It sucks being a teenager. In my mid-50’s now, I can still remember the suckiness of it. Not all of it sucked to be sure. Loads of it was super fun, but there were definitely elements of it that sucked big time.
Things like the mind games teenagers play with each other. Being excluded from groups, welcomed back and then shunned again (rinse and repeat). Hormonal roller coasters. Limited freedom at a time when you’re just desperate to run your own race. Alcohol and drugs. Study pressure. Career choice pressure. Body stuff, boy stuff, girl stuff, what to wear on Saturday night — you name it. The struggle was real!
Why am I recollecting these far off distant developmental aches and pains now, when they had long been relegated to the decade that brought us disco and the Farrah Flick (the first time round!)?
It’s because I have a teenage son going through some of this stuff right now.
When he first started talking at a superficial level about his mates excluding him from certain things, and a girl in his drama class flirting with him, then finding out she (supposedly) has a boyfriend, I half listened and nodded benevolently, not truly connecting with the depth of his experience. Thinking ‘yeah yeah, you’ll get through it, now please take out the recycling’.
However, through this I realised that I was missing an opportunity. An opportunity to harness the wealth of my life experience to assist another. As an executive coach (and now a writer), I tune into the ‘experience’ of people daily to assist them in connecting with meaningful, achievable ways of improving their situations. How could I deny my son the same duty of care that I provide for my clients? And more importantly (my question was) Why was I?
I realised — after I sat with his laments and concerns — that in order to do so, required me to go back to a time when things weren’t simple (not that they are now), to a time when the ambiguity and uncertainty of being propelled forward in life without much of a map and a compass can cause immense distress.
So I stepped (rightly so) into ‘scout master’ mode and put my empathy hat on. I deeply reflected on my teenage years, and I was catapulted back into a tempestuous maelstrom of thoughts and emotions. It was uncomfortable. I recalled truly painful times. I recalled tears being shed and hopelessness and isolation.
But this time, it was also different. I realised I’m a survivor. It might sound overly dramatic to call myself (or anyone) a ‘survivor’ of adolescence, but when you look at the current rate of suicide amongst the custodians of our collective futures, I think it’s fitting.
It’s also not lost on me, how fortunate I am to have a teen who speaks to me at all, so I gave his current girl issue some serious thought. I realised that as complicated and confusing as my life felt back then, it must be tenfold for teens now. Add to my list above, things like gender fluidity, #metoo, social media (to name but 3) and it’s a cluster fuck of complexity.
So I sat down and wrote him a letter, which I emailed to him, so he could read it in his own time, and then followed up with a chat about it.
I thought I’d share it with you.
I know that the stuff that’s going on (or not going on) with Lola is contributing to your angst (at least I think it is).
It got me reflecting on the situation.
Lola seems (from what you’ve told me) to be a strong confident young woman. Girls like this enjoy having friends (of both/all genders) around them. If she has in fact got a boyfriend, is not romantically interested and you don’t say anything — she will have you exactly where she wants you (not necessarily consciously), in the friend zone — with both male attention and company. Great for her, not so great for you if you want something else.
If however you say something to her, which might be along the lines of:
“Hey Lola — about our ‘hanging out’ day. I was actually thinking I’d like it to be a date, but I’ve heard you’ve got a boyfriend. I really like you but if it’s the case that you do have a boyfriend — I think I should step back, because I don’t want to interfere if you’re in a relationship.”
A statement like this does a number of things.
1. You’ll totally flush out the boyfriend issue fast — and then you can either put it to rest and move on, or gauge where to next. Either way, you remove the painful ambiguity of the guessing game.
2. You’ll let her know (in a really non-threatening or needy way) that you’re interested in more than the ‘friend zone’.
3. She will be flattered (whether she shows it or not). Whether she has a boyfriend or not, girls (and women) enjoy respectful compliments and interest being shown.
4. And whatever she says — you will have taken one bold step to overcoming the fear of stating your intentions. (Contrary to many fears, the earth will not open and swallow you up!)
5. Finally, if she does have a boyfriend — you can continue to be genuine friends, but you can start looking elsewhere (and teen relationships often don’t last long, so when she does break up with this guy — you’ve already done the hard yards letting her know your intentions).
Love you always.
Note: I’m not a child psychology expert, and in no way do I offer this post as a ‘how to’. But I am a Mum, and so I offer it as a ‘how I did’, to share with other parents who may be dealing with teens, who by and large are weathering adolescence well, but who still have wobbly patches.
People sometimes ask me ‘what’s been your favourite age so far?’ when referring to parenting my son. I always answer