Anyone who has a teenager knows that the teenager thinks that they know everything and they need no one’s help. Many parents have had major arguments with their teenagers because they tried to offer the teenager advice about how to handle a situation. I have had many teenagers sit in my office too, saying they need no help and they have all the answers and that they can handle any situation that occurs in their life. While they may be saying they do not need help or guidance, is this truth?
After seeing numerous teenagers for psychotherapy for over 20 years, I do not believe this is the truth. Furthermore, I believe many teenagers are feeling overwhelmed by life and do not know what to do, but they are afraid to admit it. I find this is especially true with male teenagers. In my opinion, these teenagers are trying to live up to the stereotype about “being a man.” The old outdated stereotype tells men and boys that they are weak if they need help and they are weak if the have feelings. As a result, we end up with tough guy teenagers who say they don’t need help from anyone. However, deep inside they know they need help and they are hoping someone will figure it out without the teen having to admit it.
As a result of feeling overwhelmed and alone, many teenage boys turn to drinking, drugs, violence and sexual activity. Anything that will numb the pain and make them look tough. Therefore, they may be flunking out of school, but because of their drinking and cutting classes, it looks like they don’t care and in their opinion they are handling the situation. However, they are not handling the situation and they are getting themselves further and further into a hole that they cannot find their own way out. They are drowning and their acting out behaviors are they way of calling for help. However, to most people their behavior doesn’t look like a cry for help. Instead it feels like the teenager is pushing people a way. After a while, people do stop trying to help.
As the adults, we need to remember that these teenagers’ brains are not fully developed. The prefrontal cortex which is responsible for reasoning and decision making is not fully developed. Their bodies make them look like adults, but in terms of emotional development, we are dealing with a fifth grader. We need to remember this fact so we can stay in there and find a way to help them even though they say they don’t need it.
Justin Bieber recently wrote and released a song called Lonely which does an excellent job of explaining the teenager’s need for help and how teenagers don’t know how to ask for help. Justin Bieber achieved money and fame as a teenager. In the song he talks about how he did stupid and irresponsible things as a teenager. He also discusses feeling very lonely because he felt there was no one to help him. Many of the adults around him said nothing because of all the money he was making. However, he states he had no idea what to do and he needed someone to step in. Because no one did, he felt very lonely and continued to act out. He did not want a yes man, he wanted someone to set boundaries for him and tell him to stop the irresponsible behavior. Additionally, he wanted someone to hold him accountable for his actions.
Granted, not every teenager is a superstar like Justin Bieber. However, the feelings and emotional needs that he expresses in his song Lonely do apply to many teenage boys. I would encourage every parent to listen to this song. I would also encourage every parent to set boundaries and provide guidance to their teenage boys. Yes they will argue and say they don’t need it. However, you are helping their pride because they can tell their friends they have no choice. They don’t have to be afraid of looking weak. Additionally, I would encourage parents to discuss with their sons how they do not have to live up to some old stereotype to be “a man.” Use this as an opportunity to discuss with them how you believe men should act. You may want to watch the documentary, The Mask You Live In, on YouTube. It discusses how the old outdated stereotype regarding men creates problems for teenage boys and how we can change this stereotype.
Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating children and teenagers. He is also one of the founding members for the national advisory board for Street Soldiers. For more information regarding his work or private practice visit his website at www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/drrubino3 or his podcasts on Spotify or Apple.