My mom often picks up the grandkids after school. One afternoon she arrived in my classroom after the students had gone, her eyes blazing: “As I walked on the sidewalk, NOT ONE of those kids would move aside to let me pass! I had to step into the parking lot to get by them!” “Were they junior high students?” “Yes! A whole pack of them!” I gently explained that the sad reality was they probably hadn’t even noticed her, but that if she’d stopped and asked them to move, they probably would’ve looked surprised to see her, then stepped aside.
Self-absorbed. Self-centered. Inconsiderate. These are all words commonly used to describe teen-agers. And they’re all pretty accurate, much of the time. In my class, we call it “the Bubble,” as in, “You need to get out of your bubble.” Last year’s class even had fun pretending to pop each other’s bubbles. The bad news is, it’s going to take awhile for it to go away. The good news is, there’s a very good reason for it.
Here’s another example, often heard in my class: “I want to pray for my grandma; she’s having surgery.” “What’s the surgery for?” “I’m not sure.” “When is her surgery?” “I don’t know.” “Will she have to stay in the hospital?” “I have no idea.” “How do you know she’s having surgery?” “My mom said I’d have to ride home with my friend on the day of the surgery.”
Your typical teens only hear the part of the story that applies to them. So why the self-absorption? It’s pretty much survival. Compare a 10-year-old to a 14-year-old. The physical differences are the most obvious: in that four years’ time, they’ve gained a few (or several ) inches, sprouted hair in several new places, lost those pinchable baby cheeks, and watched the shape of their bodies change, often dramatically.
And those are only the changes we can see. Emotionally, they feel like they have little control over their mood swings. Intellectually, they’re thinking all sorts of new thoughts about who they are and where they fit into the big picture of Life. Spiritually, they’re beginning to question all that they used to take for granted. Between studying their reflections in the mirror and reflecting on all that’s going on inside their hearts and heads – is it any wonder they barely notice the rest of us? The Bubble is a survival technique; it gives them time and space to deal with – well, with themselves.
My advice is to keep gently poking your head into the Bubble. When you see the mess he’s left behind, call him to your side and ask him to look through your eyes. He’ll probably be surprised to see the open cupboard, the open peanut butter jar, and the open bread wrapper. (This is a real-life example, by the way, and when he saw the mess, he promptly cleaned it up.)
When you give her important information – “Dad will pick you up at 1:00 for an ortho appointment. Don’t forget to get your homework assignment” – have her repeat it back to you. She’ll be annoyed, but at least you’ll know the words penetrated the Bubble.
When he inconsiderately interrupts your conversation, point it out to him. I like to say, “I’m sure you didn’t mean to interrupt the important conversation I’m having with this student/parent/teacher.” Often, he’s surprised even to see there’s someone else with me!
Don’t fight the Bubble; it’s not going away any time soon. But do keep stepping inside to remind your teen that you – and the rest of the world – are still here. And be patient. Since you grew into a thoughtful, considerate adult, chances are good your teen will, too!