Surviving (Your Child's) Adolescence

Welcome to the hard half of parenting

Adolescence and Giving Up What One is Good at Doing

Deciding to quit an activity of high accomplishment is a hard adolescent choice

Of course, all growing up requires giving up as old attachments are let go because they no longer satisfy or to make room for new involvements to occur.

In general, parents are prepared for this kind of change, having seen the child cast off younger enjoyments to redefine herself on older terms as an adolescent (past hobbies, toys, and entertainments cast away.) However, it gets complicated for them to just stand by when what their adolescent is quitting some activity that represents years of practice and personal investment that their daughter or son has now decided is over and done.

So they feel troubled when the teenager announces she or he is prepared to let go the outcome of years of hard earned accomplishment. “But what about the work you’ve put in, the friends you’ve made, the skills you’ve developed, and the opportunities ahead if you continue? Think about all you will be giving up?” At issue can be some longstanding activity of an artistic, athletic, social, technical, outdoor, academic, or service nature, for example.

Initially, what the teenager may be focused on is all the freedom gained from what is given up, from all one had to do, and freedom gained for now doing other things. Because a personal investment of long standing is at stake, lobbying for time to think seriously about this decision is often wise for parents to do to minimize the risk of a rash decision followed by regret.

“Why don’t you give it three months before deciding?” And if the teenager still insists on going forward with the choice to quit, parents can then advise keeping options open by cutting back, taking a break, and at least leaving the door open for a possible return if a change of heart occurs.

Usually, the young person is to some degree conflicted about throwing over a young lifetime’s achievement; that’s why this choice is not a fickle, but courageous one. Parents must remember that “loss of interest” is in fact about “loss,” and a painful one at that. Loss of a beloved activity can also entail loss of identity and standing, for example, of what one was known for doing and doing well. Give it up and now there is one less active source of self-esteem.

So there will ambivalent times for the teenager of missing what one had to do, of doubts one made the right decision, of fear that one has chosen wrong. This is why, it can also be important to encourage the young person, in the process of this difficult decision-making, to ask themselves the substitution question: “If I did give this up, what other activities of comparable value might I then try to put in its place?”

Then parents need to factor in what may be their loss as well. After all, if they have invested years of effort and resources and time in supporting the young person’s passion, even basking in the reflected glory of their daughter or son’s performance, or had future hopes based on what has been achieved so far, they have some giving up to do. Rather than feel disappointed, hurt, or even angry at what is being taken away, they are better served being grateful for what their adolescent and they have been given, that was not meant to last forever. Detachment parenting and another painful letting go strikes again.

Finally, when an adolescent quits a high investment activity, parents need to understand that the young person is not leaving empty handed. Everything put into the development of this accomplishment – the capacity for intense interest (even passion), the determination to keep at it, the willingness to practice, the self-sacrifice required, the cultivation of competence, and the power of self-discipline – have been developed to a high degree, and will be available for meeting further challenges when the young person feels the call.

As the young woman explained to her father who was having a sad time seeing her beloved sport set aside: “Oh Dad, if I was able to push myself to do well at this, I’ll be able to push myself hard at something else when the time comes.”

Having gained much from what development of her gift had to offer, now she was done. And despite the loss, she walked away a winner.

For more information about parenting adolescents, see my book, “SURVIVING YOUR CHILD’S ADOLESCENCE,” (Wiley, 2013.) Information at: www.carlpickhardt.com

Next week’s entry: Adolescence and Impatience

 

Carl Pickhardt, Ph.D., is a psychologist in Austin, Texas. His most recent books are: The Connected Father, The Future of Your Only Child, and Stop Screaming.

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