Commentary by Kim Washam
Adolescence. If you have ever been an adolescent or perhaps have one living under your roof, that word conjures up many different emotions. Some may be good, some less than ideal to say the least.
Adolescence is a difficult developmental phase for those going through it, as well as those of us that are living with someone that is. It’s a time to figure out who we are, differentiate ourselves from our parents in order to figure out where they stop and we begin. This whole process can be emotionally taxing and downright exhausting.
Although it may not be apparent, adolescents need parents and mentors more now than ever as they navigate uncharted territories of who they are and what they are going to become. I like to describe adolescence as a time try on many different coats. I know I personally tried on the ‘skater’ coat (all you ’80s kids know what I’m talking about), a horse girl, a jock, a nerd, a boy crazy girl, an anti- boy crazy girl. It was all part of the process and I’m sure as maddening to watch as it was to live.
We need to remember a few things as we seek to support the adolescents in our lives:
- They need us even if they aren’t asking. Be available to them, ask questions and patiently listen for answers.
- Share our own struggles and try to help them normalize the stress and strains of what they are going through.
- Remember that if the coat your beloved adolescent is wearing today drives you crazy, hold on! They may change to another one soon. Openly resisting coats tends to lead to more pushback rather than connection.
- Don’t be afraid to have boundaries with adolescents. They need boundaries and relax when they know what they are.
- Be aware that if you were not allowed to try on ‘coats’ in your family system this may be especially difficult for you to watch.
- Make sure to find support in taking care of yourself as you help the adolescents in your life. In essence, put your own oxygen mask on before that of your neighbor.
Remember that adolescents are going about the very important business of growing up. They need our support, encouragement, honesty and sometimes discipline in order to end up the mature adult they can become.
Kim Washam is a licensed mental health counselor and a Zionsville resident. She works at Family Counseling Associates providing individual and couples therapy to late adolescent and adults. Learn more at www.fcahelp.com.