Seventeen-year-old Andrea is from a family of doctors. Her mother is a doctor, her father is a doctor, even one of her grandfathers is a doctor. There is an unspoken expectation that Andrea will probably be a doctor, but if not, she will definitely obtain a masters or doctorate. While unspoken, Andrea could not possibly ‘hear’ these expectations any more loudly and as a result, she rebels. She has been raised in a house that values and understands health; no junk food allowed, no late nights, and certainly no alcohol or drug use. Because she has begun to feel suffocated by a structure that has been put upon her, instead of searching for her own preferences, her rebellion manifests as sneaking junk food, staying up too late, and drinking at weekend parties. Then, as the coup de grace, she declines applying for college and instead expresses a desire to be a ski instructor.
I remember being seventeen. It wasn’t an easy time. In every way, this is the beginning of becoming an adult. You can learn how to drive, differentiate yourself from your parents, be independent, and honor your own unique talents without rejecting everything that your parents stand for and believe in. It’s not an either/or scenario. You learn how to make choices that will nurture and further your growth, not diminish it, and although at seventeen it doesn’t feel like it, you can do all of that. Wanting to be your own person is a beautiful and necessary desire for any teenager. However, choosing to be the exact opposite of your parents or family in order to get there is not your only option. There is an entire world of options for you and understanding that each option exists as a whole with its consequence is an important lesson and it is an ongoing invitation from the Creator to fully know your own greatness.
There is an entire world of options for you and understanding that each option exists as a whole with its consequence is an important lesson and it is an ongoing invitation from the Creator to fully know your own greatness.
Perhaps playing golf and vacationing in Florida isn’t your thing. That’s fair. However, before you toss the baby out with the bathwater give careful consideration to what you are rejecting. Often, people who were raised in spiritual or observant homes rebel against their faith, just as Andrea rejected her academic upbringing. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with being a ski instructor and that could be the most fulfilling career for some, but turning down a viable chance to attend a quality university is only self-limiting. Learning about the religion you were raised in doesn’t stop you from learning about other faiths just like being a ski instructor won’t stop you from attaining a degree in finance or psychology. Truth is truth.
The point is, this is the time in your life with the most potential. There will always be opportunities, but never as many as you have before you right now and the reality of purely rebellious actions is they inevitably backfire. This can result in poor grades, poor health, and a continuation of the same feelings of frustration and confusion all while simultaneously limiting you. One of the things we learn, as teens, young adults, and even seasoned adults is that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Just because you can have junk food doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Just because alcohol is available to you, doesn’t mean you should drink it. Just because you have the ability, doesn’t mean it’s the right choice. Understanding that the choices we make have consequences opens us up to our first personal experience of spirituality and consciousness.
One of the things we learn, as teens, young adults, and even seasoned adults is that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
Kabbalah teaches us that for every action, good or bad, a chain reaction is set in motion. What we put out into the world will be what we get back, but not necessarily right away and not necessarily in our personal experience. That’s the rub. For example, science reveals that if a boy smokes cigarettes through his early teens, his children are more likely to suffer from obesity. This means that his choice to smoke cigarettes isn’t just “bad for him”; it will inevitably affect his children, and even his grandchildren. This is the law of cause and effect. Every choice goes hand-in-hand with its consequence so project your choice to 10-20 years from now. If I eat junk food am I going to be healthy enough to to run and meet an airplane when I’m 30/60/90-years-old? I can see how this may feel even more overwhelming to you now, but in actuality it only creates an opportunity for real growth.
When confronted with an urge to rebel or to make a choice towards something that you know isn’t good for you, ask yourself what is it that you truly want?
Will this make me feel strong?
Will this make me feel independent?
Will this make me feel accepted?
Will this make me feel good about myself?
All of these are more than valid, and there are many ways to achieve them. Next ask, what is another way that can help me to feel more _____? If you want to feel strong, maybe try a yoga class. If you’re wanting to feel independent, take over the responsibility of a yet-to-be tackled chore like doing your own laundry. If you want to feel accepted, join a school club and if that feels scary, join an online club dedicated to something you love. Or simply make an effort to talk to people you normally would be afraid to approach.
Transitioning from a child who is completely dependent on their parents to an individual who is now encouraged to think and choose independently is one of the most challenging – and universal – human experiences. To take it even further, once we reach the end of our teens, almost overnight, we are expected to not only rely on our faculties to make decisions but also to begin providing for ourselves and building our own future. Even though, just two years prior, we lived at home with free wifi, free laundry, free food, no rent, free health insurance, and round-the-clock support from our families. These privileges of course come with their boundaries, like curfews, chores, and lack of privacy but those trade-offs are nowhere near as daunting as life on your own. All of this plus the added stress of the most drastic emotional and physical changes that we as humans go through. Put simply, being a teenager isn’t easy.
I certainly remember that time. And from what I have heard, these years of exponential growth are similar to what people in midlife experience as well.
Every person, regardless of age, can identify with this wonderful and equally confusing rite of passage. Countless movies have been made to express this struggle and generations of rock bands have made themselves a monument to it. As a teen, you are asked to emulate adult behavior without being able to fully express yourself as an adult. Your parents and elders are raising and advising you from their frame of reference which, no fault to them, can be archaic and disconnected. This creates confusion, frustration, and a very natural urge to rebel against the very structures that keep you in line. When that impulse arises, see it is an invitation to learn, to make a better choice, and to take a step in the direction of becoming more yourself and never less.
Thought Into Action
No matter what your age, take a look at your choices and habits. Are there any that aren’t feeding your progress, but instead placing limitations on your health or happiness? Set a goal this week to take advantage of an opportunity. Be it an art class, a volunteer opportunity or a physical adventure like hiking or boating. Look around, make choices that widen your life experiences rather than limit them.