The Agony and Ecstasy of a Teenager

BY: Sujatha Rao

According to an article by UNICEF, India has the largest population of adolescents in the world, being home to 243 million individuals aged 10-19 years.  

While the promise and potential of the nation lie in these youthful human resources, this situation also comes with an onerous responsibility on the part of the state and parents/guardians to collectively nurture and harness this potential towards fruition. 

This task seems to be easier said than done as adolescence is a very vulnerable period in anyone’s life. In this connection, it’s apt to quote the following lines from the movie “Chemical Hearts,” released in 2020:

“You are never more alive than when you’re a teenager. Your brain is flushed with chemicals that can turn your life into a story of epic proportions. A-minus feels like the Pulitzer, a lonely Saturday night is an eternity of solitude, and your lab partner becomes the great love of your life.”

Indeed, the intensity of pleasure and pain with which life is lived during this phase is unparalleled in one’s life, since it happens to be a phase of many firsts – the first time one wakes up to the ecstasy of the first love, the agony of the first heartache, the confusion of puberty and maybe for some of the teenagers the mixed feelings of the first intercourse experience. 

With all the chemicals firing off in the brain, it’s also a phase when one is trying to figure out who one really is while transitioning from a girl into a woman or from a boy into a man. 

As one navigates through so many uncharted territories for the very first time, along with the unbridled joy one experience, its small wonder then that one also goes through the highest level of anxiety, nervousness, and even depression at times during this phase, since one is not yet mature enough to handle all this emotional turmoil.

Sometime back when I happened to mention to a venting mother of a teenager that teenager is one of the most difficult phases in one’s life, she retorted back in frustration asking “for whom – for the parents or for the teenager?” This question of hers sums up the overall trauma associated with teenagers in general, both for the teenager and to the close family members of that teenager. 

Why is it so challenging?

While wading through the teenage years had always been a difficult task for biological and other reasons, it has become even more challenging in the present times. Some of the major reasons for this are: 

  • Internet and Social Media Usage – While the raging hormones are furiously at work within the body of a teen, the constant badgering from the external world through social media is adding fuel to the fire. With the ease of access to porn sites, uncontrolled exposure to all kinds of violence on the web, and the constant hankering after the number of “likes” that the teens end up chasing on their Facebook and Instagram pages, they often find themselves in a toxic environment leading to loads of mental stress.  

The following 2019 data from Nielson shows India’s internet usage to be second only to China. 

At 31% usage by the pre-teens and teens, a large part of which is most likely spent on various kinds of social media platforms, the addiction seems poised to reach pandemic levels soon.  

  • Changed family structure – With the nuclear families having replaced the erstwhile joint families and with a large number of families opting to have one or two children per family, the attention with which children are being brought up has changed for the better. While this is a positive development, on the flip side, it has also resulted into the parents having a constant urge to protect their children from any kind of pain or failure. This over-protective attitude is often rendering these children incapable of handling even minor crises on their own which in turn is leading to severe psychological issues in them.
  • The competitive environment – During the teenage years, one is at one of the most important crossroads in life as far as academics go. Especially in the Indian context, teenagers are saddled with the additional burden of having to go through some of the most difficult entrance exams of one’s life, which ultimately go on to decide their future career paths. With competition increasing by leaps and bounds with each passing year, it’s only going to become more and more difficult.

What can we do?

Against this backdrop, the following tips are aimed at helping us overcome some of these challenges.

Keep the lines of communication humming? Sitting down for a formal “heart to heart” chat can be quite anxiety-provoking. Hence, as a parent, it helps to have casual conversations with your teen and never let the communication lines between you both dry up. 

While you are at it, please watch out for those tell-tale signs of disturbance, if any, including social withdrawal, mood swings, changes in routine, personality changes, talk of suicide, etc. If you think it’s warranted, do seek professional help immediately.

Unfortunately, mental health issues at such a young age are not something that can be brushed away lightly. As per a factsheet published in 2020 by the World Health Organisation, suicide is the third leading cause of death in 15-19-year-olds globally.

  • Create little rituals to connect

Make room for some family rituals involving everyone in the family. It could be anything of interest to both the teen and you. These rituals go a long way in establishing a strong bond between you and you’re teen. 

  • Help the teen develop a hobby

The sooner you help your child develop a hobby the better. For this, the work can start soon after the child’s toddler days. However, it’s never too late to start one. 

Failures of individuals are often buffered by belief in being part of a much larger whole. Developing core interests in serious hobbies, philanthropic work, religion, etc., are some of the best examples that help us to be part of something larger than life.

  • Practice what you preach

Children learn more from what you “do” and “how you behave” rather than “what you say”. For instance, if you are asking your teen to practice better cleanliness, it won’t cut the ice with him or her, if you happen to be a messy and untidy person.

  • Don’t compare 

Teens are adults in the making and they want to feel like individuals with special and unique qualities that the parents appreciate regardless of how their sibling is so much better at academics or that second cousin is so very obedient. Comparing with others alienates them and makes them even more adamant in continuing with their annoying behavior if any. 

Celebrate small wins with the teen and indulge him or her even when that area in which he or she excels doesn’t seem too important to you. 

  • Don’t sermonize

The biggest put off for the present generation is their having to listen to those long-winded sermons, especially those that start with “hamaare zamaanein me”. Times have changed and there is very little that the teen connects with your earlier world. It’s you as a parent who has to get to know his/her world and act with empathy.

  • Don’t overprotect

The parental role is restricted to providing support and love. The issues of the teen by and large are to be resolved by himself or herself. As parents, we need to assure the teen that we are there to lend moral support with a shoulder to lean on anytime he or she needs the same.


In the ultimate reckoning, teenage is one of the most beautiful and intense periods in one’s life. In her song “Am not a girl and not yet a woman,” Britney Spears wonderfully ruminates over this “in-between” phase. Let’s act with empathy and help the teens find “a few moments in time and space” that’s their very own during this phase, as they forge their way into adulthood. 

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