They’re a Teen and you’re a Tool

Remember when you knew everything – yea, me too. I was 17. Then years later, do you also remember how you felt when you learned just how little you actually knew at 17?  Yes, the teenage years – when the parental “godlike” image is shattered and your previously adorable offspring now look at you with contempt and wonder how you’ve managed to be this stupid and still survive this long.

The teen years are characterized by the continued move towards independence, the further establishment of peer groups and the desire for two things, responsibility (oddly enough) and sex (anyone surprised by that one), noted author Madeline Levine, in Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success. Let the emotional circus begin and you have a front row ticket to the show. But also remember each clumsy step along the way, represents a move towards maturity – well, we can hope. Levine notes that for kids between 15 and 18 that –

  • Teens are driven to behave in certain ways (including stupid ways) because there is a human drive towards independence (Levine, 147)
  • Many teens move from residual dependence to true independence; from self-centeredness to concern for others and from logical thinking to complex abstract and hypothetical thinking (if/then thinking helps them predict the consequences of actions), and from impulsively to thoughtfulness (Levine 148)
  • Self reflection is a big step forward – when your teen is “doing nothing,” but staring blandly into space on their bed, listening to music, he or she may just be quietly reflecting – this is when a lot of the creative work is being done (Levine, 151) – on a more cynical note, just a reminder that a parents’ first job is to appropriately monitor our kids safety so be sure that this “doing nothing,” and “staring into space” doesn’t involve bloodshot eyes and a roach clip.
  • In fact, the longer kids abstain from drugs, the less likely they are to develop a substance abuse problem (Levine 155)

Levine focuses much of her time on the discussion of sexuality. She notes that unfortunately, schools (and parents) are afraid to make sex attractive out of a misplaced concern they will be tacitly encouraging sexual activity (Levine 159). “Forget the idea that talking about sex would be ‘putting ideas’ into your teen’s head…[by high school] the ideas have long since set up camp.”

The average age for first sexual intercourse is between 16-17, which Levine notes is good because kids that age are more likely to use contraception (versus younger kids who aren’t as inclined or informed about its use). Most teens also say that their first sexual activity is unplanned and that virginity pledges typically are ineffective – however, those that take virginity pledges are actually less likely to use contraception (Levine 162). Levine says that the contraception conversation is probably the most important conversation parents can have with their teens (Levine 165). 

Parents should stress that sex is always a voluntary act and girls in particular should not feel pressured into it. Keep the lines of communication open and remember that your teen is always aware of the invisible “audience,” which is the expectations and behaviors of their peers.

Finally, the de-idealization of the parents is part of the process of autonomy – it’s an emotional and cognitive move away from the idealized parent of childhood and makes both independence and connection less conflicted; this move is part of the lessening of dependency and a move towards the teen becoming his or her own person. And frankly, they need to do that or else your “teen” will still be living with you when they’re 40.

Levine, Madeline. Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success. New York: Harper, 2012. Print.

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