Monday, January 9, 2017

Being the Parent of a Teenager: Public Enemy # 1

  
For twenty-five of my thirty-seven years in education, I was a classroom teacher.  For twenty of those years, I taught children ages twelve through fifteen, the threshold into adolescence.          
We all went through it; most of us survived. Often compared to the midlife crisis of our later years, this age surpasses it as the most formidable period in a human being’s life span. How we get through one shapes how we get through the other, so I made it my mission in life to know all that I could about my clients.
          You go to bed a child and wake up to puberty.  Where there was no hair, it has sprouted in several private places.  Where your dulcet voice once danced in the air, you honk and squeak.  Where your arms once fit your favorite long sleeved shirt, your arms now dangle past your knees.
          You suddenly notice half the world is of the opposite SEX, and SEX suddenly takes precedence over your train set or your dolly.  EVERYTHING reminds you of sex and you start to worry about your eternal salvation. 
          Your parents become Public Enemy Number One. They are slave masters, jail wardens, old people.  Every time you ask if you can do something, you already know their answer – No!  Can I stay up late?  Can I go out to see my friends? Can I grow out my hair?  Can I get a tattoo?  Can I get a piercing? 
          Your hair is oily.  No matter how much you bathe, you stink.  Your nose and ears grow before the rest of your face, then pimples start invading the terrain and eyebrows grow together and you feel like a teenage werewolf/Peewee Herman.
          Teachers want you to pay attention to the lesson while you are seated next to the most beautiful/handsome kid in the class. How can they expect you to concentrate? Not only do your parents drag you to church but Mom insists you wear the outfit Grandma gave you for your last birthday.  It is hard to act cool wearing corduroy.
          Parents have a lot to learn about adolescence and when asked my advice, I offered what I could.
          It is a necessary and important step in human growth.  The child is morphing from child to adult.  The teen is in transition and the road is slippery and tricky, and it varies with each teen. What works with one child, may not work with the next.
The child needs a parent, not a friend, but being one does not exclude the other.  Just like we were there to help them learn to walk and talk as babies, we need to be there to help them learn to walk and talk as adults. Talk to them when everyone is calm; no one is angry. And LISTEN to what they have to say or don’t say. Learn to read between the lines.
Keep them busy. Find what they like to do and get them involved in that sport or hobby or activity.  Steer them in the right direction with the right friends, like kids at church or school groups. Invite their friends to your house so you can know and meet them, but stay out of their way.  They are your teen's friends, not yours.   
Like it or not, rebellion is a part of the road to independence, but teaching them how to be independent varies with each teen. How one teen reacts may not be how his brother or sister will.  Learn to let go. A little at a time is best for both of you. Give responsibilities that earn them rewards, like free time or parole.  Drive them to and fro from activities.  Meet the other parents.
Always allow them to call you if they need help, need to be rescued, need an excuse to get out of something they do not want to be pressured into doing by others. No questions asked. At least not then.
          For some teens, the transition is subtle; for others it is not, but it is inevitable.  
          A mother of five teenagers once told me she wished she could freeze them through their teen years, then defrost them in their twenties. I offered no consolation. I told her it does not work that way. Her five would still have to go through adolescence, and it was better for them to do it then and not later.
          Getting a child through the teen years takes the two of you, parent and child.  
         

          

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