Monday, October 04, 2010

The One Where I Tell You What to Do: On Raising Teens...

I'm no expert but I am in the very middle of it... one child about to turn 14 and another 6 months from 13... and I'm here to tell you that parenting a teen is very different experience.

We all think, all new mommies, that it's beyond exhausting... the late night feedings, the teething, the tantrums... we repeat daily: there there, Mommy loves you, it's ok, here baby... we cannot imagine ever not saying those things... not giving them that endless attention and love.

And then one morning you wake up and realize that you have slept through the night... and step by step, their growth becomes a very tangible series of events. Potty trained? Check. Sippy cups over bottles? Step. Kindergarten? No more car seats? Sleepovers? Check, check and check. Their need for reassurance is still there however only our affirmations take the shape of helping our children learn to navigate the world of friends and school...we repeat daily: You can do it, I'll help you with your homework, I'm sure that you two will work it out....

But things are definitely slower paced on the parenting circuit and you start having regular date nights with your husband and going out to plan weekends away with friends and bit by bit, you rediscover your pre-baby self.

For most of elementary school you can cruise along on this delightful wave. Your children go to school and then they go to soccer practice or karate or dance. You know their friends and they probably have a sleepover one night each weekend during which they will stay up late watching goofy movies.

Keep and eye out though because slowly it begins to change... maybe it begins when you let them ride their skateboards to a friend's house. Maybe it's when they go downtown on their own to get a frozen yogurt... or to the beach without you... it's a gradual process but before you know it, usually around 8th grade, your child will be an incredibly independent and social creature with a Facebook account and a smartphone.

And here is where a lot of you will, let me put this bluntly, fuck up.

Your sons might tower over you. Their feet might be bigger, their voices deeper and there might be zits popping up on their forehead. They might be moody and sulky and downright pains in your ass, and you might breathe a sigh of relief when they head out the door to spend the afternoon with their friends.

They need you more now than ever.

Because they only look grown up.

They are still growing up.

And you have to be there. You have to log into their computers and read what their friends are saying and posting and what they themselves are saying and posting. You have to read their texts messages and see what is going on in their relationships. You have to get on the school websites and check their grades and assignments and go to Back to School night and meet their teachers and call other parents... your job, although fairly easy for the past years, is now cranking up again into full gear and you need to be present.

I can't speak for teenage girls, although I maintain that this holds true for them as well, but for boys the hormones charging through their veins can cause a tremendous amount of lunkhead behavior.

They will get ugly on Facebook. They will jockey for position. They will tear each other down instead of build each other up.

Gossip. It's not just for girls.

You have to see it. You have to respond. Tell them that they're good enough... that their friends' successes don't mean their failures. Help them channel their envy into pushing themselves to be better... remind them that Junior High is temporary but the choices they make now will reflect their character forever.

Keep them in line. School is their job. Good grades are their future. Help them have the foresight to see it... keep them dreaming about their plans... for college, for travel, for life.

It's almost shocking. Unlike their baby days, when they reached for you in every moment, now they push you away... find a way in.

By the way... I'm messing up just as much as anyone, maybe more... but I'm trying.


Daniella said...

excellent post! I have a good friend with an 8th grader and she does not loook at his text, his phone calls, his computer history or his fb... they do not go to back to school night. Her answer to me was you'll stop all that after J finishes middle school... My answer wtf, I'll be even more in his stuff than I am now. It's so critical at that age. Thanks for the reminder

Anonymous said...

Excellent and important thoughts, and all of them true for girls as well as boys. But girls can occasionally tend to be more shrill. (That last sentence was heavy with understatement, btw.) Keep an eye on FB - or better yet, if you can influence it, don't let them start on it to begin with. It's a huge time suck that distracts them from their jobs, i.e. studies, and creates hurt if everyone doesn't play nice, which they know better how to do in high school than in middle school. It helps to take a deep breath - maybe two - before responding to an unnecessarily snotty comeback or answer to a simple question. Mom is there to be the punching bag, you've just got to take it - you don't have to like it or accept it, you just have to maintain an even tone to your voice. One last thing (where I help you further tell your readers what to do): As in all things, humor at this stage helps enormously.

The Lagunan said...

You're a good mom, KKF! I especially love that you have not lowered the boom with unrealistic ideas about keeping them off skateboards.

Will you come mother my children for a while?

Anonymous said...

GAWD, I adore this post! True, true, true.

Shelley said...

Great post!! The same is starting to hold true in my house.

Amy Y said...

Thanks for this Kristin! I'm so not looking forward to teenagers... but I'm up for the challenge

Kayce said...

Goodness!!!! I LOVE this post and man is is OH SO TRUE!!! And thanks for being one of those moms who checks up on your teen...I thought I was the only one. :0