Sunday, January 15, 2023

Our teenagers still need us

When my children were little, I was exhausted from all the work:  pottytraining, playdates, homework, bake sales, sleepless nights. I worried about their friendships, their grades, their eating habits, and their manners. There were so many moments I thought: “I can’t wait for them to grow up and go to high school, so I don’t have to worry so much and have so much to do!”

Joke’s on me.

The potty training has been swapped with nagging about keeping their bathroom clean. The playdates have turned into epic teenage hangout sessions. I’m still worrying about their eating habits, grades, manners, and I won’t even get into the fretting about friendships. The sleepless nights I spent rocking, changing, or feeding are now replaced with checking their locations on my phone, hoping they are making good choices, and waiting up for them to get home safely.  

The reality is: our teenagers need us.  Maybe not in the same ways they did when they were babies or toddlers or school age, but perhaps even more so. 

A wise friend (who obviously had grown children) once looked at me when I was complaining about how hard it was to raise little kids. He chuckled and said: “Little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems.”

Parenting a teenager is scary, but if we are going to be fair, being a teenager is scary, too. Kids nowadays have a lot more on their plate than we did: academic and athletic pressures, navigating college admissions, and the infamous game changer with which we didn’t have to contend: social media. The rate of depression, anxiety, and suicide among teenagers is staggering. Despite what they may think, our high schoolers need us to be involved, maybe now more than ever before.

I know, as parents, we are tired—really tired. And let’s be honest, half the time, most of us would not even begin to know how to help with that geometry homework, but these are not the years to take a step back. So, here are some things we can do at this stage of the parenting game:

Talk to your teen. A lot and often and about everything. I know…they don’t always seem like they’re paying attention, but they are—more than we realize.

Listen. Listen even more than you talk. Do so without turning every situation into an interrogation or a lecture. Try very hard to not react. If you’re doing it right, you will probably start hearing some things that will make you want to gasp and lock them in their rooms until they are 30. However, doing this will guarantee that your teens will stop communicating with you as openly as you need them to.

Ask questions. If you are sitting there, thinking: “My child never tells me anything,” strategically posed questions can help nudge them to share more. For example, instead of asking “How was your day?” try “Tell me about the best and worst part of your day.” Plus, asking questions about what’s important to them will show that you care about those things. “What do you like about your new friend, so-and-so?” or “How did your team feel about that game loss/win?” or “Which video game/book/movie/Netflix series is that?” When there are empty spaces in the conversation, don’t rush to fill them. Often, once we can get them to start talking, they realize they have a lot to say—especially if you are truly listening (see previous bullet!).

Get involved in school. Even if your schedule is too full to volunteer for events, joining the PTSA is essential. Not only does that help the school (read: your kid!), but it will keep you in-the-know on all things school. Check their grades—often. Ask about assignments, teachers, fieldtrips. Join the school’s social media page. Go to open house! (Yes, you should still go to high school Open House!)  Attend anything and everything you can.

Get to know their friends. Consider being the parent taxi for events. You’d be amazed by the tidbits of information you can collect while they talk in the backseat. Encourage your teen to invite friends over to the house. Yes, I know what kind of noise and chaos a group of teens can make in a house. Trust me: I have two teenaged boys. The long-term payoff will be worth the short-term mess left in your kitchen.

Talk to other parents. Our kids didn’t come with instruction manuals. We can all learn from each other, and there’s nothing more validating and relieving than hearing another parent has gone through the same thing. We should be each other’s greatest allies.

Respect your teen. I can’t take credit for this tip. After reading this article to my 17-year-old, I asked him if he could think of anything else, from a teen’s perspective, that a parent could do in order to be more involved and connected at this stage. He tilted his head for a minute after listening to me, and with almost no hesitation, replied: “If parents really want to know how to win over their kids, it’s by giving them respect. Kids won’t listen to their parents or care what they think if they don’t respect them. If we feel like we are being respected, we will give that back.” Out of the mouths of babes.

Seek help. Sometimes, no matter what we do as parents, we need more help. Talk to a school counselor, a therapist, or search for community organizations that can help. Getting through the teen years is ridiculously hard (for everyone); there is no shame in asking for help.

These days, I have many moments when I think: “I wish I could go back to when they were little and it was so much easier!” But then I look over at my teens, in their nearly adult bodies, who think they know it all, and I catch glimpses of those two little boys who kept me so busy all day and night. So, I know I have to continue putting in the hard, exhausting work that they need at this age. And when I’m lying awake, worrying and checking their locations on my phone, I tell myself: “Hey, at least I’m not changing diapers…” 

1 comment:

  1. This advice is all so very true. Seems like you have raised some pretty amazing young men!


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