We remember as young boys when it was fun to dress up like cowboys or clowns or soldiers. As soon as the outfit was complete, our personality took on the qualities of that character. When we put on the black mask, white hat and twin holsters we were magically transported to the Wild West and the dusty trail that led to town.
When we fit the big red nose over our own and painted our face, we were transformed to Bozo, and our clownish laughter could be heard throughout the neighborhood.
And there was no greater macho thrill than to rub mud on our faces and hunker down in the bushes as tough GI Joes.
Trying on new roles
Children like to pretend they’re someone else. They imitate good guys, bad guys, parents, teachers and sports stars. Playing make-believe is a way of trying out a new role, getting a sense of how it feels to be rich, brave, gorgeous or ruler of the world!
Your teenagers, too, try on new costumes nearly every day. Tom recalls his daughter who fit very nicely into her chip-on-the-shoulder sweater. Bill recalls his son felt quite comfortable in his cool I’ll let you know when I need you outfit.
Comfortable in our own skin
Dad and mom, at what stage did you truly start to feel comfortable in your own skin? When were you finally happy to be you and not someone else? Our guess is that most of you—most of us—began to feel that way as middle to older adults. Perhaps some who are in that age bracket still would rather be anyone else but themselves.
Teenagers try on many outfits because they are seeking an identity. They are looking in a mirror and muttering, “I wonder what this looks like on me.” As parents, we’re not always pleased—and sometimes we’re downright disgusted with, or afraid of, what or whom our teenagers choose to mimic. Some teenagers go to great lengths to be as outrageous and different as they can be. Taken to extreme, some of the resulting behaviors can be dangerous—and that’s when parents need to seek help.
Finding Values That Fit
For the most part, however, teenagers are simply disappearing into the dressing room and trying on values. How does this make me feel? How do I look? What do others think of me? Your teenager is going to run through the spectrum of identities, changing often along the way. Our job as parents is to be understanding, patient, and watchful. Change is usually a necessary progression to maturity and full-fledged adulthood. When it’s something more worrisome, help is warranted.
Mom and dad, although your young rebel may declare to the world, “I just want to be me!” he or she is striving to be anyone but! This search for identity—full of paradoxes and contradictions— is a natural part of growing up. Your job is to help your teen be comfortable and even delighted at who he or she is right now.