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Happy Days, Freaks and Geeks, True Life

May 10, 2013


Here we go again – in most parts, the end of school is imminent. My kids have less than 20 school days left.  It’s felt like a long spring, punctuated by chilly, damp weather and a longing to just be done with this year.  I’ve written about spring before and honestly, when I first considered this time of year this year, it felt a little wonky.

I zipped up my vest to my chin and  inhaled deeply, realizing my oldest will soon be a senior.  I smile as I reflect on how the transition to high school turned out to be remarkably smooth for my youngest.  I watch young children skittle down the sidewalk ahead of moms, chasing butterflies or racing up the steps to the bakery for a cookie while moms’ reminders fall  on deaf ears. I know later today my kids will take some downtime after school and then delve into homework and, of course, cruise the internet for school and leisure.  The contrast can between carefree skipping and the dogged pursuit of making it to the end of a high school year make me long for earlier springs.  Life seems more complex, more demanding, even for teenagers. But I know this is just the next step along their path and the same principles that helped us all through earlier years, still apply.

Many of us have idyllic images of teen years, thanks to Hollywood and popular culture.  My generation grew up on  Happy Days, and Family Ties  Subsequent generations had Freaks and Geeks and  Glee.  These media images are, of course, far more glorious and perfect than our actual high school life, yet many times we recall the “glory days” of high school or we expect that it’s an easy ride for today’s high schoolers.

It can be hard to see it for what it really is.  With the pressure of school, social life and trying to “become what thou art,” I’m not sure today’s teens feel their life is a rah-rah as some think it should be.   These kids  have a lot on them, no matter who they are, where they live or what they do. Even if they are lucky enough to live in middle class suburbia or city life, where all or most of their basic needs met, I’d argue that the cumulative demands on today’s teens exceed what any of us experienced. Honestly, it makes me a little sad that some are living with such pressure on them at an early age, with decades more on the horizon and a future job market/climate  which nobody can really define yet.

On the other hand, it gives teens a glimpse into what lies ahead and how they will want to manage life on their own. How they’ll juggle multiple demands? Decide when to log in and log off? How to advocate for themselves and others? How to ask for help?  How to fail? How to laugh?  How to learn? How to figure out what and who they really love?

For adults, it can be challenging to help them see that this stage in life should  be a time of freedom, exploration, a robust social life for those who desire that, and a window into who we are and who we might become as we learn in the classroom and outside.  Little  that happens during this time defines them, places them in a box, or keeps them from pursuing what they love. More importantly, it lets adults show then how a healthy dose of optimism, sheer determination, and a growth mindset will help them rise above any challenge.

This is a time that should be full of opportunities and explorations allowing  each learn to do the work they are required to do so they can find the time to discover what makes them really excited and engaged. After all, that’s what adults eventually end up doing – finding a way to meet our obligations so that we can pursue our passions? If we are really lucky – and really deliberate – we find ways that the line between obligation and passion is blurred or nonexistent.  Many of our teens are caught straddling that line at a time when their bodies are rapidly changing and the demands and inputs are coming at them 24.7.  No wonder true life not as glossy as it is in Hollywood.

As I’ve tried to make sense of modern family life and understand these people who look adult but are not quite there yet, I’ve come to view teenage years as a variation on the toddler years.  It’s helped me empathize with them a bit more and also recognized when they continue to need clear boundaries and sometimes, a plain old reality check. They need food, rest, and clear boundaries now, just as they did when they were becoming bipeds.

As with yoga, riding the ocean swells of teen years requires strength and balance, an awareness of the surroundings and an ability to wait and watch when the ocean requires  self-control.  It also means having a solid foundation on which to teeter and balance.  Hopefully, the life experiences and lessons logged over the past decade or so provide some stability for both teens and parents.

Stop back next time to read how it’s possible to develop more empathy and perspective taking for teens.

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