Outgrowing Teenage Rebellion — kids will be kids, but mostly our world suffers when the kids refuse to grow up. Or when the parents don’t want them to.
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I find it interesting, hanging out with teenagers. The more I look, the more all sorts of patterns emerge.
To wit: The palpable weirdness of the typical teen is a result of their attempt to fight against their cultural and tribal conditioning.
The problem is, they have no tools for the battle.
Let’s think about this for a minute, because it fits in to what we were talking about last week — the bit about making “giant motes.”
We make mountains out of molehills precisely because we consider the “molehill” situation to be important.
And then, we either
- give up, (because “it’s just too big to handle,”) or
- rebel, (we act like a screaming, tantrum‑y child.)
If, on the other hand, if we dealt with the issue by dealing with ourselves… well, we’d have to own our adulthood, and for many, that’s way too much self-responsibility.
As to the “no tools” bit… Kids from 0 to 6 or so learn a ton — they learn more in the first 6 years than they will for the rest of their lives, quantity-wise.
However, the “stuff” they are learning is taken in “whole.” This is because they have nothing to compare it to or judge it against. They simply accept it as “true.”
The implications of this are enormous.
This is why tribal information and beliefs are so hard to dislodge. We learned those things when we we were too young and inexperienced to evaluate them… questioning the beliefs’ validity was not possible.
Because, to say it again, we had nothing to compare the data to. We accepted its validity without a clue that this was what we were doing.
A similar thing happens when we become teens. The “adolescence project” is” moving from a dependent kid to an independent adult. However, and here’s the kicker, we once again have to do it without any tools.
Adolescents are attempting to act like adults without any previous adult experience. All they have to go on is what they see other adults doing.
They may want to be treated as an adult. Wanting does not make them one.
When it comes to learning to “adult,” none of us really had a clue.
So, without experience or training, most teens simply founder along, stumbling into a semblance of adulthood. Doesn’t work very well, but that’s what happens… and society reaps the consequences.
As the century goes on, though, I’m seeing fewer and fewer actual adults. Oh, I see 50 year old victims. I see middle aged parents trying desperately to manipulate their teens into “behaving.” I see adults having temper tantrums, losing control, and whining about how hard it is to grow up.
Which simply makes the transition to adulthood incrementally more difficult for their teens. Because, remember, teens do not innately know how to be adults. They learn from their increasingly inept, “never quite grown up” parents.
Most teens chose one of two methods of becoming adults — compliance or rebellion. To this I dedicate the rest of this article.
Let me provide an illustration or two. I’ll give you both sides of the coin — teen compliance and teen rebellion.
Compliance — One former client typified compliance — she’d do anything to avoid conflict — she became an expert on pouring oil on troubled water.
Her dad had an alcohol problem, and my client decided, at age 13, to never cause her father any grief. She decided to be the perfect “good little girl” — these were her words.
She was a top student, she worked with disabled kids, she was a High School athlete. AND, practically every night she would listen as her dad ranted about how unfair his life was. During the tirades, her mom made herself scarce.
Finally, because her dad didn’t like tears, anger or overt displays of emotion, she learned to stuff her feelings and focus solely on making him feel better.
Her stress levels were amazingly high, but she kept adding stuff in as diversions. More work, more projects, more relationships. She was in therapy because she was heading off to University. While she saw this as finally escaping from dad, she also recognized that she was taking herself with her to University.
This is the kicker. Her method of becoming an adult had been to completely surrender her world-view to that of (whiny) others.
She (at age 13, for god’s sake) had made herself into the savior and salve of her parents. I think there’s nothing more pathetic than a parent who wants their kid to be the adult in the relationship, but many try it.
She had absorbed the belief that her role was having to put the needs of others before her own. She’d learned to work hard and be “perfect,” lest anyone else suffer.
Therapy was a way for her to look at her choices, and to make changes. Because otherwise, she’d work herself to death trying to make everything “OK” for the significant others in her life. And remember!!!, she’d made that life-choice at age 13!!
The “gift” her parents gave her? Without continual vigilance for the rest of her life, she was doomed to instinctively drop into this pattern. But she had an excuse… “What else can I do? It’s just the way I am.” Yikes.
Rebellion — There’s a lot of this these days. Teens refuse to cooperate, bag school, fail courses, scream and yell, violate curfew, and then do it all again the next day. The rebellion comes as the teen attempts to differentiate from his/her parents.
In rebellion, the differentiation is not thought out and logical. It is simply a “no.” Its fighting against the rules, traditions and directions of parents and society.
If it’s not encouraged or fought against, most teen rebellion eventually ends. So, interestingly, the best parental response is detached awareness.
When the teen is angry, abusive, yelling and screaming, he or she is caught in an ages-old dilemma. They want to be treated as an adult. They want respect, but are unwilling to earn it or give it.
If the parent tries to force compliance, the battle will be endless. The only real solution is for the parent to always be the adult. There can be consequences, but never punishments. There can be rules, but no physical enforcement. Not easy. But hey, someone has to be the adult.
People who become adults without outgrowing this version of the teen transition think that getting angry, throwing things, insisting on their way, and then expecting someone else to clean up their messes is mature behaviour. They constantly pick fights, refuse to accept personal responsibility and can find fault with anyone or anything.
I’m not big on blame, but I do blame the parents. The teen, remember, needed a role model, not someone to fight with.
Many people liked the last article. One person wrote:
The truth of the matter is that I can be productive only if I take good care of myself, therefore, I need to come first in order to be happy, healthy and fulfilled. I find that when I am not feeling well, I can quickly become an asshole with little or no provocation. I have to often made mountains out of molehills…Taking time for myself this morning has been the best thing I’ve done for a while, reading this e‑zine has helped me to see more clearly that life is only as complicated as I want to make it. The reality is that relating to people is a lot more fun and less stressful than trying to belong. Trying to belong means that I have to fit the mold of other people’s expectations, relating means that I am free to be myself and those I relate with are free to be themselves. It all makes too much sense; now all I need to do is to relax, and be me. Easier said than done!!! This will take some reshaping in order to break a life long pattern. At least I am seeing the big picture a whole lot differently now! Thanks for the work you put into these articles, it is much appreciated.
Yes, indeed and in spades. The “easy” route is to blame others, to stay stuck, to do what you always do. The “narrower” path is to let go of living one’s life in reaction to others and to choose a path of self-knowledge and self-understanding.
Many of the patterns that trip us up were chosen by us as teenagers, in response to the need to differentiate. Many of the ways we chose to do this necessary task were immature and downright stupid. Many of our attitudes regarding work, leisure, sex, our bodies and our self-worth were also adopted as teens. Most of them are immature and downright stupid. And we persist.
The way out is self-reflection and self-responsibility. Just because I decided something when I was 15 doesn’t mean I have to live it forever. I may have a strong pull to act a certain way, and I can equally pay attention, notice and make a better choice. Each and every time.
But not if I don’t pay attention — if I don’t look at what I am choosing and what I am doing.
This week, make the commitment to actually become an adult, as opposed to a whiny teenager. And then do it.