Thank God there are several buffer years between being a teen and parenting one. Our brains need time to finish developing before we have to take on teen challenges all over again. Unfortunately, in those gap years when we’re finishing school, getting married, starting our careers, and parenting babies, toddlers, and young kids, we can forget how hard it is to be a teenager. Add to that the fact that being a teen today is so different from the way it was 20 years ago and it’s easy to see why we get gray hair around the same time our kids reach this age.
No matter how your teen expresses him or herself, the same five factors are at the core of most struggles parents have with teens. These are five things that most every kid deals with, they just manifest in different ways – fights with siblings, eye rolls, rebelling. In the immortal words of G.I. Joe, knowing is half the battle, so whether you have a kid who’s in the throes of teen challenges or you are counting down the days till you have a teen in your house, here are 5 things that explain why teens struggle. Keeping them in mind will help you show more empathy and compassion to your child.
1. Physical Challenges
A natural part of growing up is growing physically. Teen boys develop deeper voices, body odor, and facial hair. Teen girls develop breasts, a menstruation cycle, and curvier hips. We all know this! It happened to us, but we tend to forget how it felt to have all these chemicals firing in our brains while we tried to figure out the new things our bodies were doing. While these physical changes can feel rapid and unwanted, it’s important to help your teen understand the significance of these changes on their path to adulthood. Never make fun of your child as their going through physical changes, just be a listening ear if they have questions and help them handle this most awkward of teen challenges with dignity.
2. Sexual Challenges
Every teen will experience sexual changes. For boys, the locker room will quickly become a place to compare their body types to other guys. Here they’ll struggle to feel adequate if their body doesn’t fit into our culture’s unrealistic standards. For girls, their period will quickly become a sensitive topic as they compare who’s gotten theirs and who hasn’t. (Not to mention the mood swings and drama that are sure to accompany these changes!) While we may feel limited in this season of our teen’s life, it’s vital that we take on the responsibility of answering any questions our teens may have about their changing bodies and sexual awareness. This means always being available to talk through tough topics—providing a safe environment for your teen to work through issues with your guidance.
3. Social Challenges
Young teens face extra challenges when they find themselves moving from the safe familiarity of elementary school to the intimidating hugeness of middle school. No longer the school’s “top dog,” your teen will suddenly feel insignificant. Part of our role as parents is to remind our teens to be confident in their identity and what they stand for.
Part of our role as parents is to remind our teens to be confident in their identity and what they stand for.
4. Religious Challenges
Growing up, most children simply believe what their parents believe. But as the teenage years come around, they begin questioning their religious identity. They ask themselves, Why do I believe this? Because my parents do? Or because I really think it to be true? When our teens doubt, our first reaction as parents may be to freak out. But I encourage you to instead talk through their doubts logically, give them insightful books to read, and ultimately pray that God would give them wisdom and clarity in their decision.
5. Moral Challenges
When children are young, their sense of right and wrong is concrete. For example, they know lying is bad and telling the truth is good. But as they develop into adolescents, their moral identity begins to become less black and white. They start questioning rules they’ve always abided by. The best reaction you can have? Instead of blindly forcing your own convictions onto your children, explain to them why you encourage and expect certain behaviors. This will help them better understand their moral identity.
What other challenges do you remember facing as a teen, or what is your own teenager or adolescent facing?