Now that I have a full-fledged teen in my house, I’ve been met with a lot of eye-rolling and shaking of heads, presumably because people think my life has become an endless series of arguments, moodiness, withdrawal, and temper tantrums.
Which it hasn’t.
In fact, our relationship with our teen-aged son is pretty much the same as it’s always been, except that now we can talk and joke about more complex ideas and issues.
In a word this prejudice against teens is ageism just as much as ageism against two-year-olds or the elderly, a culturally defined prejudice against a certain age group or phase of life that does not exist in the same way in most cultures of the world.
But it’s what our culture expects from teen-adult relationships.
Robert Epstein, Ph.D, and former editor-in-chief of “Psychology Today has written extensively on the subject of adolescence, calling it an unnecessary phase that, in western culture is fraught with depression, suicide, teen pregnancy, and alcohol abuse.
He says that individual genes and environmental history form the brain over time and if there was a teen brain problem in physiology, it would be a worldwide phenomenon.
But he says that social conditions and not any unique features in teens’ brains are the cause of teen turmoil, even though some claim that teens have a different kind of brain that makes them naturally incompetent and irresponsible.
Epstein believes that by infantizing our tweens and teens – artificially extending childhood past puberty – and not giving them authentic work that acknowledges their intelligence, we are making them angry and depressed and making it harder for them to recover from the psychological damage it imposes.
We blame teens for not respecting us or for not showing interest in the things that we think they should care about, while at the same time subjecting them to many more restrictions than adults. From not being able to use the washroom when they need to, to not being permitted to go through school hallways at certain periods of time, to being profiled for trouble-making at a higher rate – especially of course – boys of visible minorities, and more – we show that teens are irresponsible, immature, and untrustworthy.
It seems inevitable to me that if you’ve had your rights, interests, and intelligence overlooked and belittled, you are going to become angry, resentful, moody, depressed and rebellious – even suicidal.
Epstein says that in western cultures, teens and their parents have about 20 conflicts a week – a rate he says is tearing their relationships to shreds and hurting everyone. He says we should give young people authority over their lives and responsibility for their actions as soon as they are ready for it they – just as they do in other cultures.
Because from an evolutionary perspective, teens are at the peak of many of their intellectual and physical abilities including hearing, vision, reaction times, and memory. Historically they were expected to begin having families of their own at this phase of life or at least be given responsible roles in the family and community.
It makes me angry and sad to hear kids and adults make blanket statements about “teens” that are not only derogatory, but in my opinion, unkind and unfair.
We start out as parents with so much love and generosity and hope for our children’s happiness and somehow we can become jaded and disrespectful as they approach their teen years.
If we can be brave and give up the idea that we are the authority in all things and at the same time be genuinely open to our children challenging us, it will go a long way toward giving them the respect, generosity, and love they deserve, smoothing ruffled feathers, and giving them the tools to take flight as responsible adults in the world.