Living with teens is, to my mind, like an uncertain trek through the ‘Stans’ of the ancient Silk Route – Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and so on. We often view the ‘Stans’ as metaphors for uncertainty, aggression, perplexing ‘otherness’, even absurdity. But these lands – and their people – are also tough, rugged, grand and inspiring.
Welcome to Teenagistan.
Come trekking with me. You might recognise the route…
Imagine that you’re a mountain guide. Much of your adult life has been spent trekking around the foothills and mountains where you live. You have extensive experience and knowledge. You keep up-to-date with information from a variety of sources, and study the terrain, weather conditions, local geology, flora and fauna. You learn how to identify the easier routes, navigate more treacherous paths and recognise where both reward and danger lie.
You can’t make every trip yourself, so you learn from the experience of others – alternative routes, fresh views, new challenges, innovative strategies to overcome difficulties. You appreciate that different routes suit different people, and that physical fitness isn’t the only thing to consider when planning a trip.
You have a good idea about the basics required to ensure a successful trek, including key survival strategies, and minimum food and water supplies. And you’ve learned about the little extras that can make the going easier. Not essential, but nice to have.
Of course, there are many paths to the same destination, each with their own pros and cons. A longer route might have more stunning views. A route that seems shorter and easier on first glance might actually be more difficult, with hidden dangers. Then there remain the unexplored routes, where you don’t know what lies ahead.
Over time, your family joins you on your treks. Naturally, you try to teach them what you’ve learned. Sometimes the paths are easy. You pause often, admiring the views. You make unscheduled stops to camp overnight, savouring the unique beauty of where you are, and delighting in sharing it with the people you love most in the world.
Sometimes, you need to stay roped together, for safety. After these treks, you celebrate the achievements, relive the close calls, and work out how you might do things differently next time. They’re all precious, family experiences and you cherish the time you have together.
.Then comes the day when one of your children wants to leave the family group, and strike out on their own.
They’re complaining. They don’t like the path you’ve chosen, although it’s heading for their desired destination. Also, you’ve already detoured several times to accommodate them. But now, they say it’s too hard, and they’re rejecting your offers of help.
You have to trust in the groundwork that you laid earlier. You must believe that they will make it through, and that you’ll meet them at their destination.
Everyone is confused. This child is fit and capable, and had appeared to be managing extremely well. Well, at least, up until the last few twists and turns in the path. But they won’t – or can’t – tell you what the difficulties are. So it’s hard to know whether you’re even offering the right sort of help.
You knew they’d head off alone eventually. Only, you thought they’d be much further into the journey, across some of the harder tracks and into easier terrain.
You’ve heard about the route your child is choosing, although it’s not one you’ve ever travelled. Others have taken it – through interest, or of necessity. You’ve read their stories. The way is hard, and it takes longer to reach the chosen destination – especially without a guide.
As your child prepares to leave the group, you realise that they’ve jettisoned some of their supplies, including some of the basics. They’ve left the first aid kit behind, and their swag. They have minimal food and water. Now you’re uncertain whether your child has sufficient resources to complete the trip at all. Given their choice to abandon some of what you consider to be important survival gear, your worry deepens. Do they truly understand the challenges ahead? And will they have the resilience to deal with them? After all, you’re in the ‘Stans’ – things are challenging enough already.
You voice your concerns, only to have them mocked, or scorned.
You’ll be cold! you protest. What about the risk of exposure?
“I’ll be fine.”
What about food? Water? You have no map, no compass.
“I’ll find some along the way. I don’t need a map – I’ve got a smart phone.”
There’s bad coverage here…
“I’ve told you, I’ll be fine. You worry too much. Stop treating me like a child.”
There are times when you can’t follow your kids. You can’t take every track with every person, especially when you have others to look after.
Sometimes, our children have to go it alone. It’s part of their learning experience. You know this. But you just wish that they were a bit more open to learning from your knowledge and experience – and your mistakes. With their mind seemingly closed to the possibility of things going wrong, you worry desperately how they’ll manage if disaster strikes.
But it’s out of your hands. Their mind can’t be changed. You have to trust in the groundwork that you laid earlier. You must believe that they will make it through, and that you’ll meet them at their destination.
Farewells are said, and they’re off. They turn and wave, as they disappear around a bend. You continue on your way, straining your eyes to follow them. Only, they seem to have stopped. Maybe they’re admiring the view. Or wondering which way to go…
Occasionally, your paths cross. They stop and chat to you. It’s a great opportunity to resupply them with encouragement, food and water, tend to their scrapes and find out how they’ve been going. You offer the opportunity to rejoin your little party, but they want to continue alone.
You accept this. Nevertheless, you can’t help worrying. Each time you meet up, you can see the toll that this slow and solitary trek is taking on your child. But there’s nothing more that you can do, apart from keep a look-out for them, provision them when you can, and be waiting with open arms when they finally reach their goal at the other side – far beyond the tumultuous terrain of Teenagistan.