The Teenage Years: 10 Struggles Only a Teenager Understands
Ask any parent of teenagers and they’ll likely agree, parenting teens isn’t for the faint of heart. In fact, some days it can be hard as hell. But make no mistake about it, being a teenager is hard, too.
The teenage years are unquestionably the most awkward, challenging and frustrating years of a person’s life. And, as dedicated as we are as parents to support our kids through this tumultuous time in their lives, it’s amazing how we seem to have forgotten what it feels like to be a teenager.
In fact, in an informal poll of teenagers, nearly every teen agreed that as much as they love their parents, oftentimes, their parents just “don’t get” what they’re going through.
“Sometimes I need my parents to stop focusing on the small stuff that doesn’t matter – like my messy bedroom – and help me deal with the real struggles I face every single day.” ~ 16-year-old girl
So, parents, before we harp on our kids about their messy bedrooms or sleeping in until noon, let’s keep the more important things in mind.
The teenage years: Here are 10 very real struggles teenagers face every single day.
Being Stuck Between Childhood and Adulthood
They’re nearing the quasi-adult stage of their life and yet they still (quietly) enjoy Disney movies, Nerf guns and Silly String. Teenagers are basically little kids in grown-up bodies. Parents, (and seemingly everyone else), expect them to act all grown up and yet, deep down inside all they really want to do is go outside and play with their friends (figuratively and literally).
Sure, they’re fighting for their independence and they occasionally play the role of grown-up really well on their good days, most days they’re fighting an inner battle straddling childhood and adulthood.
Imagine waking up and feeling sad, angry or irritable and not really knowing why? As parents, we’re quick to complain about how moody our teenager is and how we have to walk on eggshells when we’re around them. But if we stopped to remember what it felt like to be a teenager, maybe we’d stop taking their behavior so personally and we’d be a little more patient and compassionate.
Dramatic behavior (within reason, of course) is a normal part of the teenage years in part due to sheer biology (i.e. hormonal shifts). And, quite often, they have a hard time controlling it. Their inner turmoil is compounded by the fact that they’re desperately trying to pull away from us – a necessary part of growing up – along with the fact that they’re on a massive quest to figure out who they are (which explains why one day they love meat and the next they’re a vegetarian or why one day they have normal hair and the next it’s pink).
Yes, mood swings are hard on parents, but they’re hard on our kids, too. And, they need to know we’re on their side even when their mood or behavior is less than pleasant.
There’s nothing worse for a teenager than waking up to a huge pimple the size of Mount Everest on their nose. And, of course, those nasty zits always seem to rear their ugly head just about the same time they’re supposed to stand up in front of the class and make a presentation or before a big dance they’ve been looking forward to for months. It’s an unpredictable, harsh reality that teenagers live with every single day – a reality that isn’t merely skin deep.
Even though they’re likely in the good company of a lot of their friends dealing with the same issue (more than 85 percent of teens deal with some form of acne), it can still impact the way our kids feel about themselves, their social life and even their emotional well-being. (Thankfully, acne treatment has come a long way since we were kids and there are plenty of remedies available to help kids combat acne issues: Acne 101: Your Teen’s Guide to Clear Skin.)
Parent Lectures (and Nagging)
As parents, our goal in life is to pass along every life lesson known to mankind – lessons that will ultimately keep our kids safe, grounded, and on the right path in life. But our well-intended words of advice, lectures and occasional nagging don’t necessarily come off as tender words of wisdom. To most teens, it’s like listening to nails on a chalkboard.
Sure, they know we mean well. They know we have their best interest at heart. They may even know we’re right. Still, it drives them nuts. (“Mooom! I get it… You don’t have to tell me 12 times!”)
They’ve reached the age where they feel they’ve gained enough knowledge and maturity to make decisions on their own and they don’t want anyone (especially their parents) telling them what to do or how to do it. Plus, in some teen’s eyes we’re “so old,” how could we possibly relate to what’s happening in their life, anyway?
Feeling Pressured (and Totally Clueless) About Their Future
The struggle is real. With each passing year, the pressure mounts as questions flood in from parents, teachers, counselors and coaches, “Have you decided where you want to go to college?” “What about your major? Any idea what you want to do with your life?”
They’re barely learning how to drive and getting the hang of making themselves a grilled cheese sandwich and before they know it, they’re feeling the pressure to make life-altering decisions – decisions they’re not prepared (and, in some cases, too scared) to make. It’s enough to make any teenager feel anxious and stressed out.
First Kiss, First Crush, First Heartbreak
Some parents might view their kid’s first kiss or first crush as “puppy love” and refer to their first heartbreak as a thorn of romance, but to teenagers, it’s a life-changing, gut-wrenchingly real emotion.
Tons of teens worry and wonder when they’ll have their first kiss, when they’ll go on their first date, (and with whom), whether their crush even knows they’re alive (if they have one), how to get their crush to notice them and when they’ll fall in love. They spend a ton of time thinking, daydreaming, talking, agonizing and over-thinking their “love life.” And, any parent who’s been through a heartbreak with their teen knows, it’s excruciatingly difficult for them.
Nearly every week your son or daughter seems to be dealing with another drama-ridden friend problem. Sparked by a host of different emotions including love, betrayal, anger and envy (among other things), some form of friend drama is the norm in most teen’s lives. Whether they choose to partake in it or not, it always seems to find a way to creep into their life.
While we might pass it off as “no big deal” petty problems, it really is a big deal in our kids’ world. Not only is it exhausting and distracting to deal with, sometimes it takes a turn toward outright bullying and if we’re not asking the right questions or paying attention, our teen could be left in the cold ill-equipped to handle it on their own.
Relentless Academic Pressure
Years ago, AP and Honors classes were the exception, not the norm. Today, the vast majority of high schoolers try to squeeze in as many AP and Honors classes as they possibly can to beef up their college resume.
Every single year the academic bar is raised leaving our kids no choice but to push themselves harder just to stay competitive and hopefully land a spot in a desired college. Of course, every parent wants their kid to excel academically so they get a strong foothold on their future, but pushing too hard has its share of repercussions – especially for kids who don’t thrive in a challenging academic environment. For some, the constant pressure is enough to trigger anxiety and depression.
Caring What Others Think
They care, but they don’t. They want to fit in, but they don’t. The teenage years are the only time in our kids’ lives when they’ll fight to fit in while trying to forge their own identity.
While we’re pounding it into their head that they shouldn’t care what their friends are doing, that they should follow their own path and that what others think or say about them on social media shouldn’t matter, they’re living a reality that screams it does matter. And, there’s a reason for that. They want to feel connected to and supported by others and nurture relationships based on common ground. Bottom line, no teen wants to feel alone on a limb.
According to one teenager, “I’m not a wimp because I care what others think. I care because it’s nice to belong. I’m slowly developing a relationship with myself so one day I won’t care as much.”
Peer Pressure on a Whole New Level
Just because we dealt with peer pressure when we were teens doesn’t mean we fully understand the social pressures that our kids are being pounded with day in and day out. With social media bringing a whole new level of peer pressure, it’s an entirely different ballgame from year’s past.
Not only are our kids being quietly urged to have a drink, vape, try drugs, sext and have sex, they’re being blatantly urged to shoot for perfection through social media platforms like Instagram that showcase a synthetic haze of realism that’s hard to compete with. The harsh reality is, it’s hard to avoid the social pressures that follow our kids throughout the teenage years and into young adulthood.
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Ask your teen! What’s the most challenging part about the teenage years? Share your comments below!