Please note up front that I am NOT writing this an expert in the field of teens and adolescents (far from it!).  I’m just a participant in this conversation sharing my thoughts, views, concerns and observations.  Your responses in return would be appreciated and welcomed.

This past week I’ve been reading the book Hurt 2.0 by Chap Clark.  He served as a substitute teacher in a public high school so that he could get into the world of adolescents.  The book Hurt is the result of his efforts.   The title seems to sum up his description of adolescents today. More specifically, he sees them as being “abandoned” by society, parents, school, family and even sports.  I do not agree with all his observations.  For instance, he portrays sports as having only a negative impact on today’s youth.  As a mom raising two boys, I could argue strongly for the many positive impacts I’ve seen sports have on our sons, other kids, and adults whose lives are good now because of sports when they were young.  However, Clark does pose many serious concerns and issues that do affect our nation’s teens and adolescents.

The reason I say both “teens and adolescents” is because adolescence today covers a larger age span than in the past.  In the past adolescence generally referred to those age 11-16.  Things are very different now.  Adolescence now can begin as early as 8 and is observed in young adults through their 20’s!   Why the change?  Children are physically maturing at much younger ages these days bringing on the earlier start of adolescence.  The end of adolescence is defined as being the time when a youth becomes an independent adult.  With more young people going to college instead of starting adult lives right out of high school (as in times past), their independent adulthood is being delayed.  Additionally, many young people aren’t becoming independent adults upon completion of college, extending their time of adolescence even more.  According to scholars, adolescence is now seen as beginning around 8-10 years of age and possibly  going as high as 30 years of age, depending on the individuals.  These changes have only taken place in the past 40 decades.  (For more about this, I suggest reading The Postmodern Life Cycle by Frederich Schweitzer.)

Do these changes in adolescence indicate good changes in our society or causes for concern?  What is causing such an early onset of adolescence?  Is it ok?   Then there’s the drastic change in the late dismissal from adolescence.  Scholars view the change as a result of our country sending more teens to college than ever.  Fewer are becoming independent adults as soon as they graduate from high school.  That, to me, seems like a good thing.  However, not all are going to college.  Some are remaining at home.  Others are graduating from college and returning home.  Remaining at home doesn’t have to indicate a continued dependence on parents or caregivers.  Many young adults are sensibly returning home for financial purposes, yet are living responisible adult lives.  However, many young adults today are delaying their independent adult lives by staying home longer than in previous generations.

My greatest concerns and curiosities concern young adolescents and teens and what their lives are like, sepcifically those in middle and high/upper school.  As mentioned above, Chap Clark reports that they’re showing signs as having been abandoned by society, parents, school, and family.  I see truth in much of what he says, and my heart breaks for the sentiments, hurts and sadness expressed anonymously by the teens he got to know.  On one hand, I feel concern for the ways that we as the outside forces have hurt or let down our young people.  On the other hand, as the parent of two boys, ages 12 and 17, I’m aware there’s always two sides to a story, and perhaps situations aren’t as bad for teens and adolescents as they often perceive them to be.  Yet, I also believe that people’s perceptions are their realities, whether their perceptions are correct or not.

Perception -vs- reality:  For example, a parent might tell their child that they’re tired of always having to ask the child to clean up their room.   The child hears the parent saying that the child can’t do anything right.  That’s not at all what the parent said, but it’s what the child processed in his/her mind, so that becomes the child’s reality.

Now there’s a communication problem.  The parent has just hurt and insult their child, but they have no idea this has occurred, because all the parent was trying to do was get the child to clean up their room without being asked to do so.  The child might respond with hurt feelings, anger, or withdrawal, and the parent has no clue what’s going on.

I share that as an example of why I agree with many of the concerns Clark shares, but am also mindful that situations might not be as tough as adolescents perceive them as being.

Regardless, the take-aways for adolescents of how they’re treated by the world around them can have great impact on their behaviors today.  The greatest concerns I have from this book are the examples “abandonment” (using Clark’s word) by parents and family.  We have become so busy, so caught up in our own lives, our own goals, and our own ideals for our kids, that without realizing it we’re looking right past our kids when we think we’re looking at them – and they can tell.  They notice if we’re taking the time to look them in the eyes when they talk to us and when we talk to them.  They can tell when we’re actively engaged in conversations and listening to them, and when we’re mindlessly nodding our heads as if we’re listening while we’re really tuned in to our work or whatever distraction is at hand. Are we aware of their concerns and struggles?  Do we keep them in mind and follow-up with them to see how things are going?  Do we ask how the math test went and really listen to their response, praising for the good and sharing concerns if they felt they had problems?

How many times this past week has my 12-year old accused me of not listening?  A few times we experienced the “perception -vs- reality” thing.  He got frustrated with me, but I was able to repeat the conversation assuring him I had been listening.

What about time spent with our kids?   It’s not enough to drop kids off at practices and show up at their events.  That supports their interests, which is a good thing, but watching our kids isn’t the same as spending time with our kids.  A wise older woman recently shared advice her mother had given her, “Don’t send your kids, take your kids.”  In other words, don’t be in the shipping business with your kids sending them here and there, be a part of what they do.

Watching tv:  It can be dead time with a child, or it can promote conversations about what you’re watching that leads to good entertainment shared together or the opportunity to talk about issues being observed.

Meals:  Are we eating meals together?  When we do, are we sharing conversation with each other?  Or are we just sharing space at the table while watching tv or busying ourselves with our phones, ipads, or computers?

Face time -vs- screen time:  Technology is a great thing, but it’s invading our family lives!  Parents are just as guilty as kids about spending hours of screen time and much less of face time with each other.

Teens today, according to Clark, find more support, encouragement, and acceptance from their friends than they do their parents and families.  Wow. As a parent, that hurts.  We love our kids, don’t we?  Yet many teens and adolescents are not feeling our love.  That hurts even more.  Why do they feel this way?  Clark cites many reasons, but the bottom line is that our kids aren’t getting the time and attention they want from us.

Teens also feel that when their parents do spend time with them, that parents are criticizing, not accepting them.   As parents, we have to be very careful to balance necessary discipline and correction with positive praise and affirmations.  When my son comes home from school, I need to look at him and see for myself how he seems to be doing and ask him about his day.  Often everything is ok.  When it’s not, I need to carefully listen to what he says.  He might complain about a teacher or situation he experienced that day.  I might not agree with his assessment, but I need to recognize and respect his frustration.  It’s only after having conversation where I’ve  shown my care and concerns for him, and tried to offer positive thoughts, that I’ll find the right time to remind him him about cleaning his room.  The worst thing I could do would be to address negative thoughts or situations as soon as he gets home, or else his take-away will be that all I ever do is criticize him, challenging his feelings of self-worth.  Eventually, this kind of situation drives the child to pull away from parents and family while finding security and affirmations of self-worth with peers, instead.

One thing I learned a long time ago when listening to a mother’s frustration with her daughter, was that we might not always agree with what’s upsetting our kids (especially when it’s us that upsets them), but we need to respect their feelings because their perception is their reality.  They might express anger towards us or someone else that seems unfair or undeserved, but the fact remains that they feel valid in their anger and we need to understand that.  An appropriate response would be to tell your child that you’re sorry  he/she feels that way (because you are sorry they’re so angry, aren’t you?)  Saying you’re sorry doesn’t admit fault or guilt on your part or force you to agree with them, but it does show you were listening, that you care, and that you validate their feelings – even if you don’t agree with them.  It’s not about who is right.  It’s about tuning into your child.  Once your child feels you have an understanding for them, you have a much better chance of moving forward in a positive and productive way.

Something I observed outside of Clark’s observations is that young people today are more purposeful in their time and interests than when I was growing up.  When today’s kids show up, they want their teachers, leaders, advisors, and parents to show up, too.  I’ve heard teens complain about teachers and leaders who waste their time in class or activities because they’re not challenging enough. I have to admit, these comments surprised me, especially since kids don’t always show on the outside that they feel this way on the inside.  From what I’ve heard expressed, kids show up ready to learn and have experiences, but adults let them down by not doing much or wasting their time together.  When this happens, the kids check out mentally and let their minds go on to other things, or they lose interest in those activities altogether.  I suspect they feel the same way about us as parents sometimes, too.  We owe it to our kids and society’s kids to show up and really be there for them.

Chap Clark described a lot of hurt and negativity in his book.  I agree that it’s there in our kids, our schools, and homes, but I also look at my kids,  their friends, their school, and their social involvements and see many good and positive things happening, too. Young people and their interests and accomplishments today are incredible! My purpose in sharing these things with you is to share information that shows adolescence today is very different from adolescence in recent decades; and to help make us all aware that although many teens and adolescents are happy, healthy young people, many others are suffering the effects of what Clark calls the “abandonment” of society, parents, school and family.  That means that all us are potentially part of the problem, but also that ALL of us can be part of the solution!  We all need to take a good look at the young people around us (especially those in our own homes!) and consider how we might be able to make a positive difference in their lives.

As stated above, your comments and responses would be appreciated. It would be great to learn from your experiences, obersavations and suggestions, too!  I would especially appreciate hearing from young people to learn how they feel about these things.   Comments here on the blog site would be great so others can benefit from them, too.  However, if you’d prefer to share privately, you can contact me at ReneeMyers@carolina.rr.com .

Blessings to all,

Renee