What do you do if your family is raising you to be a certain way, but your peers want you to be something else? Your family has taught you to be responsible, kind, caring, respectful, avoid curse words, tell the truth, be honorable, try hard in school, etc. Your peers are encouraging you to experiment with alcohol, marijuana, sex, and irresponsible behavior. Your peers think it’s fine to lie to your parents, use the f-word in every sentence, and complain about school. How do you reconcile these two very different environments when it’s no longer cool to stick with the morals your parents have instilled in you?
Living in this tension is a source of immense anxiety for some teens. They kind of go with the flow at school and around their friends, but in their hearts they’d rather be the person they are around their families. They feel guilt and sometimes shame. It’s very difficult to keep up an appearance of being a great kid in front of certain people, and the appearance of being an edgy kid in front of other people. After a while it is confusing and stressful.
It’s very normal for adolescents to try and discover their own identity until their mid-twenties. A teenager may come home with blue hair or a piercing; parents, don’t make this the end of the world. They’re trying on a new identity. Usually, as they get older they settle more into what they’ve always been taught.
In the meanwhile though, teenagers please remember that “normal” isn’t that great. Fitting in with kids who are going against what you believe is only going to cause internal angst. It takes a lot of emotional strength and fortitude to remain grounded in what is right, even for adults. As a teenager it is much more challenging. Teens are quick to give their peers a dirty look or a few harsh words when one of their friends doesn’t go along with everyone else. If you prefer not to drink at a party, you probably have to deal with a few condescending comments. Keep on track and don’t worry about what some drunk kid says about you; conformity doesn’t breed greatness.
Your overall anxiety will be lower if you are the same person in every situation. Here’s where parents can make a huge impact: model having integrity in every area of life, and stick with good morals. Parents, be the same person at work, home, in the dark and in the light. Your children will benefit immensely from watching your consistency.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT