My daughter turned 13 last year. Which makes me the mother of a teenage girl. Which makes life interesting, shall we say.
I figure having a teenager is a bit like when you’re pregnant – there’s a whole world of stuff that no-one ever tells you. It’s like there’s a secret society and you’re not getting the key to unlock the code until you’re in the quagmire and up to your neck.
I know there’s books. So. Many. Books. And I can honestly say I haven’t read any of them.
My baby girl is as in the dark as I am. She’s negotiating the path between child and adulthood with more than a little trepidation. She’s fierce on the outside, but can still burst into tears at the smallest imagined slight. She steals my makeup, but still wants to climb into bed with me for a cuddle.
Nowhere is her internal dichotomy more apparent than in her emotions. Her height, appearance and outward demeanour all belie the internal challenges she’s grappling with as her new adult emotions emerge.
It reminds me of the animated movie Inside Out. The console the main characters use to control Riley’s emotions becomes more and more complex as she gets older. When she’s a baby she only experiences Joy and Disgust. Then comes Anger, Fear and finally, Sadness. My daughter was like this. Throughout her childhood she was generally happy, waking every morning with a smile on her face, overwhelmingly positive, and ready to please.
Once puberty hit, new emotions started to show themselves. She started to think more deeply about life and with that, started to feel the sadness that comes with a broader understanding of the world. She started to question her place in the world, then her value, then whether she deserved to be here at all.
This was terrifying.
We’ve since had some counselling, where she presented herself as incredibly well balanced and well adjusted. She talked about her wonderful friendships, her stable and loving home life, how well she was doing at school, and how excited she was for the year ahead. Which was helpful.
Then some different counselling, where she talked about how much her brother annoyed her, how she couldn’t see any use for many of her classes and how she had thought about suicide.
She’s now been referred to another therapist within the Auckland Health Board, who specialise in teenage psychiatric issues. The great news is that they do not consider her to be a threat to herself, and while she will continue to see someone for a few more weeks, no medical intervention is required, merely some cognitive therapy to help her to better deal with her new emotions.
Because that’s what it’s all come down to. So much of what she’s feeling is entirely new to her. Her incredibly happy childhood ironically left her ill equipped to deal with the complex negative emotions that have developed as she grows up. Her new emotions are unfamiliar and have been rarely experienced, so feel stronger and more powerful than they feel to those of us who have felt sadness throughout our lives.
As she enters her second year of puberty, as her hormones settle into a more reliable cycle, so her emotions seem to be settling. I travelled to Japan with her last month, and spent a week away from her brother and father. It was amazing time, which reminded me of how intelligent, mature, loving and fun she is. She’s going to be an amazing adult.
PS. This TED Talk from Brene Brown is worth watching and sharing with your teenagers.