keep them safe, set boundaries, say that smallest yet hardest of all words – “NO”. And we need to say it a lot more often.
I watched a Facebook thread unravel last evening where people correctly pointed out that they (we) too behaved poorly as teens. I definitely did. Some of you were with me! We were, one might say, a bit… mad, yes. Does this mean we should throw our hands up in the air like helpless victims and say “ah sure we did the same” when we see teens behaving really, really badly? ( I mean reeeeeally badly)
We didn’t do the same as what this particular thread was about for starters. But I digress.
I want to issue a plea to all adults (note – not just parents!):
Even though it’s hard, and we’ll be unpopular, and uncool and annoying and old, we gotta say “no”. I’m betting your parents said no. Most of the fun around poor behaviour is either the risk of, or actually getting caught. My favourite stories from the misspent parts of my youth involve my mother despairing, her friends catching me smoking or drinking and threatening to tell her, being sent to the principals’ offices (yup – more than one) – the sheer exhilaration of it all was thrilling! Wasn’t it?
But if my mother, or any adult had supplied me with a slab of beer for me and my 15 or 16 year old buddies, or dropped me off to an area, let’s say just for example, that was a natural habitat for rare vulnerable nesting birds, where humans are not supposed to camp, or drink, or leave brand new tents and deck chairs burning, used drug paraphernalia and used tampons and used condoms (at least they were used…. #proudsexeducator) for other people to pick up, well, if she had done that I do wonder how I might have felt. I’m thinking about that a lot today.
If wouldn’t have been as much fun for starters…
I love working with teens more than any other age group (no offence to the older and younger!!) They have this amazing energy, even when it’s in chaos. So this is not an anti-teen post. Quite the opposite I suppose!
You and I probably know a lot of teens who are indeed wise beyond their years. Teens that would be, albeit secretly, appalled by the behaviour of some of their peers and equally appalled by the behaviour of some of the adults in their lives. These are not the teens I worry about. I worry about the ones who come into contact with adults who have poor boundaries. The teens who tell me they wish the adults around them were, well, crankier. And yes I know we can’t control who our teens come into contact with. All the more reason to be the loudest and strictest voice in their lives.
Did you know that not setting boundaries is harmful to teens both psychosocially and psychosexually?
I know that this harm is done unintentionally. It’s just hard to say “no” – we want the “quiet life”. I get that. But life will get a lot noisier and fast if the teen doesn’t hear about rules and consequences, and often. As in, ad nauseam, you’ll even bore yourself (It’s never too late to start by the way so please don’t despair! And please know that you can get help with this.)
Yes, we all did stupid stuff. Yes, some of it was illegal or simply poorly judged. But no, that does not make it Okay.
Because our job is to tell teens what is appropriate behaviour. Their job is to go ahead and do it anyway.
The point is that we must give them something to push against. They are learning all the time what our limits are, what is right, and what is wrong. They see everything – they learn from what they see and hear. If they hear us joke about drink or drugs or breaking COVID restrictions or whatever – they know we don’t take it seriously.
So in fairness, why should they?
If they see us litter the place “because there are no bins” then…of course they will too!! If they see us taking it home because it’s our rubbish, then waaay more likely they will do the same.
They need us to do this, to step up. It’s how it work across all species. Adults teach. Kids get annoyed and push. Adults feel crazy. Kids grow up and then the older and younger adults have a laugh and get nostalgic together about all the crazy stories. Because they still had fun – this is not about stopping fun!!
Then the young adults have kids and the older adult laugh even louder, sit back and say – “well now, good luck with that LOL!”.
And so it goes. It’s challenging, and great and awfully hard work. There is no harder job than raising a human being, and it does take a village. Parents aren’t supposed to work in isolation, it’s far too difficult and job for that. Everyone needs everyone else’s support. Not judgment or criticism. Just support and a sense of team.
When a teen goes beyond all reason and seriously breaks serious rules it is an opportunity to teach. If we throw our hands up saying “ah sure they’ll do it anyway”, it’s at our, but also, more importantly, it’s at their peril. And if we allow bad behaviour to continue, we will all, quick as a flash, be living in an out of control, filthy and unsafe society. Is that what you want? Ugh!
I don’t know a single adult who wants their kid to grow up to be the kind of adult that other people want to avoid.
So let’s help each other ‘adult’. It’ll be over soon enough, and it’ll be their turn. We can all sit back then and have a giggle together watching them deal with the unfolding chaos that is the sheer mess and gobsmacking beauty of normal parenting.
Photo credits: Pixabay stock
The one of me, the rubbish, and the mother and daughter (thank you Trish) by Cathal Noonan
The swans by Paul Power at Castlemartyr Resort, Cork , Ireland.