Whether you manage a teenager in your business, teach a youth Bible Study, coach High School volleyball, or have a hard time relating to your grandchildren, one things is clear: you don’t have to be a parent to benefit from understanding teenagers and their transformative stages. The following excerpt is from Barbara Moon’s book, Joy-Filled Parenting, but the insights she shares can help everyone who comes into contact with teens.
I know firsthand that living with a “rebellious” teenager brings conflict, chaos, and pain to everyone involved. It’s difficult to know what to do, it’s embarrassing, and it’s tempting to blame oneself or to blame each other. At best we just want to avoid hopeless despair and get past the problem. I would like to approach the problem here by asking a two-part question: “Is the teen in ‘true rebellion’ or is he or she trying to individuate?” (I speak to rebellion further into this chapter.) As I understood the role that individuation plays during the teen years it helped me tremendously as I hit bumps with my own teens. Individuation is an aspect of the teen years that I learned about from John and Paula Sandford, founders of Elijah House, a counseling ministry in Idaho, and authors of the book, Transformation of the Inner Man.
The Sandfords include individuation in their discussion of three lessons that children should learn during their teen years. These three lessons go right along with the Adult maturity tasks we looked at in Chapter One and have just mentioned at the beginning of this article. These lessons are necessary for the teen to form a group identity, to be able to “leave and cleave” in marriage, and to have healthy relationships throughout life. The three lessons are individuation, internalization and incorporation. Let’s define each of these separately.
Individuation is the process that involves separating oneself from all formative influences and becoming one’s own person. (p. 330 Transformation of the Inner Man.) This process can be a difficult task as the teen struggles to become his own person while remaining part of a family. But without individuation, a person cannot incorporate (form a group identity) healthily.
Incorporation means to become part of a group (community, family, marriage) and to have sensitivity to the desires and wishes of others. Individuation is necessary for healthy incorporation because only a truly free person can give himself to a group and accept the give and take of a healthy relationship. (p. 330 TIM) When we look at the Adult tasks in the Life Model, we can see how many of those tasks involve incorporation with others.
Internalization is the other necessary ingredient for healthy incorporation. First the teen must individuate (cut free) and then he must internalize for himself all that he has seen, heard, and learned about life. The values he’s been taught must become his own, often by painful inner wrestling. There is no shortcut. (p. 331 TIM)
This entire process takes courage on the part of the teen and patience on the part of parents. Various forms of individuation have been in process since birth–separation from the womb followed by, “I can do it myself,” around the age of two. Now in the teen years, individuation will come to fullness. It will take time and patience. The teen will go back and forth between his desire to stand against his parents and the need to remain in the safety of childhood. He has to stand against the very people he loves and admires. (p.3 32 TIM)
Parents must cling to Jesus and learn how they can handle this budding, changing relationship differently. Parents will have to look at themselves and their part when difficulties arise. It will help us parents to remember that just because the teen wrestles with what he or she will embrace does not mean that all our training was useless. Very often the fact that the teen has the courage to individuate and internalize is proof that we did a good job. Let that be part of what we hold on to during difficult circumstances.