Appreciating Stages of Growth
During adolescence, you will experience yet another fascinating stage in your child’s development. You will experience learning at a pace that is matched only during the first three years of life. Adolescents really are super learners. You will begin to see sophisticated senses of humor and hold in-depth conversations. You will be able to “wrestle” over politics and discuss values. You will get a glimpse into how your child will contribute to the world.
From the moment our children are born, they grab our hearts. There are challenging moments at every stage as well as immeasurable joys. If we are lucky, we forget the challenges of the past just as the positive memories are permanently stored. Remember, childbirth itself wasn’t so much fun. Neither were sleepless nights. Nor were the “no’s” of the twos or the escapes of the threes. But we celebrate births and stand in awe of our children’s growing vocabulary and awareness that they can choose their own journey. We appreciate the different stages of growth. We are “pro-development.”
Then come the developmental challenges of adolescence. This is the one phase which too many of us approach with universal dread. It’s not our fault. Society has unfairly and wrongly painted the teen years as a time of profound storm and stress. The messages are popularized in the media, emphasized in the news, and too often conveyed in the grocery line as your darling eleven-year-old lovingly rests her tilted head on your upper arm. The “helpful” person in front of you shares, “Get those hugs while you can. She’s going to become a monster you won’t recognize and may not like.” Your heart sinks and your stomach tightens. You are stressed and your child senses it. Just as importantly, your child has internalized the message, “I am entering the difficult years.” But you must come to see the messages are misinformed. These years offer so many things to appreciate! We must continue with our pro-development stance.
Appreciate Every Stage of Development
Every stage of development is a miracle to appreciate. Adolescence is a time of tremendous development and profound growth. You couldn’t stop it even if you wanted to. Neither can they. It is not a matter of choice. It is natural. It is wonderful. Our children mustn’t feel that they are somehow letting us down for growing. And yet, when they see us roll our eyes talking about teenagers or note our furrowed brows as we listen to “sage wisdom” from the fear-mongers, they worry about growing. They fear their development is somehow disappointing us.
Whether our children are four going on five, eight going on nine, or thirteen going on fourteen, they should know we celebrate their growth.
Some Temporary Challenges Unique to Adolescence
Indeed, there are some challenges unique to adolescence. These TEMPORARY bumps in the road make sense when we consider that they exist as part of development. Just as you endured sleepless nights during the first year of life, you’ll get through these set of challenges if you better understand why they occur. A few of these will be described in briefest terms here, but we will link to further explanations elsewhere.
- Adolescents can be emotional. This is because the part of their brain that experiences emotions fully is developing very rapidly. Ultimately, these same emotions when fully mature will be critical to empathy, to passion and compassion, and to healthy relationships.
- Adolescents may reject their parents, even act as though they hate us. Leaving a comfortable parental home seems like sheer craziness, and yet it is something every teen is destined to do. Leaving the home we grow up in to face a world largely on our own, may be the biggest developmental risk of our lifetime. The only way to prepare oneself to leave is to begin to imagine that you couldn’t stand another moment at home. Our children pull away because they must. When they act as though they can’t stand us, they do so because they love us so much it hurts.
- Adolescents tend to test – and sometimes push – limits. Adolescence is designed for seeking out new possibilities. It is the developmental phase where we must learn our strengths and limitations, discover how to fail and recover, and begin to imagine our larger role in the world. It is risk taking that allows us to do all of this. If we shut down these possibilities, we stifle growth. To disallow exploration (even if it were possible!) is to prevent learning. On the other hand, parenting means creating clear limits beyond which our children cannot stray. They may complain, but we aid their growth when we give them clear boundaries within which they are free to try new things.
- Adolescents seem particularly susceptible to peer influence. Peer influence can be scary, but it can also be a positive force in a teen’s life. Adolescents’ interest in their peers is a critical developmental step towards them being able to build communities, function at work, and ultimately settle into a relationship. No matter what you may hear, we know that peers never replace parents as the most trusted sources of information and guidance.
Understanding Changes in the Context of Development
When you understand each of these challenges and others, in the context of development, you’ll understand they are critical phases all children pass through on the journey to adulthood. Your child will have less internal conflict with all of the changes he is living through when he knows you celebrate his development and your presence is reliable. You’ll always be there to guide him – offering both love and boundaries.
Don’t Believe the Hype
Despite the hype, most kids do very well through adolescence.
My favorite age right now. Twenty-one years. I think just about all 21-year-olds are adorable. That’ll change when my favorite people, my girls, turn 22.
Every Stage of Development Offers Something to Appreciate
As your kids pass through every stage of development – each with its unique challenges – you’ll find there is more to love. The challenge for my girls right now is them figuring out what role they should take in society. In our family, this typically refers to getting a job, but it could be very different in yours. What do I love about it? I learn more about who my children really are every day. We have a growing friendship, as I genuinely enjoy their company and the rich, deep conversations we share. I’m still their dad – and during earlier stages of adolescence, they didn’t need a friend, they needed loving, occasionally firm, guidance. Now, a growing friendship – genuinely mutual enjoyment and sharing of life’s wisdom – is developmentally right on track. Adolescent challenges – what challenges?!? I don’t remember any (wink, wink).
Create a Community that Builds Adolescents
Young people need adults on their side. Want to create the best atmosphere for all children to develop into the adults who will hold together our communities? Then let’s all agree to be pro-development. Pass along this piece to family, friends, and community members so that we can, together, create the supportive, enriching environment teens need to develop into their best selves.