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The Teenager Challenge

The Teenager Challenge

It's easy to push off the task of working on our character. But just wait till you have teenagers.


We all procrastinate. We put off projects that need to be done. We avoid certain errands. We delay particular phone calls. Most of the areas where we procrastinate are relatively harmless. If that closet never gets straightened out, it'll be okay (really!).

But there are other areas where delay can be disastrous.

I'm not referring to the obvious, like missing a plane or a newspaper deadline, but the job of working on our character.

There are deep spiritual reasons for not procrastinating in this arena, but there's a more practical, "in-your-face" reason as well -- teenagers.

Whatever you haven't worked through will come back to haunt you through the machinations of your teenage children.

You haven't worked on patience? Your adolescents will try your spirit with their repeated arguments and demands.

Whatever it is we think we've mastered, our teenage children will constantly put us to the test. That's their job.

You haven't got your anger under control? Your teenagers will push and push and push some more, until you explode in reaction.

You think you've discovered the key to ending sibling rivalry? You've never seen three adolescent girls and only one blow dryer!

Whatever it is we think we've mastered, our teenage children will constantly put us to the test. That's their job. (And they get some kind of perverse pleasure out of it!) And whatever we haven't even begun to master…it's too horrible to contemplate!

It's more common to delay character building than organizing the garage because it's so much harder. It can't be a Sunday project. You can't pay your kids to do it for you. It requires constant repeated effort over many years, over a lifetime.

Perhaps you've been "too busy" to focus on character growth. Perhaps it was less significant when your children were younger and sleeping through the night seemed like a life goal. But when your children reach adolescence, it's sink or swim, frequently against the current.

So make that spiritual accounting now. Work on your sense of humor, your flexibility, your patience, your active listening (your wardrobe!)… you name it. You're going to need every tool at your disposal and then some.

Here are some helpful tools (or so I've heard!).

In dealing with patience and anger, we frequently confront the same issues. There is a tape continually playing in the back of our minds: "How can they do this to me? I deserve better." "Don't they realize how busy I am?" Or some variation on that theme.

With that tape on constant replay, the natural response to frustrating situations is lack of patience and ultimately anger. The first step to real growth is to change the tape. Erase it and record new material. Think about the last time you watched someone lose it in public -- yelling at other drivers, berating the waiter, harassing a saleswoman -- what did you think of that person? Did they seem strong and important or hostile and arrogant? Do you want to be like them?

This can be a powerful motivator to change (if the specter of those teenagers hasn't done it yet!) Replace the tape with thoughts like "This is my chance to learn patience. I can grow from this situation. I can make a Kiddush HaShem, a sanctification of God's Name. I will feel better about myself if I keep control." Replay.

It's possible that even with that tape reverberating in your head, you'll still feel angry. That's okay. Change takes time. But don't act on your anger. Act patient and calm, even if you're not. (Everyone wants to be an actor, right? At least everyone here in LA does.) Focus on the end goal of who you want to be. Does this action take you towards your goal or away from it?

And finally a good tip with anger and teenagers is don't take it personally. Most people's behavior is not about you. It's about them and their struggles, and their concerns and their insecurities. They're really not thinking about you very much at all (teenagers will never buy this one but you can use it for yourself!). So don't react to personal slights, insults and aggravations. They are almost never meant to be. And keep your eye on the ball.

Teenage years can be wonderful, but they are definitely challenging. Working on yourself is not a guarantee of success. Adolescence is tumultuous no matter how patient you are or how highly developed your sense of humor. But if you haven't focused on growing, if you aren't continually striving to change, you're bound to lose the war.

Even though there will always be those "moments" -- of hysteria, anger, tears, and silence -- there will also be laughter, openness, caring and sharing -- if you're prepared.

It's ideal to grow as a person even without the incentive of your teenagers. With them, it's absolutely essential.

June 28, 2003

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Visitor Comments: 5

(5) SINAWO WILLIAMS, July 27, 2012 3:02 PM


(4) Dina, December 17, 2007 9:01 PM

Whats with you???

I am a teenager, and although i know that sevreal teenagers are grumpy and rude ect. ect., really not all of us are. Evreyone looks at it that way, so if I am having a bad day or if I have a complaint about something, my mother will go, "its that age!" you wont hear someone say too a person going through midlife crises, "its that age!" why do people think that a teen is for sure moody and irritable? oh, and what really struck me, is that I have 3 teenage sisters, and we share all our hair supplies without complaint.

(3) Dr Michael Chong, September 29, 2003 12:00 AM

Thank you!

Thank you! You have researched a difficult subject well.

(2) KMS, July 1, 2003 12:00 AM

This is my experience also

Over the years, and because of my first born (who is now 14 but who has always been an "old soul"), I've learned that we really have to pick our battles.

The truth is that at that age, there are very few battles worth fighting over at this time while they move to independence and want/need to learn lessons for themselves.

The best place for a parent to be is the place of mentor and guide, cheerleader and shoulder to cry on, all the while working on our *own* behavior and modeling it in front of our kids.

With that kind of relationship, the occasional disciplinary action is taken much more seriously and respectfully by the teen.

(1) Anonymous, June 30, 2003 12:00 AM

Thank you

Your article came to my desktop just on time. This morning I had another not pleasant encounter with my teenager girl. This is so hard to keep anger under control! Even if you know that you have to do it.

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