There are so many opportunities for wandering when you are a teen. Some drift in and out of different friend groups. Others experiment with hair and clothing styles. It is common to see teens pairing up with a girlfriend or boyfriend to explore sexuality and intimate relationships. Throughout adolescence, there is a process of “trying on” social experiences to see what fits. This process of discovery is part of what makes these years so exciting and fraught with unpredictable emotions. It is the normal process of self-discovery.
Every parent is aware of the perils that make up the journey into adulthood because we have all been there. What we fear most is the dark side of wandering. We know that the developing adolescent brain is prone to impulsive actions with little consideration for consequences. Along with worry comes the reality that we have lost control of the situations our teens will experience. Here, on this portion of the journey, is when many parents begin to panic. The desire to protect our children from disappointment or failure becomes exhausting with no end in sight.
This is the very time when it is important to remember that part of growing up is about discovery. It means that every time we do something for our young adults that they can do for themselves, we hinder their progress. When we doubt their ability to learn from a situation, we reinforce fear. To keep a child from experiencing failure is to set them up for a future where disappointment can become crippling. Protecting our child from negative experiences may feel good in the short term, but character development is about the long game.
Allow some space for your teen to explore. This doesn’t mean condoning risky behavior or giving them the OK to do whatever they want without restrictions. Instead, it means giving them room to make mistakes without shaming them. Letting them try new styles without judgment. Encourage them to speak up with an opinion without constant criticism. In short, let them wander a bit and trust that they have within them the courage and resilience to end up on a path that leads to their unique purpose. Not all those who wander are lost…they just might be plotting an original course.