So You've Healed Your Inner Child—Now It's Time To Heal Your 'Inner Teenager'

In placing all our focus on soothing our inner child, have we forgotten to check in on our hurting 'inner teenagers'?

Mark Travers, Ph.D.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | March 18, 2024

The realization that we'll never again get to experience the feeling of being seventeen can be somber. Our teenage years—filled with hope, anger, fear and exhilaration—are often what we find ourselves yearning for, even late into adulthood. Despite the fact that our teen years were confusing, tumultuous and even terrifying at times, most of us look back at those years with longing and fondness.

The ever-growing body of developmental psychology research often speaks to how crucial childhood and adolescence are in shaping who we are. Many of us have become aware of this in attempts to heal our "inner child." However, in doing so, have we overlooked the howling "inner teenager" sat in the corner of our psyches? Your pining for adolescence might not just be a spark of nostalgia; it might be a sign that it's time to tend to your inner teen.

1. Reject Conformity And Embrace What You Rebelled Against

Whether observing teenagers from 100, 50 or just one year ago, the sentiment remains universal: adolescence is a time marked by immense inner conflict. Research outlines how conformity—the act of aligning our thoughts, behaviors and appearance with those of the peer group—often becomes a teenage coping mechanism in the face of this conflict.

Conformity during our teenage years wasn't just a choice; it was often a survival tactic, driven by a deep desire to belong and a lack of self-confidence. The teenage quest for acceptance often eclipsed our individuality as we adhered to societal norms and peer expectations, sacrificing our authenticity to avoid rejection. Ironically, even those who resisted conformity may still feel its influence, as non-conformity can similarly reinforce different norms.

Research on the success of the show Stranger Things—which capitalizes on our nostalgia for adolescence—among adult populations exemplifies how our teenage spirit continues to resound later in life, impacting our attitudes, preferences and behaviors profoundly. This longing for days-gone-by can manifest in unexpected ways, leaving us feeling exhausted and disillusioned.

Reflecting on our past, we may realize the extent to which we sacrificed authenticity for acceptance during adolescence. We painted our rooms gray and beige, wore clothes others would think were "cool," and abandoned beloved hobbies under the guise of maturity. Now, as adults, we confront the harsh reality that we wasted precious years conforming to teenage expectations, only to find ourselves filled with regret.

Despite our regret, there is still an opportunity for renewal and self-discovery. It's never too late to reclaim the vibrant spirit of our teenage-selves, to embrace the aspects of ourselves we once overhauled in favor of conformity.

Paint your walls colorfully, hang the whimsical artwork you once took down, spend your Friday nights watching old cartoons and wear those light-up sneakers. By honoring these old interests, we acknowledge the spirit of the inner teenager who sacrificed childhood joys for acceptance. In doing so, we free ourselves from the shackles of conformity, and rediscover the joy and authenticity that has always resided within us.

2. Reconnect With Those You Pushed Away

Adolescence was a time of intense self-discovery. We yearned to unravel the depths of our being, to understand who we are and where we belong in the world. In this pursuit, we often found ourselves at odds with those who cared for us. Research underscores that, during adolescence, it's not uncommon to push away from family, to seek independence and to distance oneself from the familiar comforts of home in pursuit of individuality.

Yet, it's only as we mature that we begin to grasp the gravity of our actions. We come to realize that in the pursuit of identity, we may have inadvertently distanced ourselves from the people who loved and supported us most. Studies reflect how, as years pass, the value of family and the importance of bonds become increasingly apparent. We may feel remorse as we reflect on the choices of our teenage selves, who prioritized autonomy over the warmth of community.

As adults, our inner teens may long for the comfort and support of these relationships we took for granted. Our youthful pride and individualism often made us overlook the significance of these connections, dismissing them as unnecessary or even burdensome. We were too proud to admit that we needed to lean on others, believing true strength lay in self-reliance. Now, with the clarity of hindsight, we may resent not having taken the time to nurture those bonds, to express gratitude, or simply to check in and say, "I love you."

However, healing the wounds of our inner teenager begins with acknowledging we don't have to navigate life's challenges alone. We can soothe our inner teen by reaching out to those we care about, by expressing our appreciation for their presence in our lives and by allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and seeking support when needed. Nurturing once neglected relationships and remembering that we're not invincible can provide solace to our younger spirit.

In our eagerness to embrace adulthood as teenagers, we thrusted ourselves into a world imagined to be filled with freedom, independence and endless possibilities. Yet, the reality of adulthood often falls short of the idealized visions we once held. In our haste to grow up, we inadvertently stifled the spirit of our teenage selves, neglecting to cherish the joys and innocence of youth.

However, by listening to our inner teenager, we come to realize that it's okay to celebrate our youthful spirit, even as adults. We are never too old to indulge in the simple pleasures and comforts our teenage selves once cherished.

Does your longing for your youthful years stop you from moving on? Take the Nostalgia Scale to understand this urge better.

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