The question I want everyone reading this article to think about, is this: How old were you when you started to become who you are today? I think a common consensus is the ages between 14 and 18. While there are isolated incidents that shape you in a great way, before 13 or after 19, the teenage years are the most formative years of one’s life. They are the most turbulent of times, characterized by a lot of “teen angst” and indecisiveness and confusion, in general. Individuals are supposed to make decisions for their futures when they barely understand what is going on in their lives, let alone what they want from it, or what is right or wrong in a more blanket sense of things.
Despite all of this, there are several decisions that teenagers have to take. They have to start planning the rest of their life at the age of 16 when they have to decide on a college and a stream. They have to choose friends and learn to let go of people and shape how their social circle looks like. They have to decide who they want to become, how they want to react in social settings, and how they want to grow as individuals. All of this, when you are a teenager. For all these reasons, while early childhood is the most essential in physiological development, teenage (or adolescence) is the most important when it comes to personal development. However, do we make the choices for ourselves when it comes to our formative years?
As an individual who has just come out of his teens recently, I started musing over how I spent my years, and how I made these critical choices for myself. For a majority of the time, I think I relied quite a bit on my parents and other adults for guidance, even though I ended up resenting it most of the time. When I was in my early teens, I think certain phrases used to set me off. “It is just a phase”. “You will learn to live with it”. “You haven’t seen the world yet”. “ Don’t stress about things which aren’t going to matter in the long run”. I think the one which angered me the most was the “You are too young to understand it, so let us decide”. The other day, while talking to my younger sister (who has just entered her teens), I stopped myself as I was about to say something along those lines. Point being, it has barely been a month or two, and I think I have already forgotten what I went through as a teenager, as most of us do.
I think while teenagers are not capable of making their choices, as a society we need to understand that we cannot take away their say about their futures. While my parents never really forced anything on me, there was always this “you have freedom as long as you operate within the rules of the house” vibe. The thing is, I had to recognise that what I got was more lenient than most other children get with their households. So many of my friends were forced into getting into medical and engineering fields. What they wanted was never considered.
I think this is where the first distinction has to be drawn: Advice strongly, but never command. Everyone, including the teenagers themselves, know that they are not mature enough or worldly-wise enough to make decisions of such gravity, by themselves. However, while they will want to come to you for advice, they won’t: the reason being the unparalleled ego of youth, coupled with their rebellious streak. When, on top of this, you try to control their choices, even if they know you are doing the right thing or doing what you think is the right thing, their brain automates a simple response: No. The question then, remains this: How do I get around this and help him/her?
The answer is not an easy one. There is nothing more complex than the mind of a teenager. What you have to understand is that the teenager wants to do what is best for him/her. The best way to help them is to develop a good friendly dynamic with them since their childhoods, to ensure that your dynamic is healthy enough for them to approach you themselves. However, even if you do not have such a bond, there are still ways to circumvent the defence mechanisms of a teen:
- Make them feel safe
- Actively listen to them, and let them know that you are
- Do not dismiss their problems as immature or naïve
- List down all the options and let them know that the choice is still with them
- Engage in a conversation, do not let it be a one-sided lecture
- Respect their views. Do not fail to take into account what they think just because they are younger.
A very important thing to remember is: Let them fail. If there is one thing which I remember from my teenage days, it is that while I learned a great deal from my parents, and my teachers, the most important lessons I learned were from my failures. I used to be a straight-A student before tenth grade started. As a result of slacking off, I did badly in the tenth-grade midterms. I think that one particular failure was one that spurred me to never slack academically. If I hadn’t failed then, I doubt I would’ve come off with the score in my board exams which I did. That is just one of several instances. I think all of need to go through these certain failures, and remember how those failures make you feel, to help you learn from them. No matter how hard you try, these failures are inevitable, and we all face them.
Lastly, a very important thing to remember is: Never take them for granted. I don’t know whether it is India specific, or all over the world, but age is often the reason most people just assume complete and utter respect will be given to them. Not just respect but also assume a problematic almost subservience which the younger person will be under. Be careful that you don’t do this. It is a sure-shot way to keep the teen on the edge and completely cancel out whatever advice you might give after that.
I think every teenager has their thresholds and their ways in which they should be approached, but these are just a few blanket things that must be kept in mind while trying to reach and help your teenage children or friends.