What’s your Inner Teenager telling you?
Even the most docile teenager, which I’d say I was (though my mom might put it otherwise), has a reactive streak, the impulse to reject or explode or “take things personally” that seems to come from nowhere.
It’s the reactivity of the teen that seems to get under the skin of their grown-ups. And the grown-up’s inner teenager jumps into the ring. Especially when there is an important, high-stakes task to be completed (college essay, anyone?) for which the full-grown adult feels ultimately responsible and maybe overly-invested.
Add to that the teen’s fluctuation between grandiose self-importance (feeling the center of the universe– because individuation sometimes requires laser focus) and tough plummets in self-esteem (feeling like the outcast of the universe–when someone’s comment sent you headlong into self-loathing) and you have a cocktail for colossal arguments.
The crux of the problem is with our own blind spots
Turns out the crux of the problems might lie not with the teen, but in getting their full-grown adults (guardians, parents, care-givers) to embrace their inner teenager– or rather, the inner truths that having a teenager around can force us to face.
Some of the interpersonal conflict teens are blamed for might actually come from adults needing to be more introspective and honest about our feelings about our lives. In other words, you teens are smart, and onto something we full-grown adults just might need some of. Our discoveries could and should happen in tandem.
Cutting-edge Neuroscience Says So!
Luckily, smart neuroscientists and psychologists like Dr. Dan Siegel are doing some radical investigation of the teen brain. And what we’re learning not only redeems (yup!) some of these behaviors, but let’s us know that the reason for the adults getting so triggered lies as much with their own sense of self as with the teen’s ___________ (fill in the blank– insolence, mood swings, brashness, experimentation).
So, you heard it here– look at your life. That’s what we do every day at Essay Intensive– it’s not always pretty, but it’s always worthy. And no one is exempt from the fruits of this task, even if you long ago forgot the topic of your college essay.
Look at the state of your mind and your life.
Here are some links to Dr. Siegel’s work to get you started (after all, he’s a doctor, so he’s got the creds to tell you about optimal health, no?).
This is what a teen must do in the process of applying to college– state his or her values, try to understand how his or her unique self operates, ticks, and thrives– but also to reassess past goals as they line up with future goals.
It’s a threshold. And on thresholds, something is gained but something else must be left behind.
And so, adults, to keep abreast, we would ask that you put yourself through this same process. Re-evaluate your life. Look at the state of your mind.
Of course, no one will make us do this. There are plenty of people who never engage with methods for increased self-awareness and still lead decent happy-enough lives. So it’s a choice, but our bias is to choose to look.
Socrates Wasn’t Playing
Because Socrates wasn’t playing when he said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” His words (from his death-trial!) were bad-ass enough that they are quoted millennia later. Why? There is so much to be gained, refreshed, reignited in this process. And if teens crave a feeling of being alive at all costs, why shouldn’t we all?
To “examine,” you don’t have to tear your life apart coldly, or throw out the baby with the bathwater (OK, definitely don’t do that!). And this “looking” doesn’t have to be a massive, destabilizing project, distracting you from all other competing responsibilities until you nail the issues. Instead, it can be a small daily investment in honoring your inner teenager and your autonomy in your life.
Asking Tough Questions
Dan Siegel and others are discovering that it is OUR stuff (adults! Grownups! Pay Attention!) that can make it hard for us to connect to our teens. These questions will help us see:
- Have you long since lost a spirit of discovery in your life?
- The urge to reject what isn’t working because, well, adulthood means compromise?
- Have you stopped connecting to your peers in meaningful ways?
- Have you accepted something unacceptable from your family of origin’s inheritance?
What is bugging you is (or might be) you, they say. Gently but clearly.
So, adults, we urge you thus: carve out a quiet moment, even if, like us, that has to be at 5AM, before the onslaught of crappy diapers and scattered toys and tax forms, and do the following.
Write it Out
Take out a piece of real paper from a real tree, and a pen that won’t give you ink problems, and start writing about your life.
- What is, really, alive in your days (or your nights)?
- What matters to you? What have you given up on?
- What inside you is still radical, longing to know something new and true?
- What structures have you clung to out of necessity, but with the unmistakable flavor of resentment, the cloying feeling of a mismatch?
Write until you feel the feeling of truth in your bones (if you’ve never felt that, check out this post). And do this every day for a few days. See if, using this free-writing technique with which we advise students to start their college essays, something newer and truer emerges. Also, see if, from this, you can relate better to the struggle teens face writing their college essays in a “genuine” voice– it’s easy to accidentally bullshit ourselves, isn’t it, lest we have to face unpleasant truths and change.
But the spirit of this endeavor IS change. Change in circumstance, change in goals, change in one’s self of oneself to be bigger, better, and truer.
Join us to find out more about writing our way to the refreshing truth. We have new programs tailored to adults we want to tell you about. Teens, feel free to send them our way while you are busy writing your college essays.
Wondering about the featured picture? That’s my husband teaching teens self-defense in our writing workshops. Because kicking-ass in your essays requires your full bodied engagement.