"Essence" of Adolescence

At a stage now when my peers and I are in the thick of parenting, I forget, as I am trying to “adult,” that I was once a teenager.

In the past few years, in the company of teens in my work and in my personal life, I have found myself suddenly struck by euphemisms like “vintage” and “retro, as if some-how I have entered into this age bracket of urban slang that suddenly fits me.  Am I “too old to be considered modern, but not old enough to be considered antique?”, or am I “retro,” recently out of style with potential to make a comeback?  As I look at my questionable outfit choices this week, I am relieved that those teen times were much, much, more than the trending brand of jeans.

Like most teens in my generation, the common experience is that adolescence is a period when there is often a war raging between teen and parent (just…survive!).  At times there were experiences of isolation, secrecy, disconnection particularly related to those debates between generations about what is most important (studying? careers? stuff like cars and fashion? friends?).  Sometimes it was a push-and-pullback and protest of what we had a right to experience in our lives as teens.  But behind this seemingly powerful force of adolescence, the most common running thread is and was “…only if they really understood what is important to me…?”

Reflecting teen

Dan Siegel writes about the ESSENCE of adolescence as a challenging time that is also filled to the brim with opportunities for strengthening the brain in powerful ways. Teen brains seek out their needs for creativity, novelty, connection and emotions that have the potential to spark meaning and vitality into their lives.  These positive qualities and features that can be so vital at any life stage of our development, but sometimes lost in the midst of parenting chaos, stress, conflicts, despair and anxieties.

I appreciate more than ever how tough and scary that adolescent time is for parents. There are downsides to increased drive for rewards and intense emotions that needs sensitive navigation and safe boundaries.  But more so, I want to have those conversations about how we can somehow lessen that generational gap and create more space for connection, mutual understanding and respect of needs.  

When tuning into your teen or even your own “inner teen” self, try reflecting on these questions which remind us of the vital ESSENCE of adolescence.

ES: Emotional Spark – what emotions are they experiencing? what feelings serve to create meaning and vitality? what makes them laugh and cry? what feelings are the most intense?

SE: Social Engagement – what are the important connections they have at the moment? who will they need to support them with their journey through challenges?

N: Novelty – what stimulates their senses? what experiences spark enjoyment, reward and meaning?

CE: Creative Exploration – what thoughts fill their mind? what interests them? what ideas are they trying to explore or test out?

Teenagers having fun on roller coaster