I was on line at Starbucks behind a gawky tall boy with unwashed, scrawny, dark hair, a beak-like nose, black glasses, stooped shoulders, and a winning smile. He wasn’t the picture of a confident teen but there he was talking to a small teenage girl who barely came up to his chest with long brown hair falling down her back . She had an awkward demeanor as she looked up at him surprised as he paid for her drink. Watching their cheerful self-consciousness uplifted me as it reminded me of what young romance can be like.
After I got my decaf, flat white, grande, I took the only seat available which was across the aisle from that young couple. Next door to them was another couple, two attractive teenage girls sitting together in their short shorts staring down at their cell phones. The contrast between the couples engagement at the first table or lack of it at the second table was striking.
The small girl was wide-eyed, merrily chatting with the lanky boy. Although I couldn’t hear their words, their body language seemed to tell a lot. They leaned tentatively forward toward each other seeming to be delighted with their common interests. They high-fived at one point and smiled as if–at least in my romantic imagination–they were glad their hands touched. They had perpetual smiles on their faces.
Their neighbors shifted from their focus on their cell phones as one girl complained to the other that some girl she hated just sent her a copy of her class schedule. She said that this happened last year, too, and then that girl purposefully sat behind her when they took tests. Her friend said “she’s obsessed with you but can’t be trusted. She acts like she’s your best friend, then ignores you in the hall as she walks around with other girls. It s…ks. You never know what she’s up to.” Then as if nothing had been said, their heads fell down to look at their phones again.
While the first couple continued merrily chatting, the second duo began to chat again. The girl who had complained about receiving the schedule said she didn’t have the “ridiculous” $400 it took to visit a college on her own. The other girl mostly just listened tapping her foot as she rested her head on her hand sympathetically.
As a witness to these two pairs, I doubted that their parents would readily know what their teenagers were going through. The first duo was enjoying the discovery of teenage romance—their confidence buoyed—while the second was dreading fake friendships and college stress.
There’s a lot of drama in a teenager’s life that can build or lower self-esteem on a dime. These teens are vulnerable as they struggle to find their sense of belonging. If they act in unexpected ways or seem difficult to be around, it’s essential for us as parents to recognize what may be churning in a teenagers’ minds.
Often teens confide in each other as both of these pairs were doing even though one pair felt rather hopeful and accepted and the other rather cautious and blue. But all four had this opportunity to share their joys and woes with each other allowing them to be independent from their parents as they tried to work their feelings out with peer support.
Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. has an upcoming book, Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior, to be released Oct. 13. Pre-orders from Amazon can be made at a discount.