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Teenagers and Their Quest to Find Themselves

Your teen may be asking, "Who am I and do I love myself?"

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Teens have an uncanny ability to wake up one morning and be intensely interested in things they never knew existed before, let alone cared anything about. This is a natural outgrowth of their ongoing search to these questions in their lives:

Who am I? Do I love who I am? Who are you? Who am I to them?

As their allegiances shift, so do their interests. As they begin to perceive themselves as unique (in other words, separate from you) individuals, the whole world opens up to them. Perversely, one of their first stops along their journey can be one of the many places you've warned them not to go.

This searching could — and does — mean all sorts of behaviors, but it also encompasses values, attitudes, and opinions. One sure way for your teen to prove independence is to find a way to push against those things you've expressed value in over the years.

Teens are also adept at sensing and reacting against hypocrisy. Few things are as irritating to them as someone who pontificates publicly about one thing but does the opposite in private. Or people who demand teens follow one set of rules while giving themselves a pass. Teens aren't necessarily thrilled with rules, but they truly dislike double standards. They are reacting against a visceral realization of the vast amount of unfairness in the world; there's so much of it they can do nothing about, so they tend to be militant about the stuff they think can do something about, such as commenting and reacting against your hypocrisy.

When you couple this emergent sense of mission with personal realignment, together with the adolescent desire for peer connection and a systemic rejection of parental status quo, it's not strange that teens would regularly take up the banner of all sorts of causes and groups. Some of these causes can be more benign than others. It's one thing to become part of the group at school collecting blankets and shoes for the homeless; it's another thing to feel a connection to the disaffected within the drug culture. It's one thing to demand equal treatment under school policy for different demographic groups; it's another to join a gang.

Teens have not yet figured out the truth behind the statement "The enemy of my enemy may not be my friend." In a reaction against you or authority or rules or restrictions, teens may align themselves with others who feel the same way, thinking they are like minded. This is one of the most compelling draws of teens who gather together under the banner of drug use. What they fail to realize is that addicts have only one allegiance — and it's to the drugs, not to each other. There are groups that will take advantage of teens and promise a connection that is surface at best, and a lie at worst.

This is why you must remain a steadfast rock for your teenager. You must be and stay the parent. So many other allegiances change and shift, but family remains — once a parent, always a parent. This doesn't mean you'll always have the right to tell your kids what to do; it does mean you'll always have relationship from which to love your kids.

All teens will go off into the big, wide world as they journey to discover who they are. So be aware of where they go and whom they align themselves with. Don't be arbitrary and demanding unnecessarily, out of your own fear. At some point, you want your relationship strong enough that they'll know, no matter where they go, they can always find their way back home.

Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 35 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.