A thirteen year old girl dressed like she is eighteen.
A freshman boy downs a beer.
A sixteen year old screams at her mom that she hates her.
There are a lot of reasons that these youth could be acting like this. Often they don’t even know why they behave the way they do. Maybe their parents are going through a divorce, maybe a good friend recently moved and they don’t know how to cope, or maybe they are missing a connection with a parent.
I was recently out with some of my girlfriends and we were discussing our biggest fears. I stated mine is to die and leave my children without a mom. I thought for sure that they would say that was selfish of me. I was surprised that they all said they completely understood where I was coming from and a couple of them stated that it is their biggest fear as well.
You see, my dad died when I was three months old and my older sister was four. I have an amazing and wonderful stepdad who married my mom when I was five and yet I’ve always missed my dad. At times, it was confusing to me so I can imagine it is probably confusing to others. I miss someone I have never known. Not only that, but I’ve had a wonderful man serve as my father for the majority of my life and he has never treated as anything but his daughter. He and my mom even have a daughter together but I am never less of a daughter than her.
So why do I miss my dad??? I think I miss the connection; I miss knowing where I come from.
In my work with children and adolescents, I have found that this is common. It seems most of us have some deep rooted desire to know who we come from and to have a connection with them. It seems that even if “mom” or “dad” abuse and/or neglect a child, that child has a desire to have a connection. I think even more than a connection; we want to feel they are proud of us. We want their approval. Even when the parent is the “worst” parent in society’s eyes, the child wants to hear “I’m proud of you.”
I recently read an article that discussed the struggle adults who were abused as children have in regards to their abuser. The article really made me think as some people (even professionals) think that a connection is vital while others feel they can lead a successful life without their parent. (http://www.slate.com/articles/life/family/2013/02/abusive_parents_what_do_grown_children_owe_the_mothers_and_fathers_who_made.html). If adults are struggling to figure it out, kids are too.
I challenge you to think about this the next time you interact with a child or teen who does not have one or both of their biological parent(s) in his or her life for some reason. I’ve seen that not having the approval of a parent he or she so desperately wants, dramatically effects behaviors.
I’ll add that I’m not making excuses for inappropriate behavior. I’m just challenging you to not jump to conclusions. Society tends to want to punish when sometimes love is what’s needed.
Stefanie F. Pisarkiewicz, LPC
Experience and information from a counselor and mother- sharing her two cents on children and teens.