Painful Adolescence & the movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of being a Wallflower, adolescence, adolescent development, problems in adolescence, issues among teenagers

This is a terrific movie that opens your heart layer by layer as you watch the screen. It is clear that growing up is a painful experience and that’s part of what makes it feel real. The awkwardness, the living in fear of peer judgements and the reaching out to try something new despite the fear…’s all there.

One of the best parts of the movie are the characters who grow up by learning that; we sign up for  love with those we think we deserve. I see that all the time in my office. It’s very hard to reach out to the good guy or woman we could really trust. It’s so easy to not feel good enough though it may be the other person who isn’t good enough.

Stumbling around with the wrong persons is really part of what high school is all about. It’s a delight to watch all three main characters do this.

A lot of the problems in high school are in part because it’s so hard to be real about who you are & what you want. Combine that with the suffocation someone else may direct towards you like Mary Elizabeth who lets Charlie cop a feel & then announces “I’m so glad you’re my boyfriend!” and it’s a wonder anyone gets out of high school alive.

I loved the character of Patrick that Logan Lerman plays; he’s a great friend because he’s smart, creative, audacious & funny. Wish he’d been my friend in high school; he definitely would have made it better than mere survival. My only note of inauthenticity was there is no way four seniors would be friends with a freshman…..but maybe that’s how it was for Stephen Chbosky who both wrote & directed.

Another favorite part was when Charlie did three very hard things to make his life better! He went to a football game alone, then he took another brave step by changing his seat to be closer to Patrick. Then he went to the dance alone. His courage was inspiring. It is doing the next right, hard thing that makes life better even when you are terrified.

It made me think of  16-year-old Whitney Kropp who was elected Homecoming Queen this year as a cruel joke in Michigan. (The movie is also clear about the cruelty of high school.) Whitney will need her courage when she arrives at the dance decked out & beautiful because the citizens of West Branch all chipped in for a gown & a makeover because they were so astounded by the harm her peers had tried to inflict.

Then there is the moment when the sister knows the right thing to do even though she’s at a swim party; she’s not so self-absorbed that she can’t think & respond. She trusts herself that the phone call is important & acts immediately.

Something else to appreciate about this movie is that it’s not a typical Hollywood production and I believe that’s partly because the story is located in Pittsburgh and was filmed here. In real life my enthusiasm for standing up in the back of a truck would be tempered by breathing in the car exhaust trapped in the tunnels. Pittsburgh is a great city and you get some glimpses of that on screen.

This movie gets so many things right that it is a gem. Go see it.


Awkwardness & Doing things Badly to Begin with: Great Idea!

Mistakes are REALLY, REALLY, REALLY important! Fear has the power to stop you from making mistakes. I write about this often because I see more & more kids struggling to avoid mistakes & the larger world. The path to independence requires mistakes.

“I won’t do it if I can’t do it right.” is something many anxious people think to themselves.

Why is not making mistakes such a good idea? We seem to be over the top with fear that we will be embarrassed in front of others. (Sometimes embarrassment can be secret delight)

It’s impossible to NOT make mistakes because it’s part of being human.

Try this idea on for size: We always learn more from our mistakes than from our success.

When my kids were little I would carpool with other Moms to deliver kids to kindergarten. I would make a wrong
turn on purpose and the outcry was absolutely astonishing. I would say “Ooohhhh my, mistakes are really
important.” This was my unappreciated gift to them.

Playing it safe & only doing things you are good at means you will miss out on laughter, excitement &
adventure. Is that what you really want? Many parents come in & tell me this is true of their kids. I see it as an opportunity to help them understand their anxiety is interrupting their growth.

It’s dumb to play it safe & avoid being awkward. Awkward is a part of every new beginning. The more
more practice you have with awkward, the richer your life will be.

I believe success at living life well requires a long list of All the things you discovered you are bad at.

I’m very proud of the long list of things I’ve failed at, here are just a few: horseback riding, making pottery
with a wheel, painting water colors, bowling, violin, sailing, singing, diving, baking and dancing which I tried more than once hoping it wasn’t true (my husband & I were the worst dancers in the whole class).

by mistake, learn from mistakes, make mistakes, awkward, awkwardly, awkwardness, learning from mistakes

My First & Last Pottery Effort

Don’t avoid beginnings because they are almost always messy & uncertain.

What’s important is trying. Trying is the only way to find out more about who you really are. You just can’t stay in your head to figure it out. Life requires effort. Effort requires mistakes & uncertainty.

Do you want to grow? You have to be willing to make mistakes.

How to Get Help to Choose a Career? or What Do You Want to be When You Grow Up?

Wondering what career to invest yourself in? It’s hard to figure out what you might want to do for the rest of your life. It’s a very daunting task. Lots of people drown in the overwhelmingness of it. Kids in college struggle with whether or not they’ve made the right choice & wandering from major to major can be costly.finding a career, i need a career, choosing a career, new career path, finding the right career, how to choose a career

Women who have finished raising their kids is another category of people trying to figure out new ways to make meaning in their lives. They have skill sets but how to translate them in new ways can be confusing. Many people drift for years not knowing how to find a clear direction for their energy & talent.

There are two tools that I offer clients to begin narrowing down the field, both can be found online. Think of these tools as a way to jump start making bolder choices that fit who you are instead of coasting.

The first is called a strength survey:

The noted psychiatrist Martin Seligman has done a tremendous amount of research on the issue of happiness and has created a website. On his website he offers a number of questionnaires. The questionnaire on personal strengths is nine pages long and takes about forty-five minutes to complete. It’s called the VIA Survey of Character Strengths & measures 24 character strengths under Engagement Questionnaires.

The idea is that after completing this VIA Character  Strength Survey, you will know your top five strengths. You can then ask yourself how much a part of your life works from a framework that appreciates these five strengths. Here is the link to this valuable website:

Seligman says that the more your work incorporates your top 5 strengths the happier you will be. This makes sense. The financial investment in college requires more thought about in what to invest in that will realistically pay off & help you get a job.

The second tool is The Campbell Interest & Skill Survey:

Over the years I have had many people invest hundreds of dollars in career counseling tests. On line there is a test for $18.75 that I think is the best of the lot. Here is a link for this reasonably priced tool from Pearson. You have to register, then call them & pay, which is very fast. Then they give you a password to sign in:

Sometimes it’s easier to just float along & let life happen to you. I don’t believe that things work out very well by being passive. Read any novel by Ann Tyler to learn more about the price of passivity. Her male characters often end up quietly miserable because of their lack of action. While it can be very uncertain or scary to experiment, take risks, try new things & make choices; it’s worth finding the courage to push forward.

Safety is Overvalued & Mistakes Ignored

When I was a kid playing outdoors in the 50’s & early 60’s none of our parents knew where we were or what we were up to. I laughed out loud, watching an early episode of Mad Men when Don Draper’s daughter was spinning around with a plastic bag on her head and her mom simply told her to go outdoors, because that was so accurately depicted. There was a wild freedom to being a kid back then & there were tons of mistakes.

I’m not advocating a return to the benign neglect of parenting in the early 60’s, I am saying there is something missing now. We have over scheduled instead of spontaneity, soccer practices instead of family meals and safety is such a high priority that there is no room for mistakes.learn from mistakes, make mistakes, life mistakes, mistakes made, mistakes that, the mistake, make a mistake

Mistakes matter. Both 5th grade science fairs I attended, it was clear to me which projects had been done by parents. I appreciate the crooked lines, misspelled words and lumpy volcanos that are clear evidence that children were part of the deal. Think back and you will remember that you always learned more from your mistakes than success.

I’ve never forgotten back in the 80’s, when one of my teachers, Laura Perls said “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”

I find perfectionism tragic, it robs people of their opportunities for mistakes. Mistakes are about being vulnerable. Vulnerability seems to be a rare commodity in today’s culture. Technology makes it easier to not be vulnerable so someone texts “I love you” instead of saying it face to face.

Mistakes help kids practice rejection instead of parents helping them to escape it. Everyone needs practice with the hard parts of life. When I get kids in the office, who are upset about their parents divorce I tell them they’ll get a lot of practice & learn a lot about coping with difficulty.

Self-esteem builds on your accomplishments, not a bunch of gooey compliments that happen daily. Accomplishments require the process of encountering mistakes. Survival from mistakes helps you to find your own voice instead of becoming a people pleaser.

Too many young adults are afraid of life & making hard choices. They drift, “safe” in their parents homes and not defining themselves. They artfully avoid all risks & mistakes which is such a waste of precious time on this planet.

Mistakes are crucial to living life well.

The Hunger Games & the Reality of War

It has been a delight to stumble into another strong female character in Katniss, the heroine at the heart of the trilogy that begins with The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I grew up in the female heroine desert of the 60’s. It’s why Ripley played by Sigourney Weaver was such a revelation in 1979. She was smart & and she beat the Alien.Deployed Military Parent, Book on war for adolescents,Suzanne Collins

I really admire the author as described in the NYT magazine interview (4/10/11). Her actions match her values. She writes about the dangers of celebrity, the camera and the media. Even as her book is about to become a film, she is still very careful to limit her exposure in the public eye.

The Hunger Games is important because she has the courage to describe the horrors of war for adolescents. There is a very weird cultural attitude that avoiding harsh realities benefits kids in some mysterious way. Hovering parents interfere and believe a cocoon of protection is a necessity.

The adolescents I work with make a lot of wise observations about their parents who are getting divorced. They absorb far more than parents are often willing to recognize. They have opinions that make sense. Its really a shame they often don’t feel able to speak their own truths more often to adults.

One of the emotions adolescents experience the most is confusion. Katniss is confused about love, confused about what is the next right thing and confused about what adults require of her. It’s a very accurate picture of war and the trauma that survivors experience.

A critic in The New Yorker described this book as an “allegory of the adolescent social experience.” Again you have to love an author who responds to this as untrue. She says she doesn’t write about adolescence, she writes about war for adolescents. She’s so good that she has gained an adult audience.

Katniss struggles with choice in love and her confusion is genuine because she loves two guys. In working with relationships as much as I do, I applaud her choice in the end. Relationships really are all about respect for the differences.

Adolescents will experience some of the harsh realities of war through Katniss who is both full of fear and courageous. Any military family with a deployed parent should embrace this book to address the complicatedness of war. This novel has a ring of truth that makes it unforgettable.

Parents & their Superficial Relationships with their Adult Children

Intimacy requires the  authenticity of disagreement, conflict and sharing the painful bits of life.

It is impossible to be close to anyone without the truths that emerge from conflict. How can you really know anyone if you just settle for the superficial? Facebook & texting are tailor-made to keep things “light”. Who has 600 friends?Intimacy, Superficial relationships, Depth & Knowing Adult Children

Two sociologists, Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker have published a new book “Premarital Sex in America”. They make an observation in the introduction that I find appalling:

In fact, American parents’ oversight of their teenage and young-adult children tends to be wide but shallow, resulting in children who long for- but seldom experience -real intimacy with their parents. Instead of pursuing a deeper relationship, many parents settle for just knowing their kids are “safe”.

Why would this be true? Because it’s the easy way out. Go along to get along. Keep a shallow focus on safety, then you can feel as if you did your job. That’s good enough, isn’t it?

No, it isn’t. Do the work of knowing who your kids really are. Be willing to hear things you won’t like. You will have to cope with values collisions.

Protecting parents from hard truths is another part of the lack of intimacy. Families avoid and deflect real problems on a regular basis. A sister calls a brother to say their brother is getting a divorce but it’s a secret. My sister-in-law has never told her mother she has the precursor symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

I prefer the courage to face what my kids or son-in-law might be struggling with. To know their pain is to know them. To learn what they care about, that I find surprising.  Animal Planet, really? I respect that all three really value being physical and am ashamed I don’t follow their example. Who knows, that pinch of shame might help me take action. The true test of respect is being influenced by someone else.

Knowing the truth makes relationships three dimensional. Shallow keeps things too simple. We all have choices to risk greater complexity with vulnerability, disagreement or sharing things that makes your nose wrinkle. Avoiding the differences or deflecting topics is heartbreaking.

With those you love the most, “Don’t Rock the Boat” is not a choice that should be made. That is a choice for distance. Stop hiding out in the “safety” of shallow, it’s so not worth it.

Why Mothers & Daughters Fight

Mothers & daughters fight the most of any parenting pair. Fathers usually have no idea what to do about it and feel helpless or disgusted.

What are Teen girls so unhappy about with their mothers? I hear the same refrain; “She doesn’t understand me.” “She doesn’t have a clue who I really am!” “She just doesn’t listen!” “Why is she so judgemental?” “She is so hypocritical!” These are all very ordinary complaints. It is by fighting with Mom that teens are able to make themselves known.

Terri Apter is a brilliant psychologist who has done a lot of research on mother-daughter relationships. She has written a terrific book to help mothers navigate the confusing territory of adolescence. The book is aptly titled: You Don’t Really Know Me.Mothers & Daughters Fighting, Angry adolescent girls, Misunderstood Teens

Apter makes wonderful points, too numerous to tally. Here are just five:

1. “A teenage daughter maintains a critical watchfulness over her own identity & locates herself carefully by being ‘not my mother’. pg.22

2. A teen perceives Mom outlining faults & mentioning past mistakes as being shamed. Humiliation is never a good thing. pg.55

3. Teens are “insulted by parental concerns.” pg.60

4. Absence of conflict is not evidence of a good relationship. The Teen lies to get along. pg.151

5. These relationships improve in part because “a girl’s experience of her new powers in hurting her mother can actually offer the recognition she        is seeking.” pg.226

These are just a sampling of the insights her book offers. If you are exhausted by the pain of fighting with your adolescent daughter this book offers a very valuable paradigm shift. Instead of just being so tuned in to your daughters’ complete lack of respect for you, it will help you to flip that point of view by recognizing, that she doesn’t feel respected either.

One of the things I repeat over & over on both the blog and the website is how a lack of respect dooms relationships.

The only bad thing about this book is that it wasn’t published until 2004 and I needed it in 2001. There is no doubt in my mind I would have been a better mom to my daughter if I had known about it even in 2004.