Every kid reaches that age where they struggle to discover who they really are. It is natural to the process of growing up. We stop defining ourselves by our family, and start defining ourselves by our friends. We naturally want to push the limits, push our bodies, and push the rules. During this time, our dreams and feelings are larger than life, and Oh-so-real. Parents often make the mistake of shrugging off the teenage years as a “faze” in which their kids are overcome by hormones. They often chuckle behind closed doors about the latest “teenage moment” and make their kids feel patronized and misunderstood. Parents long for the day that their teen’s hormone levels will normalize and they will have an adult on their hands instead of a large, moody child. Talking and listening to your teenager is the best thing you can do for them. As young adults, all we want is to be taken seriously, and to be heard. The teenage years are a beautiful, fragile time in which children become adults.
In a Fundamentalist Christian household, the teenage years can be a very different story. My parents didn’t want their daughters to grow up. Ever. We were trained to serve and submit from an early age. Pushing the limits was NEVER tolerated. Emotions were either irrelevant, or labeled as rebellion. As early as age 11, I remember having those “teenage moments” of huge emotion. Like every kid, I felt misunderstood and unjustly suppressed. Instead of being asked how I felt, or what was wrong, I was taught that my emotions were the manifestation of my sinful nature.
Tired and sore in all the wrong places? Laziness, Sloth.
Sad, depressed? = Bad Attitude, Selfishness.
Anger? = Rebellion.
Whenever I showed emotion, my mother would be disappointed. “this is isn’t the Sarah I know!” she would say. “who are you trying to imitate?” She wouldn’t let me see my friends anymore. Not even my cousins. Because I was “copying” them and not acting like the sweet happy daughter she knew. Instead of asking me what was wrong, or how I felt, she questioned my identity. As a teenager, I was already struggling to discover myself. She told me that she knew me better than anyone else. I tried so hard to be who she wanted me to be. How could she love someone who wasn’t her daughter anymore? I second guessed every word I said. I was paranoid that my motives were impure, that I was a copy cat, that I had no personality. I am still struggling to trust myself, all these years later.
I hated myself for not having total control over my sin nature. I started cutting myself. I picked apart shavers with a pair of tweezers and saved the individual razor blades. It was freeing to exercise this type of control. It was like bleeding out all my emotions so they could not cause me problems throughout the day. It was freeing, it was addicting, it was frightening. My body learned to crave punishment, and I learned to oblige. When growth spurts made me so hungry it hurt, I agonize over every bite I ate. I would stare for hours in the mirror, begging for the courage to deny myself these gluttonous urges. I cut myself again and again. For every extra bite, for every surge of anger, for every misplaced tear.
My parents were happy with me. I was showing self control. I was being their sweet compliant daughter again. My mother was happy to have me back. She thought she knew me so well. Thought she had encouraged me right back into the girl I used to be. But every conversation was tailored to please. I had no idea who I was anymore. I was a bloody, torn mess, buried under a hard shell called Self Control.
Parents, your children are going to change. Please let them. Don’t pretend to know them. Ask them questions, listen to them talk, and understand that their reality is just as important as your own. Don’t use the teenage identity crisis as an excuse to avoid meaningful conversation. You’re children will grow and change whether you want them to or not.
If you want to have any influence on the rest of their lives, embrace them for who they are.