Surviving the "Frightening 14′s"
Raising a fourteen year old can be a “Frightening” experience to say the least… researchers, psychologists, physicians and educators will all tell you, the transition from 13-14 is often one of the most turbulent periods of any kids life. But, I’m happy to say…you don’t have to buy a taser or equip their rooms with padded walls & a matching straitjacket to survive it.
I’m not going to dive into the piles of research and social studies that point to the powerful and often negative influences impacting our kids today, but feel free to Google it for yourself. Fascinating stuff for sure. If you’re a family of faith and have a desire to not only survive this milestone age, but embrace it, I can only share my own personal parenting experience and encourage you to stay on the course you're on. It’s well worth the cost of a few sleepless nights and frequent adrenaline surges you're sure to enjoy along the way.
Bottom line is this, an average 14-year-old is in a temporary life crisis. They've just survived junior high, they have early insecurities and hormonal eruptions and they move quickly into the deeply cynical and insane pressures of a modern High School social structure. Those forces are relentlessly demanding. Our kids become desperate to assume and protect some kind of an acceptable identity for themselves or face the risk of being consumed alive. Add to that the pressures and fears that many Christian parents start to exert over these same 14-year-old's and you can begin to appreciate the Chernobyl like pressures building inside of their hearts and minds. No wonder they are looking to just hide, escape and withdraw. Even the wisest man who ever lived (Solomon) had trouble with this age group, he said it like this…
Proverbs 30: 18-19 (Msg) “Three things amaze me, no, four things I’ll never understand— how an eagle flies so high in the sky, how a snake glides over a rock, how a ship navigates the ocean, why adolescents act the way they do.
So don’t panic if they stop making sense… they very well may pull back from wanting anything to do with Church, avoid life-long friendships, ignore favorite hobbies, fade or jump radically into their interest in sports or social activities, isolate from family and for sure criticize the values and principles that you and I so deeply cherish… like Respect, Trust and Honesty. Sound familiar?
Parenting during this stage of "Frightening 14's" can be very intense and even dangerous if not monitored well. Occasionally it can involve significant depression, cutting or rapid changes in eating habits… (if so, get professional help) but overall it’s unavoidable! Our kids are going through the emotional and spiritual growth pains internally that their bodies are so obviously exhibiting externally. No surprise that they can be moody, irritable, unpredictable and insecure. Often alternating between hyper-activity and almost comatose like living, shifting their emotional gears as fast as their text messages are sent and received. Their behaviors can move from erratic to extreme and back to apathy in an hour.
You may engage a 14-year-old in a conversation at 9 am that seems completely ‘grown up” and responsible, with the illusion that your teen is finally “getting it” and acting like a proper and well-adjusted young man or woman should. Mere hours later it’s not uncommon to experience the full tempest of their instantaneous toddler’s temper tantrum when they arrive home from school and you casually decline their request to meet some friends at the movies… it’s enough to make you scratch your head and wonder which of you might need to be committed?
14-year-old's are cycling through their past-present and future personalities, opinions, ideas, values, beliefs and identities as quickly as most of us flip the channels on our satellite dishes. If we allow ourselves to live from a place of fear and “reaction” to their often ridiculous behaviors and forget to maintain the perspectives of an adult in the moment, we can find ourselves in deep deep water very fast.
Here are six principles that I've found to be helpful with parenting a 14-year-old…
1- This too shall pass (but it may require you to be unpopular for a time)
2- Maintain the healthy atmosphere of your home. The course (rules, beliefs and values) you've charted for your home doesn't need to be re-directed just because it’s being challenged by the mind-bending logic that only a 14-year-old can contrive or understand.
3- Hold them accountable… Stay consistent, NO MATTER WHAT. If you believe in grounding, or removing “distracting” electronic items or privileges from their inventory of life stuff, then stick with it. Be consistent above all else.
4- Don’t loose your cool. If you do, own it… apologize and then re-establish the rules regardless of their taunts or efforts to undermine your authority to enforce it.
5- Don’t do this alone. Engage your community of faith, friends, family and focus your full spiritual activities as needed, into understanding the issues deep in the heart of your child’s behaviors… Don't assume you can project from your own past teen experiences as an accurate “insight” into their current situation. Pray and ask God to reveal the underlying stuff so it can be resolved.
6- Don’t let them date. It’s too early
In the end… I believe 14-year-olds just really, desperately want and need to know that you truly LOVE them. They want to be reined in, held to the rules, given safe boundaries and generally protected from themselves. They just don’t know it yet !
In my experience…by the time they hit sixteen, they will begin to reflect back and understand better the significant level of commitment and love you've shown to them as parents. By holding to your principles as pre-teens and 14-year-olds… your efforts very well may have won the cultural battle for their hearts.
They may not agree with all you believe yet, but their level of respect and trust will be established deep enough for them to grow from and the future family dynamic will hold more peace and reconciliation than pain and separation. Of course there are exceptions to these principles, and some kids with abusive backgrounds, clinical depression and destructive behaviors may well need to see a counselor or physician to navigate this stage safely. If you have a serious concern, see your local pastor, priest or family doctor to sort those details out further.