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I’m An Individual, Just Like Everyone Else

“Oh my God, did you see what the Smith kid was wearing today?” How many times have you been out in your community and saw a teen wearing clothing that just doesn’t fit, whether it be physically or socially? Have you ever wondered what kind of parent would allow their son to go out with a dog collar and pink highlights, or their daughter with a T-shirt that is 3 sizes to small? Before you go and call the Department of Children and Families for parental negligence, think about what is actually going on. When a child dresses drastically there are a few possible causes, but the most common is the need to set themselves apart. When a child starts the change into a teen and eventually into an adult, there are emotional and social changes to go with the voice cracking and growth spurts. Teens develop a need to become an individual, usually by dressing just like their friends. The pattern within their dress is a balance between dressing like their friends and different from their parents. These two avenues provide a scope for kids to create a wardrobe. The checklist goes as follows, “Jerry” is wearing non matching neon socks, Check. My dad would never wear non matching neon socks, check. I need non matching neon socks. This mentality is common among teens but why?

How does one go about attaining individuality? What makes a person an individual? For many it’s a journey that takes years if not a lifetime, but in the beginning it often starts as a superficial experiment of trying new things out. In its most basic understanding, individuality is the separation from others on some scale. At age 13, who do you really know well enough to effectively create separation other than your parents? So that is often your starting point. As it is a superficial study in human behavior, most of the differences are on the surface, such as dress, music, and even food. These are choices that can be easily changed and are not necessarily deep reflections of an individual. For a lot of parents it can become extremely frustrating and the root for many arguments. It is a hard aspect of parenting to deal with an oppositional child who does everything they can to separate themselves from you. It is even harder to watch and listen as other judge your child for their outward appearance when they don’t know them. So here are a few tips for a parent dealing with a teen seeking individuality:

1)      Be supportive – Just because your son is dressed up like a gangster rapper, or your daughter is in all black doesn’t mean they are not your child anymore. Acknowledge the changes they are trying to make and support them. Don’t ignore them, or overemphasize them, but acknowledge the change. This helps to keep the line of communication open, and also exhibits the parent as a resource despite it all and will strengthen the relationship.

2)      Have thick Skin – Some parents will get upset when their kids act out and do everything in their power to separate themselves. Don’t take this as a personal affront. They are pushing you away because they know you will stick by them. It’s that trust in their parents that allow them to take the chances to become the independent individuals every parent wants to raise.

3)      Understand the root – Try to understand that your child is doing this to establish their own roots. Having the knowledge that your child is doing this to further themselves will help ease the pain of seeing your son newly vegan son on the couch in his new wizard cape watching “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”.

4)      Don’t Freak out – Remember that this is most likely a stage and as long as your kid is safe then it is beneficial to their growth. If your child is dressing funny and listening to bad music, but not doing drugs or partaking in other risky actions, things are going well.

We all go through stages, but they help us develop into functional well rounded adults. It allows us to really understand what we like and what we don’t. It can be extremely hard to deal with a teen, who is defining themselves, but just remember what that Monty Python phase has taught all of us and “always look on the bright side of life.”

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