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This is an online resource for the book The Teenager's Guide to the Real World by Marshall Brain, ISBN 1-9657430-3-9. The online resources are offered as a free supplement to the book. They help you access the huge library of material for teenager's available on the Web. For more information on the book please click here.

Understanding Teenage Confusion

Being a teenager can at times be incredibly confusing and frustrating. Sometimes the things happening to you, or the things going on inside your head, make absolutely no sense. I received the following letter recently from a teenager:
    I have got a question.. please answer.. Lately I have been feeling different things. One day I will be all upset over nothing.. little things will bother me. Or everything that happens will bother me. I felt like killing myself so badly a couple of days ago. But then the next day I was fine and I even felt happy. I dont get it. One day i'm really upset and wanting to try drugs and drink, smoke anything. Then the next day i'm fine. I was thinking that I'm just going through some stage. Just being a normal teenager. I'm right arent i? I'm asking because in one of my classes. The teacher said that signs of depression were thought of suicide, wanting to try new things (drugs, alcohol), being rebelious, even ditching friends, being moody around them. I have experienced all of these, but not for long periods. Just I go in and out of these. The only thing is he said long periods of time. So i'm fine right and i have nothing to worry about? Please answer me. I'm so totally confused. Please give me any info you can. And please dont put a subject on it. I really dont want my mom to read it. Thanks a lot
You can see and feel exactly what this person is going through. To answer her question, it is likely she is fine. But knowing that might not make it feel any better. I can remember as a teenager myself feeling very frustrated and confused sometimes. I can also remember oscillating a lot like she mentions in her letter. So, for example, I would get incredibly mad about something (usually something silly), then I'd get mad at myself about being so angry, and then get mad about berating myself about being so mad about being so angry... And I seemed to have absolutely no control over these feelings.

So let's look at some of the things mentioned in her letter. There are a lot of different reasons why it can be weird being a teenager. Here are several of the most important:

  • Your body is trying to figure out what to do with all of its new reproductive organs and the hormones they generate. Prior to puberty you had no sexual hormones flowing in your bloodstream (there are a several of them, as discussed in Chapters 9 and 11 of The Teenager's Guide to the Real World). All of these new hormones have significant effects on your brain and body, but they have never been there before so you are not used to them and what they do.
  • Your brain is trying to switch from being a child to being an adult. Around age 12, for example, your brain for the first time has the ability to perform what's known as "logical reasoning." Prior to age 12 you could not do it, and then suddenly it starts to become possible. Other systems in your brain are coming on-line for the first time as well. However, they are all new, they need tuning, and you need to learn how they work. Therefore, they tend to spew out a lot of garbage initially.
  • The previous two additions make you suddenly aware (very strongly sometimes) of what your peers think about you. Suddenly their opinions matter A LOT.
  • Your brain also creates something I call the Teenage Illusion Module. This module is discussed in Chapter 2 of The Teenager's Guide to the Real World. It can have a tendency to make you feel that adults are stupid or weird. Interestingly, this module will collapse between ages 18 and 22 and you will be able to see how smart your parents are again. It is a very interesting feeling you get when the collapse occurs.
  • You are also getting lots of conflicting messages. So your parents say one thing, your teachers say another, your friends say another and TV says something else. The whole "message" thing can therefore be very confusing. For example, your parents might say to you, "Sex before marriage is bad. Do not do it." Then you go to school and in sex education class you hear, "Safe sex is OK." Then you talk to your boyfriend and he says, "If you don't have sex with me I will dump you." Your friends say, "We are all having sex. Why aren't you?" But when you dig a little deeper you find out none of them are really having sex--they are all just talking about it. Then you turn on the TV and it seems to say, "Everyone should be having sex with everyone else." So, who do you believe? How in the world do you make a decision with all of this conflicting information pouring in? It's confusing. (One of the goals of The Teenager's Guide to the Real World is to provide you with a good stream of high-quality, non-confusing information so you can make good choices for yourself about this kind of stuff.)
  • Add to that the fact that everything you are doing is new to you, and a "first": First date, first slow dance, first kiss, first car, first time driving a car, first... Because everything is a first you often don't know what you are doing and that saps confidence.
All of these things can combine to make life as a teenager confusing. I have a friend who has a fourteen-year-old daughter. His comment about her recently was, "I never know WHO she will be on any given day. So one day she is bright and happy, another day she is sullen and silent, another day she is crying, another day she is angry and resentful." This is normal. EVERY teenager goes through this, even your friends who might seem cool and collected when you see them. I went through this. The biggest contributor is the new hormones your body is producing, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about them.

In the letter she talks about things like suicide, drugs, drinking and so on. You know what? Those things don't make it any better. Say you start drinking. That will actually make it worse because now you have one more problem to deal with besides just being a teenager. You have one more weird thing in your body making things even more confusing. Drugs are the same way. They might make you feel "better" for a moment by blanking things out, but then everything is just the same when the drug wears off. So your only choice is to take the drug again and again. What good is that? It's a bad cycle to get into. It would be better to learn how to deal with it yourself without masking things with drugs.

One reason you might be thinking about drugs or drinking is because no one has ever suggested anything else. Here are some ideas from The Teenager's Guide to the Real World that you might try:

  • Talk - First and foremost, talk with someone you trust. Tell them exactly what you are thinking and feeling and ask them to help you search for options, understand what is happening, etc. If you ask around you will find an adult who has been through exactly what you are going through now and who will be able to listen and help.
  • Write - Writing is different from talking. It uses a different part of your brain and involves only yourself. It can be therapeutic, and it can help you organize and understand what is happening to you. Try writing down how you feel. Simply use a stream of consciousness approach at first, then come back and organize it if that helps.
  • Pray - Prayer is talking to God. Tell God how you feel and ask for His help. Also, thank God for the things you do have.
  • Walk - Your brain is housed inside your body, and the brain and body interact. Walking is a way of using that interaction beneficially. Pick a point two or three miles away and force yourself to walk there. Then you will have to walk back and you will almost always feel better in some way.
  • Work - I can remember the day my father died. It was such an incredibly hard, sad day for all of us. I can clearly remember a scene from that day. I walked into the bathroom downstairs and there was my mother, on her knees, crying profusely as she scrubbed the toilet. I cry now as I think of that scene, because it was so like my mother to turn to work in a time of utmost sadness. What else is there to do? You cannot simply stand still and let the pain bludgeon you. You have to do something. That is why walking can help. Working is the same—it can distract you in some small way from the pain. My first book was written very much as a distraction from pain. I could work on it 16 hours a day and then go to sleep, and for periods of time I could get so wrapped up in the book that I would forget.
  • Think - Stop and think and gain a rational perspective on your problem. Writing and talking both help the process.
  • Cry - There is nothing wrong with crying. It is a way to grieve.
  • Wait - It is almost impossible to convince yourself of this while you are in the pain of death or rejection, but the pain will lessen and then pass if you simply wait long enough. Be patient.
  • Help - In many cases there is no better medicine for pain than helping others. In helping others you are able to focus on their problems rather than your own. In that way you gain both release and perspective.
  • Join - Join a new club or group. Sometimes getting involved in a new activity can help take your mind off things. You might join a group at church, sign up for something unusual like rock-climbing lessons, join a volunteer organization or work on a political campaign. Look for something different that will take your mind off of the problem at hand.
The letter also talks about depression. It really sounds to me like the author is a completely normal, ordinary teenager, but here are 10 statements about depression from The Teenager's Guide to the Real World. See how many you agree with:
  • I sometimes or often consider ending my life.
  • I have trouble sleeping or sleep too much.
  • I am often tired.
  • My weight has gone up or down recently.
  • When I think about the future I feel hopeless about it.
  • I cannot concentrate on things I am trying to do or get focused on anything.
  • I don't enjoy anything. I am never happy. I don't laugh or smile anymore.
  • I am worthless. Nobody needs me or wants to talk to me.
  • I feel sad and dejected.
  • I feel like crying.
If you look at this list and find that a majority of the statements hold true, it is possible that you are suffering from depression and should talk to a doctor or counselor about it. There is a difference between "not feeling very happy today" and "being profoundly sad for several weeks or months," especially if it is leading you to think about suicide. If that is the case, it is important to talk to someone. There are lots of good solutions.

Something else to try: find an adult you can trust (your parents are a good place to start, but if that doesn't work try teachers, friends of your parents, neighbors, aunts and uncles, grandparents, etc.) and simply tell this person about yourself and how you feel. Ask him/her to tell you stories from when he/she was a teenager. You will probably be amazed that they felt exactly the same way as you do. It sometimes seems like everyone else in the world is happy and you are the only one who is miserable. You will be surprised to learn that you are completely normal.

I hope this helps. Here is something to keep in mind. You have probably heard the expression, "take things one day at a time." What this means is: no matter how bad you feel today, just work to make it through that one day. Because the next day will be better.


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Keywords: teenagers, teenager, teen age, teenage, teens, teen, adolescents, adolescent, parents, parent