Speaking of poverty and gun violence, Obama reflected on the plight of teenagers today in his talk with Andersen Cooper January 7th. He discussed not only those teens involved in homicides, but those involved in suicides. He said, "It's not just inner city kids who are at risk in these situations. Out of the deaths due to gun violence, about two thirds are from suicides."
Obama said that "being a teenager is tough" and he called on "great parents" to have "ethical" behavior instilled in their kids. While no one can debate this call for parents to do a superlative job, I think it's important to remember that being a teenager while tough is also a very exciting positive, growth-promoting stage of life.
I want to go a step further beyond Obama's emphasis that pertained to his talk on gun control, to think about how parents need to respect their teens as they face peer pressure and the demands of a competitive society.
Let's look at how being a teenager is a great thing, not only a tough thing. During teenage years, brain power and body musculature are expanding. Teens develop greater abstract thinking, learn how to make choices and use good judgment, develop interpersonal skills, construct a new mastery of language, strengthen their sense of self and identity, and are highly inventive as they use their increasing cognitive abilities and empathic capacities.
Teenagers are forging their own paths and signatures on our families and society at large. We need to listen to their voices--their lyrics--hear what they have to say.
Being a parent of a teen offers not only responsibilities but opportunities. We learn a great deal from our teens with their clear simplicity and honesty offering us some devastating and everyday truths. They speak not only about technology and the internet, but about how to think outside the box in unconventional ways that we can gain from.
Teens are recognized all over the country for their science and math skills, their language abilities, and creative expression. We can learn and should learn from our teens. We need to not only instill ethical behavior in our teens as Obama strongly urges, but to learn to modify our own ethical behavior based on what our kids face and teach us. Our teens can help us improve our lives, not only vice versa as Obama suggests.
The teenager's so-called lack of sophistication can come across as vital if we listen carefully to their authentic and real raw emotion at its core which makes us feel so alive and invigorated.
Obama spoke proudly of his "two outstanding" teenage daughters. He isn't alone. Many of us--most of us--have outstanding teenage sons and daughters. They need to know we see them that way to strengthen their confidence and strengthen our ties to them. In this way not only do we have a profound influence on them, but they have a profound influence on us.
So, as parents, let's stand tall next to our teens, respect them, love them, empathize with them and foster their growth by letting them know we trust them to face hard choices with gusto and compassion.
Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst with a recent book, Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child's Behavior. You can read about the book on her website--how she helps parents approach teenage behaviors, episodes of depression and anxiety, and problem solving. The book is found on amazon, barnes and noble, familius, and wherever books are sold.