I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood and loved all my family and friends. My brother and I both enjoyed extracurricular activities and regularly went to church.
But when my father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in my youth, we decided that it was time to make a change. One day, I walked into my father’s house, encountered a family member and blurted out, “I want to marry my boyfriend!” My father dropped his head in dismay. He said, “What are you doing? You’re not allowed to do that.”
My father was not pleased that I had no control over who I loved, but he was not wrong. You are not allowed to change your mind. Our country’s Constitution also declares that, “Everyone has the right to change his mind.”
But teenagers are powerful. And they don’t always want to hear their parents’ advice on who they should be dating, who to be friends with, and how to behave appropriately. A mother’s voice sounds special and authoritative, but a teenager has the same voice as everyone else — a voice with a lot of freedom and a lot of opinions.
More than ever, teenagers want to control the lives they want to live. As adolescents, we have no more power over our own bodies than we do over our bodies’ temperature.
According to research, when you look at teenage girls, and ask them what they would like to do, the majority would like to marry, have a home, play sports, and have a lot of money. We all think these things.
The reasons teenagers want to control their own lives span the gamut. Some say that they don’t want to be oppressed, or that they want to do something that is not in line with their parents’ wishes. Others say that they don’t want their feelings to be hurt.
It sounds as if teenagers want to develop their own identities, and it sounds as if they want autonomy. But parents can’t tell a teenager that they have to do something they don’t want to do.
As teens, we have the freedom to develop our identity. But there are situations, such as the introduction of a girlfriend to an older boyfriend, that can compromise our independence.
To let your child do something that might get them hurt might mean that they might be more open to speaking to you about other, more important matters. That is a tricky situation.
Although parents can offer teenagers advice, they are also very helpful. We can help parents feel less guilty about telling their teenager that she or he will not change her mind — or that her choices will be accepted.
My advice: “Love your teenagers like you love your child, but just admit that they can’t do everything on their own.”