Have you met Norma Lizing? She’s just your regular everyday adolescent… and like every other adolescent she is very important! Knowing her just might enable you to survive the roller-coaster of a young person’s adolescent years. The pre-teen and teenage life is full of heights of potential, g-forces of depressions, turns of emotions, and the lurches and jerks of relationships. The ups and downs and disruptions of this exhilarating time have a tendency to give some degree of motion sickness to even the most steady adults. Knowing Norma Lizing might just help you get through all those audacious dream castings or the alarming door slammings.
As you may have forgotten, the adolescent experience involves multiple upheavals related to physical, cognitive, emotional and social changes. Believe it or not, this is what healthy poly-sided development is all about.
Remember those days of extreme passion and pain? Oh, you suppressed those memories? Right. Let me remind you of a basic outline of your teenage years:
- PHYSICAL UPHEAVALS brought about by seemingly disjointed sporadic patterns of growth. Some of this growth is exciting (like growing taller) and some of it can be frustrating (like growing too tall too fast).
- EMOTIONAL ROLLER-COASTERS fueled by equal but combative measures of anticipation, attitude, anarchy and anxiety. A teenager who feels like their emotional energy is being dismissed by an adult (“Oh you’re just over-reacting.”) can feel like their personal value is being dismissed as well.
- COGNITIVE BURSTS defined by discovery and disconnect. Adolescence is life-stage marked by incredible abstract thinking and synoptic pruning. In other words, if intelligence was measured by brain activity teenagers are the smartest beings on the planet. No other time except for infancy is the brain in such a dramatic stage of formative growth. And after puberty is complete, the cells start to die. So it could also be argued that never is the brain more alive than during adolescence. This gives all the more reason for teaching students HOW to think rather telling them WHAT to think.
- SOCIAL EXTREMES marked by empathy and embarrassment. Remember these? School dances, mom dropping you off at the curb, breakups and letdowns, best friends, ex-friends, favorite activities, extroversions and introversions, and all the other poly-sided contributions to the social eruptions of adolescence [like pimples and puberty (physical), crushes and cares (emotional), decision making and problem solving (cognitive)]. It all flows together towards the experience of many social extremes within even just one school day. No wonder your teenager is exhausted by the time they get home!
This is where Norma Lizing comes in. Norma Lizing reminds us that these seemingly chaotic extremes are actually a normal process of growth. Did you hear that? Adolescents are supposed to go through upheaval. It is part of the design.
It is “normal” for teens to feel abnormal.
So take a deep breath and normalize the years of adolescence. Don’t make a teenager feel more awkward or ashamed than they might otherwise already feel. Unexpected behavior is to be expected. Stop freaking out every time a teen panics or forgets or acts absurd.
In fact, cherish the complexity of youth development. Try this exercise. Read Psalm 139. But every time David alludes to himself, substitute the name of an adolescent you know. For example:
Psalm 139:14 reads like this:
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous.
But I’d like you to read it like this:
Thank you for making ___(name of adolescent)___ so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous.