The psychologist G. Stanley Hall coined the phrase “storms and stress” to describe the intense interpersonal and intrapersonal turmoil that adolescents typically experience.
No longer children but not yet adults, adolescents are neither fully dependent on nor totally independent of their parents. One of the challenges of this in-between stage is around the task of identity formation. The teenage years are a time of experimentation with notions of “Who do I want to become?” and “How do I want to live my life?” Moreover, hormonal changes as they mature physically may cause many adolescents to experience mood and emotional swings. They may become more temperamental and impatient. They argue with their parents over staying out later and about pursuing certain activities in search of novelty and excitement.
When I recall my own adolescence, I felt rather ordinary and felt no need to be exceptional. This is perhaps one difference I see with today’s teenagers. Somehow, in a social media-soaked age, where we are the focus of cameras big and small, real or imaginary, many feel pressure to be exciting, engaging and certainly not lame or boring. Teenagers measure themselves constantly by tracking how many “followers” they have on social media. The ever-present, all-seeing eye of social media and the collective commentary of others can be very crushing.
In this article, I want to focus on how we can all try to make the teenage years less challenging. What about the role of parents? When our children encounter difficulties, many a parent will begin a soul-searching examination of whether they had somehow failed their children. Some may look to assigning blame to the like of negative influences of friends and the media, etc.
A good starting point for parents is to remember that no-one gets it right all the time. The task and demands of parenting are challenging; we do not have to be nor will ever be perfect. If we as parents are imperfect, so too will our children be imperfect. We all make mistakes; let us learn through them.
The second point is: Let us get the basics right. A parent’s core responsibility is to love and care for our children. Caring includes nurturing them with the right beliefs and values. This outweighs teaching them how to do well in school. Academic success is important but if children know that they are loved and valued for who they are rather than for what they achieve, then their sense of self-worth will not depend on their next success or accomplishment.
Finally, I mentioned that we ALL can contribute to making adolescence less stormy and stressful for our young. Whether a parent, a teacher, a concerned adult or a friend, we can all do our part to be more accepting and supportive. For instance, praise like “Good try!” or “Good effort!” can cheer on a struggling teenager. Also, we should not just recognise accomplishments in studies or sports but also in the domains of the arts or caring for others.
It is all about what we value. If we value material possessions, then we would tend to want to get ahead of others to amass more and more. But if we value our humanity, then all the more would we strive to make the world a more humane place. Surely, living more humanely will help everyone deal better with the storms and stress of life.
Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award, received in 2011, and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.