This world is a busy, distracting, pressure-filled and sometimes cruel place. While it's true that each generation has its difficulties, kids today face bigger and scarier life challenges than ever: "fitting in" often means being perfect, having sex, using drugs and alcohol, getting into the best universities... there's even pressure to pick on others.
My friend Pete is a good example. He's such a great kid, the type of kid that would make any parent proud. He works part-time at the local supermarket and his grades have always been above average. If he has spare time, he loves video games and blogging about his favorite sports teams.
The problem is, though, that when he's not acing exams or stocking shelves, Pete is overwhelmed with the pressures that come with being a teen and he doesn't know how to handle it or where to turn.
His gut tells him he should be able to handle his life, and to tell his parents how he feels is to admit he's not up for the task. He looks around him and it appears to him kids his age everywhere are handling their lives and pressures fine, so he doubts himself and his ability.
Who can he turn to? Where can he go for help?
Between school, work and friends, Pete doesn't have much time left in the day. And honestly, he does sometimes feel like parents, teachers and peers demand a lot from him... maybe too much.
He feels like he's pulled in a hundred different directions at the same time, and he finds it pretty difficult to figure out what he wants, what's important to him and which path to follow.
Then there's his social life. Like any teen, he wishes he had more friends or a romantic interest but -- like so many his age -- he's shy and feels anxiety when meeting new people, so he needs help with his confidence and self-esteem.
Plus, it's tough for him to figure out which of his friends brings real value to his life and which ones are just using him. In fact, it's even harder to formulate the idea that he should sort his friends on that basis. It could sure help to have a second opinion.
On top of all these worries and time consuming activities, he's expected by parents, teachers and peers to choose a college, take entrance exams and present the grades, scores and extracurriculars needed for top universities.
Life is moving at an accelerated pace and all the little concerns Pete had as a young kid don't compare to the crushing pressure he feels every hour of every day. The uncertainty and pressure are getting to him. They make a good kid like Pete unsure of himself and uncertain about his place in the world.
Because Pete's embarrassed to talk about his problems with his friends or his parents, he's stuck. And what's worse, he has no idea how to make things better for himself. He just has no idea.
Clearly, Pete needs someone he can trust, who understands the issues he's facing and is a reliable source of sound feedback and solid advice.
You're his parent, and you'd like to be able to help. You've carefully shaped his world as he's grown up to give him every advantage, to build trust between you and to prepare him for his life ahead. Now he's reaching the threshold of the time he'll move out of your home into his future, and he doesn't want to talk with you?
Have you failed? What happened?
Don't worry. Just as there's an age for a healthy infant to roll over, sit up, walk, and talk... there's an age when a healthy teen begins to separate from his parents to empower himself to live his own life. Your teen needs to talk to someone else. He needs to feel autonomous, even in his struggles.
Jan Faull MEd, contributor to Parents.com, writes about a teen girl's reluctance to talk to her parents:
She's breaking away from you so that she'll eventually be able to stand on her own as a young adult... Some parents mourn the loss of their child's closeness. Of course you miss those conversations and friendly interactions. Once your child moves out after high school and establishes herself as a young adult, she'll come back for easy conversations and even ask for advice. But in order to determine who she is right now, she needs to separate from you.
Jan is right. And she points out in her column that you're still your teen's parent, overseeing his or her welfare, so you monitor his activities: where he is, who he's with, and when he'll be home. In addition, as the parent you need to step up and be proactive in another way:
Protect your child's future from being dictated by luck or hope through providing a solid and reliable source you and your child can trust. Rather than leaving that position in his life open to be filled by whoever, such as a peer who's as confused and overwhelmed as he is, provide for him a professional mentor.
A professional mentor may or may not be a licensed social worker or counselor, but it's critical he or she be educated and trained to understand what kids like Pete go through... and knows how to help. He can show them how to live with confidence, focus to achieve their full potential, and develop skills they need to navigate the tough decisions in their lives.
As Jan Faull pointed out, by proactively providing what your child needs now in a third-party mentor, your teen will come back home later with gratitude and be ready to talk and listen on new terms... as an adult. Because you gave him the space he needed to grow up.