I did a lot of work with teenage girls before I became a mother. I was in my twenties. The reverb of adolescence was still ringing in my ears. Together with friends, I wrote some very honest, and consequently, very controversial, books for teenage girls, some of which really freaked out the parents of teenage girls. Now I’m the mother of a girl myself, and a boy who’s on the edge of tweenhood. They’re still little, but I can see the teenagers inside them, fighting for independence, demanding the right to their own point of view.
I might be particularly inclined to look for teenagery traits in my kids because of my background. But I don’t think it’s just me. I think the idea of the teenager is such a powerful one that it’s been spreading in both directions, creating both early and extended adolescence.
Maybe it’s a by-product of child-centered parenting (in an authoritarian household, it might take a child until actual adolescence to get up the nerve to speak his mind—now kids can feel freer to express themselves). Or maybe it’s all just a tool of the marketing machine. But parents no longer have the liberty of waiting until the teen years to think about the behaviors we associate with teenagehood.
The story is always that parents forget what it’s like to be a teenager by the time they have one. I always vowed to try not to do that, but maybe it’s just a switch that gets flipped when you need to become the adult in that dynamic. Which of course is important. But I do think it would be in our interest as parents to try to stay in touch with the feeling of adolescence so we can empathize with our kids when they start to act like teenagers, whether that happens ahead of or on schedule.
“Teenage” is a new movie about the invention of teenagers that just might help. See the trailer below.
photo: Marco Gomes/flickr