However, the process of adolescence compels teens to touch the burner, to find out if the abstract truth we told them earlier is true in their new adolescent reality. This most basic of adolescent laws is where so many adults go wrong in dealing with teens. Most young kids believe the bulk of what their parents tell them about the adult world. This is an abstract in that we are telling them that what they learn now will benefit them in the future, kind of like they told us about algebra or chemistry. If youre one of those people who have not had to use your rusty algebra skills as an adult, then the abstract truth your teachers told you has not manifested in the truth of reality. The biggest dilemma in this concept is when we tell our children that if they do X, then Y will happen.
Heck, just a year or two ago we were contentedly watching Harry Potter and Shreck with them. They believed faithfully in our description of what happens when you tamper with the laws of the land, if X then Y: steal and go to jail, lie and youll get caught, skip school and youll ruin your adult life. The breakdown happens when we adults do not back up the bluffs and threats weve issued previously. Almost any parent can tell you what happens when you tell a child X will happen if they dont perform a certain task and we neglect to follow through on the Effect, or consequence: weve set a dangerous precedent for the next time and our boundaries are stretched. If youve ever found yourself saying This is your last warning! or How many times have I asked you to then you know the feeling.
First, we seem to take it personal that the teen doesnt believe us about the burner. We grownups need to understand that it is not only normal for teens to test the burner, but that they need to do so in order to grow. Most of us adults know we learn our best lessons in life from our mistakes. We know, hard as it is, that we have to let our small child fall off his or her bike once or twice in order to learn the reality of how to ride a bike and what happens if you do not pay attention on one. The process of adolescence often requires that the teen, or pre-teen, test the abstract concept by testing it in reality. This is why it is so critical for ALL adults to hold their boundaries with teens: to be the reality we warned them about so long ago.
Then, they carry it a step further. If X wasnt true, then maybe Y or Z wont be, either. This creates a pattern or model for them to challenge everything for that hopeful loophole. If you havent read between the lines yet, this means we grownups have to model what we say very accurately.
It has been this growing chasm of what we say versus what we do that has teens testing and challenging more and more each generation. Theyre trying to confirm where the reality is we told them about.
Bret Stephenson email@example.com is an adolescent specialist who's experiences with teens from more than 100 countries and six international youth conferences has altered how he looks at and works with American teens. Utilizing archetypal, cross-cultural and universal models that have worked for millennia, he successfully works with at-risk and high-risk teens in a variety of settings. Bret is author of Slaying the Dragon: The Contemporary Struggle of Adolescent Boys-Modern Rules in an Ancient Game. More information can be found at http://www.adolescentmind.com or his nonprofit site at http://www.labyrinthcenter.org