As children hit adolescence they all tend to zero in on the things that they can hang their hat on as their own unique identity. Some of the things they focus on are qualities that differentiate them from their families or help them stand out.
These can be a variety of things such as a sport or hobby focus or changing their styles of clothing and hairstyles. And some are aspects that help give them a foundation of familiarity, mainly family-based, such as a heritage or tradition, cultural comforts or genetic traits. Sometimes there may be friction when their choices differ strongly from that of their parents or accepted norms. It is a normal part of growing up.
But when children have a shaky past as our former orphans do, this process can be a lot more treacherous. The analogy I would use is a tug-of-war rope with which the adolescent/young adult is being pulled one way toward individuation and breaking away from the family, and another way toward the foundational elements that would keep them grounded such as family relationships, traditions, values and beliefs. In general there should be a balance so that it is not pulled too far to either side, but both sides having a firm grip in the life of the maturing young person.
Having less than a firm background can make it difficult for the rope to hold and more dangerous for the young person to pull away, as is natural to do at this age, without that invisible grounding tug. (We are dealing with this in our family right now.) And whereas many times tweens and teens are known for trying on different styles or hobbies or interests (“mini-obsessions” they hyper-focus on) like trying on new clothes, your child may have a tendency to get stuck on one and not be willing (or able) to let go or change gears. Getting through to them that it is okay and expected that they will change their minds as they try new ideas can be difficult. It is worth the effort to help these children realize that they can let go and try a new approach when the one they are using isn’t working well, without it being identified as a failure on their part, but an aspect of growing and maturing.
Does your child fear to go too far out of the familiar comfort zone and fear losing their footing? They may need extra help to find and expand on qualities they identify themselves with, aside from their family or background.
Negative things can loom large, either from a particular child’s background or about them as an individual at this age and can dominate their thinking. As children who have had significant trauma in their backgrounds (whether they actually remember it or not) these things can be magnified and take on a larger than life quality, clouding the young person’s ability to see themselves in a positive light. So they will need guidance to help them grasp a larger, more accurate perspective — one that includes the more positive and even neutral aspects of their identity to give them a better balance.
Helping adolescents and teens to latch on to a balance of foundational, grounding aspects of their identity, plus spread-their-wings, reach-for-the-sky aspects can be a difficult process and will look different for everyone. Remember it’s a part of the growing up process, though it may look different and take more time (and tears and prayers) to get through for our once orphan children, so that as parents we can stay focused on the big picture and be less frustrated over the small stuff.
To find our value primarily in our relationship with God and his with us is the best foundation any one of us can have! When your child is asking, “Who am I, really?” it’s this foundation that really counts.
And knowing your value is in being a child of God is never a shaky foundation!
In Jeremiah 1:5 God says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart . . .” May we ALL find our identities in our relationship with God through Christ Jesus.
Real life is often emotional and kid’s from hard places often have overwhelming emotions. As a parent I want to help my children learn to use positive coping skills and give them tools to help. There are some natural products we have begun using in our family that make a big difference in helping kids cope with overwhelming emotions, to manage and focus.
If you think it might be helpful for your family to learn more about these products feel free to contact me and I’d be happy to fill you in.