When children turn the corner from pre-teens to adolescents, it often seems as if the sunny nature of their earlier self falls behind dark clouds. Virtually overnight they appear to change from small beings who love life and adult company to larger, strange, moody beings who look at life through a glass darkly and despise adults. There are at least four reasons for this.
First, due to the rapidly developing emotional part of their brain, teenagers are often bored – not by life itself – but by the stuff adults want or allow them to do. Church, family dinners, working on the homecoming float, and other parent-sanctioned activities aren’t near as interesting as hanging with friends, driving around town, flirting with the outer edge of curfew, and looking for drama, action, or both.
Second, for the first time in their lives, they need to be special. Unfortunately, for the first time in their life, they often are not. In other words, just when teenagers need us to really understand and accept them, they confuse us and do and say a lot of stuff we reject. Another reason for this mismatch between their need to be special and our belief they are not is the way they see us. Where we once were their heroes and time with us was as good as time can be, they now think we are boring, stupid, and unfair. This does little to endear us to their needs.
Third, a huge conflict between their dependency on us and their desire to be independent emerges. Teenagers vividly imagine they could make it on their own if only we would get out of the way. Yet, they regularly need us for such things as rides, money for the mall, and signatures on important forms. They hate this.
Finally, there is puberty. Space limits what can be said here about this bane of their previously storied existence. For now, suffice it to say, puberty comes out of nowhere and disrupts everything. This disruption adds to their woes and, more importantly, contributes significantly to the condition of adolescence I call woe-is-me-nia. The good news is that, although woe-is-me-nia often masquerades as a true mental health problem, it is merely one of the temporary forms of adolescent insanity I have sketched in previous articles. It too shall pass.