He’s grunting in response to my questions, and staring straight ahead.
Me, at the wheel. Him, in the passenger seat. Adult annoyance meets adolescent angst, yields one part migraine, two parts morning misery. And where is my kid? The one I raised?
I shouldn’t complain. Really.
Relatively speaking, my teenagers have given me little trouble in the traditional sense. Oh you know what I mean by that – drugs, sex, and rock ‘n roll – not to mention more mundane moments to do with a smart mouth, jumbled judgment, snarling silence, and manic moods.
Wait. Allow me to reconsider my position.
Must I inhale deeply one more time, and call upon my own well-worn tips for tolerating teens? Might we start Friday lunch early – preferably with a Bloody Mary?
Man Of Many Moods, Thy Name Is Teen
Snarling silence. Check. (I’m recalling every morning this week, and several evenings.)
Manic moods? Not exactly, but bad moods persist and remain a recurring theme around here.
I am a woman raising sons with all its challenges. I’ve done the best I could with what I have, and I’ve turned to men I know for counsel, seeking the man’s man, the woman’s man, and plenty of input from the good guy – with character and values I trust. All in all, I think we’ve fared pretty well.
But what happened to all those life skills I taught my teen? Like responsibility? Accountability? Basic non-monosyllabic communication?
He’s up! He’s down! (He’s hungry through all of it… ) I’ve tried to second guess (and third guess, and fourth guess) what might be going on – including girlfriends, hormonal surges, and an assortment of adolescent interior landscapes.
And I get it. I do. There’s this seemingly interminable waiting, and certainly his (understandable and unspoken) anxiety about heading to college. What older teen doesn’t feel these things at this stage? The heady anticipation of leaving home, and the fear of what that actually means? Expectations of themselves – socially, as well as academically?
But are the moods and missteps just a little reminder of the mental and emotional challenges teenagers pose, what I’ve yet to teach or cannot be taught – even under the best of circumstances? A parting gift, to make separation easier for both of us?
Tips On Teens, Life Lessons Learned
Frankly, I’m dizzy from swinging between “just deal” and “deal swiftly.” And so, in my own attempt to self-soothe, may I offer up 10 tidy tips on (tolerating) teens. And would you recommend a few to me – if you can?
- Food. Need to broach a slippery subject? Make sure the kid isn’t hungry. Seriously. Teenagers consume and burn far more than adults. Want to contain the calamity? Encourage exchange? First, fill the belly.
- Sex. I do not ask, he does not offer; privacy is exercised all round. Nonetheless, if a teen is out of sorts, there may be a romantic entanglement at play – the flirtatious female who won’t agree to a date, the girlfriend / boyfriend who pulls a quick getaway, and the wounded warrior is left wondering. Try talk. Try listening. Vigilance (from a distance), recommended.
- Worry. We have worries. They have worries. Sometimes our worries intersect; in my experience, more often they don’t. They worry about friends. They worry about lack of friends. They worry about what was said, what wasn’t said, how to say what they mean to say. Teenagers may appear tougher than they are. Again – vigilance. Ask (gently), listen (attentively), observe (closely); rinse and repeat.
- Discipline. Two words: Proportional response. I realize it’s a phrase usually reserved for military strategy. But isn’t parenthood like warfare at times? If we overreact, we rarely make our point – effectively. We fall into the bucket of “unreasonable adults.” I will say again: proportional response, even if it means taking time to determine what that is.
- Repeat offensives. Yes, we have now entered my terrible territory this week. I have escalated my defenses (and initiatives) accordingly. And speaking of terrible, might I remind you of the Terrible Twos which I suggest you consider training for the teen years a decade in advance? Must I really specify that teens are tots with facial hair? It’s two steps forward, one step back. They do – and will – relapse. Can you spell r-e-g-r-e-s-s-i-o-n? (Breathe. Count. Think before you speak.)
- Before boobs. Sans stubble. There are days when the blossoming breasts and sprouting stubble obscure the fact that this is your child. Your lovely baby, your good-natured 8-year old, the kid who helped without asking and happily brought home strays. Teenagers are still children in some ways, and yes – adults in others. Solutions? None I’ve found. Other than patience. Eventually they’ll grow up, right?
- Confidence (and lack thereof). Over-confidence (in abundance). Teenage peer pressure. Media influences. Parental performance expectations… I’ve seen my boys put store in particular behaviors (and symbols) that have much to do with traditionally masculine displays of independence and strength, whereas their female friends (who matured earlier) seem more measured (to me). The result? Over-confidence in some areas, and none in others. Remember that experience is rarely present to back up the posturing.
- Glimpses of a child you knew. Let’s face it – even the most responsible kids will drive you batty. As we, the parents, loosen the apron strings and then cut the cord, they reel from the repercussions of freedom. It’s a bumpy ride. But glimmers of that child you adored? They’re there. Your child is there. He or she will reappear. I promise.
- Love, not praise. I’m not in favor of praising tweens or teens for any little thing they’ve done; rather, I believe in praise where it is genuinely due, including for effort (as well as accomplishment) – in context. Even dealing with my approaching-college-kid, I’m reminded that knowing how to lose is a life skill, as is accepting accountability for his actions of all sorts. And what college teenagers need – like all of us – is the knowledge that we’re there for them, but increasingly – in the background. Love over praise, tough love now more than ever. And sometimes, the more distant hand is the most helpful one.
- Teens rock. In addition to giving you ulcers, gray hair, and a mountain of debt, teenagers are exciting, energizing, and rejuvenating. They drive you crazy and then they delight you. I have my top ten reasons my teens rock, and even on the bad days, I’m able to recall them. Might you make your own list – for the days and weeks it’s easy to forget?
Good thing it’s Friday.