Published in The Ferndale Record, April 11, 2012
OK, there are more than six, but this list is streamlined, and in no essential order. Things change hourly with teenagers, and what’s number one on Tuesday might be nowhere near the list on Friday.
Also, I’m not an expert at anything, except maybe napping. However, I couldn’t help learning a couple of things along the way. Consider the following:
1. Food. Have a lot of it around. Always. Make sure it’s something they like and buy more of it than you could possibly think you’d ever need. The teenager, especially a male, seems to require unfathomable amounts of sustenance.
A parent may decide, “From now on we’re only going to eat healthy food in our house.” I’ve done this. In short, be prepared for your offspring to find other feeding grounds. They may be kind (or surly) and try the new stuff, but they want what they want. Carrots, celery and apples go only so far. Also, remember their friends will be at your house, too, often for days at a time. It’s unlikely you will ever have too much food on hand, ever. And what you do have will disappear at an alarming rate.
2. You never know. You may make it your life’s mission to know what, why, where, when, how and who concerning your teenager. But the truth is, you never know everything. The sooner a parent accepts this, the better equipped they are to handle the really rough times. You’ll know what they let you know, and outside of clever detective work, it’s doubtful you’ll know everything they do, or everyone they’re with. Accept the fact you can’t be in charge of all of it. They get to choose. It’s part of the master plan.
3. Lock your bedroom and bathroom doors. I learned the uncomfortable way that seeing one’s parents in underwear (or less) only confuses already weird feelings in a teenager. As an adolescent, it played with my head a little when I saw my mom or dad in undies. Twelve to 18-year-olds especially don’t like to think of parents as people with lives and feelings, and well, underpants. Just lock the door.
4. Don’t take things personally. These sub-adult creatures will probably say horrible things. They’ll say they hate you and worse. They’ll lie and look good doing it. They’ll promise you anything and deliver nothing. The worst thing a parent can do is believe this is who that child really is. You’ll be tempted because a 15-year-old with attitude can be astonishingly convincing. But, and this is the hard part, let your anger and frustration drop to the ground and roll away like Skittles. You’re the grown-up—they’re not.
5. You know when they say, “You don’t understand!”? We really don’t. We understand what it was like for us, and while that has value, it’s not definitive. Parents like to think it is. Our children are growing up in a society that 20 years ago was unimaginable. They’re faced with burdens we can’t know. Maybe our best response when they say this to us, and if they haven’t yet, they will, is “You’re right. I don’t. How can I help?”
6. Expect goodness. Children will do “bad” things sometimes. They balk at requests, chores, authority, and clean underwear. They are individuating and trying to figure it all out. But their innate goodness is overwhelming. Teach them appropriate behavior and start again. Second chances are underrated. Look for everything good—grades, positive behavior, reliability, kindness, and let your compliments flow. Expect it all, but especially the good. It’s there for the taking.