Do you sometimes wonder what happened to that sweet boy who’d curl up on your lap and tell you way too much detail about every little moment of his day? Who is that sullen young man at the dinner table these days? You know, the one who rolls his eyes and answers most questions with a grunt, a sigh, or worse:  a disgusted “whatever”

Don’t despair. Your child hasn’t been replaced by an alien, just a young person caught in the throes of some serious growing up. It’s called Adolescence, and – whether you’re parent or teen – it’s not for the faint of heart.

Parenting adolescents is a challenging and sacred task, full of potential pitfalls, surprising twists, and very real dangers. Your kids are going through tremendous changes, withstanding incredible social, biological and psychological upheaval. Their behavior in the midst of these changes is unpredictable at best, frightening at worst. However, their teen years can also be some of the best in your family’s life story. Understanding what’s happening during these years will make them easier to tolerate, and you’ll know better how to help them through what is truly a life-changing passageway.

Adolescence is first and foremost a time of exploration.

Think back to your daughter’s toddler years. Remember playing chase in the back yard? Remember the way she’d laugh, the sheer joy as she ran across that ocean of grass? She enjoyed the escape, but also the delicious way you’d scoop her up and bring her back to the safety of your arms.

It’s no different with teens, except that back yards morph into back roads. They still love getting away, and they still love being caught back up in the safety of your love. Their wanderings to the mall, their friends, the game, and who knows where else, are part of a drive to explore the world. They have to see what’s out there and how far they can go, but they still want you to come after them.

Secondly, teens are working on individuation, figuring out who they are as separate from who you are. 

You know you’ve raised them right. Why in the world are they suddenly challenging everything they’ve been taught? Because they have to. In this process they sort out how they feel, what they believe and think as individuals. This is when they’ll argue with you about church, take up a cause for the rainforest, or suddenly become vegetarian. Your job is to listen respectfully as they make their point, whether or not you agree.

If they can hold their own with you, they’re more likely to think for themselves when you’re not around.  That’s a good thing. Kids who can think are happier, stronger, and safer.

The ultimate task of adolescence is to develop an identity. 

In every generation, parents bemoan the extremes of youth whether in music and clothing, or politics and religion. Different styles become symbols of different personalities, of ways of being in and relating to the world. Whether prep or punk, your kids will try on several of these before settling on that which truly ‘fits’ who they are.

Don’t worry. Some of the changes will stick, but most of them won’t.  Most of the time your teachings and guidance will carry them through. That stranger at 15 will come back at 25 as a pretty amazing young adult, and you’ll wonder then why you ever worried.

After all, you knew things were fine all along.