Adolescence is a time of searching and a time when many teens are lacking belief in themselves. It is also a time when they require belief from their parents and the other important people in their lives. This gives teens the confidence and the security to continue to explore their interests and desires, ask hard questions of themselves and others, and figure out who they really are and who they want to become.
Teens are often experimenting with different types of dress, music, lifestyle choice or other forms of self-expression. And it is during this time of self-exploration that many teens also wonder whether or not they are still ‘good’, and whether or not the people in their lives who matter to them the most believe in them and love them no matter who they are or which path they choose. (And whether they like to admit it or not, their parents are high on that list of people.)
This idea is beautifully portrayed in one of my favorite children’s books: “Mama Do You Love Me?” by Barbara M. Joosse. The book tells the “story of a child testing the limits of her independence, and a mother who reassuringly proves that a parents’ love is unconditional and everlasting.”
In the book, the child questions her mother’s love. She wonders whether or not her mother will still love her even if she were to do something wrong or naughty, or if she were to run away, or turn into something scary. All the while her mother is honest with her child. She states that through her child’s journey, yes, she may get angry, may not accept her child’s choices, and may even be afraid at times. But ultimately, she (re)assures her daughter that no matter what her choices are and no matter how ‘scary’ she may seem to be on the outside, she will always know who her child really is on the inside and believe in her and love her all the same.
In the story the child asks her mother: What if I turned into a polar bear, and I was the meanest bear you ever saw and I had sharp shiny teeth and I chased you into your tent and you cried? [Would you still love me?]
In their search for self-acceptance, belonging, and personal identity, our teens are wondering the same thing: Will my parents love me if I choose a way of life different to their own? Will they still love me if I make mistakes or bad choices? Am I still good even if I look and feel ‘different?’ Am I still good even if I do not look or act like everyone else?
The best answer and support that we can give our teens during this uncertain time in their lives is beautifully articulated in the mother’s response to her daughter in the story: [If you were a bear with sharp shiny teeth…] I would be very surprised and very scared. But still inside the bear, you would still be you, and I would love you. I will love you forever and for always because you are my dear one.”
We may not always agree with all the choices our children make. And at times we may even feel surprised or perhaps even afraid. These are times our children are feeling scared and uncertain too. And this is when they require our belief in them the most. Because it is our belief in them (and our unconditional love) that will serve as a reminder to them of who they truly are and what they are truly capable of. It is this belief in them that will also give them the security to explore their surroundings safely and emerge into adulthood with confidence.