Reframing Adolescence

"Raging hormones! Terrible judgment! Crazy mood swings!" How many times have you heard these terms used to describe teenagers? As a culture, we have a lot of negative perceptions of adolescence and all the challenges that the teen years can bring for both parents and teens themselves. What we don't hear as often is how incredibly rich and rewarding the teen years can be, including for the adults who love them. We get caught up in the frustration, the mistakes made, the seemingly unpredictable inconsistencies in mood, behavior and choices.

There are a lot of reasons for the risk-taking, reward-seeking behavior we tend to see in adolescents. Teenagers' brains are, in fact, different from adult brains in how they process information, respond to perceived risks and rewards, and manage emotional cues. But part of what makes the teenage years so full of wonder are these differences we, as adults, are so quick to malign. What if we paid attention to the upside as much as, or even more than, the potential downside?

Mary Elizabeth Williams, author and mom of tween and teen girls, recently wrote:

Teens can be the most amazing, interesting, curious, weird, hilarious, original, enthusiastic and challenging in the good way human beings you will ever meet. My life is exponentially richer and more rewarding because of the high schoolers in it. Teenagers write songs and design clothes and do volunteer work and have really good ideas. Also, they can do their own laundry and make their own lunch.

We couldn't agree more. The words we use have real power to shape the world around us. Imagine the impact we could have on teens' self-image, as well as parents' confidence in their teens, if we took care to use our words wisely.