As an adolescent, I had a difficult time socially. I was very shy and not very sure of myself. I do not have fond memories of high school. I remember always being stressed out. I distinctly remember my homeroom teacher senior year telling me he did not think I was going to live to 30 because I was so wound up. I did have friends, but was not tied to one particular friend who I lived and breathe with on a daily basis. I always wanted a friend like that, but after my best friend moved away to NY in 4th grade, I never seemed to find anyone like her.  During high school I did have many friends, but lived in other towns. I went to a regional high school, another challenge during my high school years.

Now that I have two teenagers of my own, I can see how vital friendships are, and also how navigating the cliques, etc. is hard, but also a huge part of growing up. All three of my children struggle to maintain friends and to figure out which friend can be trusted, etc.   My 13 year old son is in the midst of middle school which I have observed as the real time to figure out whom to align oneself with and fit in.   The jockeying of friends starts in 7th grade and really continues through 9th grade.   Thankfully my son has found at least one really good friend this year. My oldest daughter, almost 15, has had a difficult year with one particular friend.   This particular girl is trying things that my daughter doesn’t want to have anything to do with, namely drugs and alcohol.   She doesn’t want others to think she is involved in those choices. She has moved on from that friend and is happy that she made the split. I listen to my daughter a lot, which reminds me of the talking and talking I did at my own mother…even following her all over the house at points. I apologize to my  mom frequently these days. My daughter also wants to talk to me when she needs to talk, typically at 10:30 at night and all I want to do is go to bed. This is one thing that is difficult about teens, everything is very dramatic and teens are very self-centered (as they should be at this stage in their lives). Sometimes it is more about my daughter than about the other person or anything going on in our household.   What she wants to do at a given moment is most important.   This can be challenging as a parent.

On the other hand, one of the joys of being a teen is the social life; the get togethers with friends, the school dances and sporting events, and the in-school events. My daughter has grown a nice group of friends, both girls and boys, and they frequently get together at each others houses on the weekends. Friendships are very real and also a place where they can learn about what they like about others and about themselves. They also support one another and stand up for each other, another learning experience.

Additionally, the joy of being a teen is having so many opportunities to try different things and participate in a variety of clubs, sports, programs, etc. Most teens are lucky to have these opportunities available to them through their high school, a boys and girls club, or YMCA. Looking back on my own teen years, I wish I had participated more. I was involved in one sport, but that was my life for a very long time. I was a gymnast from the age of 8 through high school, and spent many, many hours in a gym. Looking back though, I wish I had tried soccer, softball, etc.   This is one thing I make sure my children get to do; try lots of different things. I encourage the three of them to try different sports or school clubs, even if they don’t make the sport or the play, etc. This is the time in their lives when they can try things and learn from those trials and errors.   I envy my daughter because she is just beginning the self-discovery of high school and trying new sports and new clubs. She is trying hard to figure out what she likes and who she is. It really is an exciting time to watch her learn and grow.

Teens today are also presented with some struggles that I don’t think I had to face when I was an adolescent. The issues with friends, being popular, trying to figure out where you fit in, etc. are the same as they were back in my day (I really sound like a parent when I say that).   But I also think there is more to handle due to social media. I faced some of the same issues like drugs and alcohol, and girls I knew having sex and even getting pregnant, as my daughter is facing, but I think social media exposes and projects thing differently.   With most adolescents using smartphones, or other devices for social media, they have so much power with that small device, and they do not fully understand the implications of some of their choices. My 9th grader uses Instagram and Twitter to converse with her friends instead of the long phone cord being stretched down the hallway, as I use to do. There is a smartphone in her hand constantly.   I realize this is her way of being social and talking with her friends, but I encourage her to have more face to face time with her friends too. A few arguments have occurred over social media and she has struggled with this issue. They all also use Twitter and the one friend she was having trouble with tweeted a not so nice message directed at her.  Social media makes it challenging for communication that would normally take place face to face or at least with a voice at the other end of a phone call.  Navigating some of these issues with social media is definitely a challenge.

As far as patterns in how adolescents play, learn and grow, I would say that friendships are a place for all three things to happen.   Friends reflect back many ideas and thoughts that a teen might agree or disagree with and this allows them to form their own thoughts and attitudes.   Social media is also a way for them to “post” the things they like and represent who they are to their friends and the world. For instance, on my daughter’s Instagram page, she has a photo of herself from when she was 2, another photo of her favorite flower, another of a hairstyle she likes, photos of the family cats, and many others.   In this way, social media is fun and playful and gives her an outlet to show herself off or try out different selves.  Teens also use how they dress as another way to play, learn and grow..  Right now my daughter is trying to dress in a more “classic” way rather than the urban grunge she was into last year.  Boys do this too with the sporty look or the “preppy guy” look.  My son has requested bermuda shorts this spring rather than the basketball shorts he was into for the past several years.  Hair, clothes, makeup, are still a huge part of being a teen and a way to express themselves and grow.

The process of moving toward young adulthood is a culmination of playing a sport, participating in theater, participating in a school club, or even working at a grocery store, and each experience contributes to the ups and downs of being a teen and the opportunities to grow and gain responsibility for one self.