If you’re dealing with a teenager, you probably have had a moment (if not many) when you ask yourself, “Is it too late?” I think it’s fair to say that parents of teenagers feel a tremendous amount of powerlessness and pressure. It’s almost as if they view their child turning 18 as some final deadline in their job as a parent; often, panic ensues and they don’t possibly see how the task of parenting will be completed in the amount of time they have left. And blame follows panic, because many people mistakenly think it must somehow be about their own failure as a parent if their child isn’t showing signs of becoming a responsible adult.
I can understand why parents of teenagers feel like it might be too late. Let’s face it: They’re discouraged, it’s been a long road with their kids and they’ve not only put in endless hours, but they’ve undeniably invested themselves completely — emotionally and financially. They’re exhausted from the history of putting in those hours but they’re likely working overtime at this point because of the time crunch. And let’s not forget frustration — teenagers engage in risky behaviors and are typically very resistant and defiant. Basically that boils down to a parent feeling like their kid is out of control. They wonder, “How am I supposed to deal with this crazy teenager?!”
That brings us back to the question of “Is is too late?” There really is no question in my mind that we humans have the ability to learn new skills at any time. I especially love when the news will highlight a 90 year old who has just graduated from college. Even though teenagers can truly appear to be crazy at times, realize they’re not exempt from that reality. I think James Lehman speaks to this perfectly in one of his articles when he states, “It’s not ‘Can kids change?’ that is the question, it’s how they change and why they change that matters.”
What I’d like to see parents avoid is telling themselves that their child won’t change because they’re too old. Keep in mind that when you tell yourself that, you’re just reinforcing that part of yourself that believes your child can’t and won’t change. And thinking that way will prove to be a huge block to discussing and discovering new ways to help your child learn the skills that they need in life. If you can avoid thinking that age is what makes your own situation unique and one that’s beyond fixing, you’re simply so much closer to making those changes happen.
Remember, change isn’t easy. It’s a process filled with many twists and turns. For all the parents who are trying to prepare their teens for the world out there, make sure you balance your job of being a parent with other things that are important. Think of it this way, when you used to have a really important test coming up, how effective was it to have an all night cram session? More importantly, being a parent doesn’t end when your child turns 18 — it just changes. Your child doesn’t need to magically transform into a full fledged adult on the day of their 18th birthday. For both you and your child, it will remain an ongoing process.