Breaking out of a chrysalis

Shakespeare would have "no age between ten and three-and-twenty". British author Tony Parsons talks of us losing our youngsters after a certain age. "They start as a part of you, indistinguishable for yourself for years and years, and they end up as people that you hardly recognise," writes parenting columnist Ian Munro. 

Adolescence is not an easy time for most, and that includes parents. It’s a time of crises, of mood swings, of being a child one moment, an adult the next and a child again by the end of the day.

Our teen will one minute take centre stage and the next hide away from the world behind a closed bedroom door or some headphones and a protective shield of music.

These sudden shifts make it hard to predict what’s coming next and what approach you should take or response you should make at any given time.

And they can be totally self-absorbed — whether it’s hogging the computer, cleaning the evening dinner out of the fridge mid-afternoon or running the shower out of hot water.

The unspoken focus is on "Who am I?" and "Where am I going?" A case of trying to work out "where I fit in the scheme of things". Of course, these questions aren’t just questions of adolescence. Most of us at various points in our lives will ask them again. Mid-life is a common time of reassessment.

However, adults have reference points against which to look for answers.

For the teenager all the old reference points are melting away and the new reference points are not yet necessarily obvious.

In a way, teenagers are having to remake their personalities. They have to move from the structure of childhood, through the turmoil of adolescence to the new structures of adulthood.

Another way I like looking at adolescence, and an analogy I’ve used before, is to liken the struggle teenagers face to the struggle a butterfly faces as it fights to emerge from the chrysalis of childhood.

During this process life can sometimes seem like a very bad nightmare they can’t wake up from.

Friends dump them for no apparent reason, pimples break out, and they’re told one minute to grow up and the next that they had no right to make that decision.

Things they used to enjoy are no longer fun or their friends scoff at them.

Others can tell them, often quite persuasively, that they should be doing this or that. But if it doesn’t feel right, doesn’t feel like them or doesn’t fit the family values they’ve grown up with, the question then is: "Is there something wrong with me?"

Adolescence is a time of significant self-doubt and, more often than not, a touch of fear.

 - Ian Munro

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