Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Alphabetical Advice for Surviving the Teen Years

It's alarming when your child wakes up one morning 6 inches taller, capable of eating his/her own body weight in cereal and speaking a new language composed mainly of monosyllabic grunts. But don't worry, this condition is known as 'adolescence' and is completely temporary. 

You've cruised through many ages and stages before, but this one... well, take these ABCs of parenting teenagers, buckle up, and enjoy the ride. 

As much as you can, anyway, while you're sitting in the passenger seat stomping on an imaginary brake pedal. (An image which is both literal and metaphorical.)

A is for Asking. Giving orders is the adolescent equivalent of waving a red flag at a bull, so instead of saying "Go do your homework" you should play dumb and ask "So what's your plan for finishing your history project?" Even though it's 10:55 PM the night before it's due and there's clearly zero plan.

B is for Be available. But not, like, too available. Provide structure and direction, but also allow your teenager to experience failure at the same time. You won't always know when your teenager needs you to step back and when they need you to step in, but at least you can be reasonably sure you're doing it wrong.

C is for Cry. For goodness' sake, your baby is going to be leaving you in just a few years and IF I EVER AGAIN HEAR THAT SAD SONG FROM TOY STORY 2 IT WILL BE TOO SOON.

D is for Date nights. Say, do you remember that person you made your teenager with? You're about to be spending a lot more time alone together so this is probably a good time to check in and see how they've been doing for the last 10-15 years. 

E is for Eyerolls. Fifteen-year-old me had no idea that every time I rolled my eyes at my mother, she was dislocating her sockets right back at me after I turned around.

F is for Food. Teenagers love food. A great way to build goodwill with your teen is to show up, give them food for no reason, and back away without saying anything. Try to avoid doing anything embarrassing on the way out.

G is for God. You'll need to pray a lot at this time in your life. Trust me.

H is for Humor. If you have to remind/threaten/cajole teens to do something, do it with humor (i.e: "Come quick! It looks like there's been a struggle in the mudroom! Someone broke in and threw your shoes and school stuff all over the place!") If you do it right, they'll clean up while thinking you're a dork instead of a nag.

I is for Insurance premiums going up. If you thought driver's ed was expensive, you had no idea.

J is for Job. Not only is it good for teenagers to learn to earn, save, and manage their own money, it's also good for them to have an adult who isn't you telling them what to do for once. Seriously, let their manager at Burger King teach the life lessons and absorb the eyerolls for a few hours a week. It takes a village.

K is for Knock before entering their room.

L is for Lower your expectations. Your child doesn't have to be running a Fortune 500 company by age 35. In fact, if they're not in jail or still living at home when they're 35, you should be thrilled. It means you did a good job.

M is for Magnitude. Teenagers can be (and often are) delightful, but their problems are of a completely different order of magnitude from when they were little. You'll feel crushing self-doubt you never knew existed, and that's saying something because you were once in a new mom group on Facebook.

From 4BoysMother Melissa Fenton.

N is for Noticing the good stuff. It might not seem like it, but your teen needs positive reinforcement now just as much as they did when they were potty-training. Give lots of compliments, but always make your praise specific and sincere ("Your essay thesis was really insightful" vs. "You're so smart!") Even if you can't think of anything, at least they're not still peeing on the couch.

O is for Opinions. Teenagers love being sought out for their opinion on anything from current events to what shoes you should wear with your outfit. Ask what they think about a topic, any topic. It's even okay to disagree, as long as you're as polite about it as you would be to a friend with different views than you.

P is for Perfection. Don't expect it. Teenagers will fool you into thinking they're almost adults with their giant shoes and driver's licenses and mature stances on foreign policy, but it's a lie. They'll get the entire house sopping wet giving the dog a bath like they were 6 years old.

Q is for Quiet. When your gut reaction is to freak out, err on the side of silence. Toddlers and pets need immediate correction for bad behavior, but teenagers will be okay if a few hours or days go by while you think about how to respond.

R is for Respect. Talk to your teen like an adult you'd meet in polite society, and expect them to do the same for you. That means you can't scream "When are you going to get your #%$^ together?!" and if they criticize you in a mean way you should absolutely say "I don't like to be talked to like that" and leave. It goes both ways.

S is for Screaming into a pillow from time to time. Some things are best left unsaid, or at least muffled behind a closed door.

T is for Try not to take it personally when they come home from school grumpy, ask for help and then get mad at you for trying to help, then come alive for their friends with a million-watt smile. Although it feels pretty personal when someone you love more than life itself is twisting a dagger in your heart, it's weirdly not.

U is for Unconditional love. Don't forget to enjoy spending time with the marvelous person that towers over you but still calls you "Mom." Your teenager is pretty awesome  not because of their accomplishments or talents, but just because they're yours.

V is for Very scary. I once read it's actually a good thing if your teenager tells you scary things. I used to think that only meant confessing terrible misdeeds, but now I know it can mean anything from being honest about things kids their age are doing to confiding in you about a mental health issue you never saw coming. Hard to see that as a positive when what you really want to do is peel yourself out of your skin and run away, but you can try.

W is for Well, it's their life. Repeat that over and over to yourself: Well, it's their life. With a few important exceptions, you shouldn't be more invested in any given aspect of your teenager's life than s/he is.

X is for the Xtremes you'll go through. You can be actually sobbing with pride over some amazing accomplishment of your child, and not even 5 minutes later s/he will do something so dumb you can only shake your head and think, "That kid is never going to make it."

Y is for yelling. Yelling, like name-calling, is a good idea precisely never. (See 'R.')

Z is for Zillions. When the time finally comes for your teen to move out of the house, you'll realize with horror the zillions of things you're not sure you taught them. Do they know how to register to vote? Will they remember not to wash their red clothes with their whites? Have they got enough confidence to stand up for themselves when they need to? You'll panic over all these things and more, but luckily you've had a lot of practice biting your tongue over the last several years. Even if your child didn't have Google for all that, and even if you weren't permanently available on a consulting basis, things would still turn out okay. Hug your grown child tight and relax: you raised a young adult who's capable enough to figure it out. 


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Unknown said...

Enjoyed reading this very good alphabetical list with some wry chuckles. Even though my own teenagers are long gone. They've come back in the form of grandchildren that I can enjoy more and not really worry less but feel less responsible for. Even the semi adult ones of Olivia and Naomi.

PurpleSlob said...

Oh my goodness, yes!! ALL true!! I remember my time with 2 teens, like it was a very scary story!! But the ending, 12 years later, is great!! lol
Remember this blast from the past??
My babies are finally old enuff to actually do them this year!! Well, PP is! She'll be 8. CC is only 5. But she'll try really hard!
Thanks again!