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Jun 27

Just Wait Till Your Kids Are Teens

“Just wait till your kids are teens.”

“It’s different with teens, you’ll see.”

“You know what TEENS are like!”

The above are just a few of the (paraphrased) comments I’ve gotten from readers who don’t realize that I already have teenagers.  They’ll be negative and condescending and almost … smug … when they say things like, “Maybe gentle parenting works now, but just wait until you have teenagers.  You’ll be changing your tune then.”  Or, “Ha ha, I can’t wait until your kids are teenagers and you get your wakeup call.”  Or, “I used to feel the same way as you, and then I had teens.”

Now, setting aside the fact that essentially rooting for me to fail as a parent is a lousy thing to do, comments like this just further perpetuate the unfair negative stereotype that far too many people hold about teens.  Teens are rebellious, teens are sullen, teens are entitled, teens hate their parents.  Teens are rude, arrogant, eye-rolling, miscreants.   Did I get them all?  Society’s villification of teens is real, and it’s not okay.

If you expect teens (or really, anyone) to behave in a negative way, what kind of behavior do you suppose you’ll see?  The negative!

The opposite is true as well.  When you expect kindness… when you give kindness… you get kindness in return.

paxtonspencer

At the time of this writing, Spencer is 16; and Paxton, though he won’t technically turn 13 until August, has – due to both his maturity and the fact that he has physically towered over me for almost a year now – felt like an honorary teen for at least the past 6 months.  I am enjoying them now as much as I ever have, if not moreso.  And it’s not that I don’t enjoy the younger ages.  I do.  It’s just that there’s something really really cool about getting to relate to them on a whole new level, getting more and more glimpses into the men that they’ll become, and getting to watch as they grow into these cool, funny, thoughtful young adults.

It makes me sad to see such broad misconceptions about teens out there, and to see so many people accept it as a given that their parent/child relationship is going to suffer once puberty hits.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  And if you keep the lines of communication open.. if you talk with your kids.. if you LISTEN to your kids.. if you respect your kids.. if you give your kids space.. if you let your kids make choices… there is no reason to think or to assume that the teen years can’t be just as happy and fun and connected as the years leading up to it.

Are there bumps along the way?  Are there new issues to work through, new growth to be had as a parent?  Are there challenges?  Of course!  It’s a crazy time, being a teenager.  There are big questions, and big feelings, and big ideas.  There are raging hormones, and body changes, and new relationships… all to be dealt with with one foot still in childhood, and one foot reaching, reaching out into the great vastness of “adulthood.”    I remember being a teenager well, and it was not easy.  Nothing about it was easy.   Wouldn’t it follow then that as parents we should be more kind and more patient and more compassionate during those years of transition instead of less?  Instead of subscribing to this idea that teens are somehow “less than”?  Instead of sighing and huffing and joining in on the common refrain of complaining about “these teens today?”

Shouldn’t we be embracing them?

As I sit here and look at those comments I opened with, I can’t help but think of the good that could come from reading them with positive intent instead of the way they were said to me:

“Just wait till your kids are teens.”  Yes, just wait.  You will love it!  Teens are fun and interesting and full of great ideas, great insights, and great conversation.

 

“It’s different with teens, you’ll see.”  Yes, very different.  They use the bathroom and bathe all by themselves.  They make their own sandwiches.   They’re able to have big discussions about things like politics and religion and what happened on last week’s Dexter.   They astound you with their maturity one minute, and crack you up with their child-like antics the next.

 

“You know what TEENS are like!” Yes, yes I do.  Teens rock.

Anybody who’s fortunate enough to be able to parent or befriend a teenager is a lucky person indeed.

 


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  1. jen

    Thank you! I hear those comments all the time and remember my own teen years. I was labeled and talked down to and became exactly what was expected of me. I have a near teen and ten year old (both girls) and cant imagine our relationship changing so much. Yeah there are many many more moments of questioning myself and discussions of what now with hubby but they are kind, considerate girls who literally talk to me about everything! Good for you!

  2. katharinegeary

    All people rebel against control…especially small people. Perhaps if we don’t control our children from the time they’re born, with traditional authoritarian parenting, they’ll have nothing to rebel against as teens.

  3. Sue Sullivan

    I am loving my daughter’s teen years. All the extra attention and time and gentleness (which I often had to do a lot of self-awareness work to achieve) is paying off so hugely! Respectful parenting and unschooling has created such a bond with my oldest that I am dumbfounded when I get that comment from others. (I need to think up a witty corrective reply in advance, clearly.) One of the things I’ve noticed the teen years have brought is an interesting dichotomy — she is more independent and spends more time on her own or with friends online, but she also wants to spend more time with me as I do my things — she’s happy to help me tend crops in my gardens or run errands into town. She wants to go to music events that were of no interest to her before, and to sit in coffee shops, and browse bookstores. We have such a great time together, her sense of humor is awesome and the topics we can discuss are really fun and interesting for me now.

    What touches me most, of course, are the times she spontaneously hugs me and tells me that she loves me, or that she has the best family ever, and the times when she decides to clean the kitchen top to bottom to surprise me. I’ve never coerced the kids on tasks or chores and I love that she is willing to help out (often in a big way) now. I look forward to seeing what teen years with my son, now 11, will be like; I really can’t wait. And I really need to formulate a snappy comeback to those stupid comments.

  4. suburbancorrespondnt

    I’ve seen lots of teens and lots of parents, and believe me – while a positive attitude is always helpful and can prevent a self-fulfilling prophecy scenario – it all depends on the teen. With some teens, the adolescent hormonal storm hits like a ton of bricks, and Lord help everyone – the parents, the kid, the siblings. You can be the best parent in the world (and what the heck is that, anyway?), and still have major problems with your teen. So, while your point that it is not healthy to assume that these problems will happen is well taken, your attitude that they can be wholly prevented is rather off-putting. Also, these parents you hear sighing about their teens? Some of them have been through the wringer, through no fault of their own. They need compassion, not judgment.

    As parents, we all want to believe that how we raise our kids, what we say to them, what we do with them, makes a difference. And, to a certain extent, it does. But it doesn’t prevent your teen from making bad choices; it doesn’t even come close.

    1. pathlesstaken

      Where did I say that they can be wholly prevented? That’s not something I believe, and certainly not something I would say.

      1. suburbancorrespondnt

        “And if you keep the lines of communication open.. if you
        talk with your kids.. if you LISTEN to your kids.. if you respect your
        kids.. if you give your kids space.. if you let your kids make choices…
        there is no reason to think or to assume that the teen years can’t be
        just as happy and fun and connected as the years leading up to it.”

        Again, many (if not most) parents who have suffered damaged relationships with their teens have done just what you advise here. Sometimes, that is just not enough. To say “there is no reason” is just a kick in the gut to parents who have given their all, to no avail. I know it is hard for you to accept, but people who say “Just wait…” happen to know something that you don’t. They weren’t born that cynical; it wasn’t a negative attitude that made them that way. Rather, life experience taught it to them – hard experience. They are trying to warn others, so that their learning curve might not be as steep; but really, it is useless. Who among us (before we became parents) believed that a little baby, for instance, could upend our lives so completely? All they do is eat and sleep, right?

        Yes, hope for the best and do your darnedest to keep those lines of communication open; but keep in mind that there are so many things out of your control. The most loving home in the world can produce a hostile drug addict who will steal cash from his/her parents; the most communicative and open of parents can find themselves suddenly confronted with an angry stranger who denies any sort of a relationship with them. It is a tough road to travel for these parents, and often a lonely one. They travel it with the hard-won knowledge that there really is no one right way to parent, and that the proof isn’t always in the pudding.

        1. Aza Donnelly

          I don’t think Jennifer is saying that she is doing it all right, and if everyone does things like her, their teenagers will be all sunshine and roses too! Every kid and family is different. I see this as a plea to society to take a second look at how we view this delicate, peculiar and highly productive age! Teens are brilliant sponges that can learn amazing tasks set before them, if they have a mentor who has trust and faith in them. But in my house, with my now 20 year old, acceptance is the key. She was hard to raise, and has multiple problems. Being her is hard. My husband I know that, and accept her eccentricities 100%, even when she makes us worry and break our hearts. Once at 16 she told us she thought she was a boy and wanted to bind her double D’s. We told her to do the research and come back and tell us all about it. She did. She is happily a girl now, a few years later, but at the time, we needed to love her and accept where she felt she was at. I think that went a long, long way towards fostering the loving open relationship we have now. We are proud of her, out there in the world, bravely tackling how to be a grown up. So I agree with Jennifer, in my house, with my kids, I have no place for preconceived notions about how hard the teen years are. I just remind myself that it is far harder for them to be in this crazy, hormonal, super hero state, than it is for me to watch it. I think it would be awesome if society at large could start valuing teenagers, and loving them, instead of trying to tame and control them.

        2. DF

          I agree with the original sentiment that we should not automatically expect that the teenage years will be horrible, but Suburbancorrespondt is 100% correct in the nugget of her argument.

          It is comforting to think that if we follow the magic formula, we will have teens who come out perfectly. It is really too terrifying for many of us to face how little control we have over our child’s development.

          Jerome Kagan, writing in the academic journal Pediatrics, points out that we only have control over a few of the determinants of a child’s development:

          “Most students of human development agree that the most important determinants of the different profiles include

          1) the inherited physiologic patterns that are called temperamental qualities

          2) parental practices and personality

          3) quality of schools attended

          4) relationships with peers

          5) ordinal position in the family

          6) the historical era in which late childhood and early adolescence are spent.”

          http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/104/Supplement_1/164.full.pdf

          Even if we have control over 2, 3, and 4 (and such control, I think, is mostly an illusion), 1,5 and 6 are totally out of our control.

          If your child seems to do well in adolescence according to your personal set of standards, be wary of self-congratulation.

          Be humble, be grateful, and know it could have come out much worse.

  5. Geoffrey Ahern

    Well………bloody……..said!!!!!!!!! I had braced myself for a hard time when we entered the dreaded “teen” years. But with the leadership of my amazing wife who immersed herself in research and thought outside of the square, we took the relationship approach. Our kids are 10, 13, 16 and 19 now and I gotta say, I’M LOVING IT. They are awesome. We have such a great relationship with them all. Yup, agree there have been some rough spots, just like when you go through the “terrible twos” for example.

    The key, from what I’ve learnt from Karen, my wife, is respect. When I honour and respect my kids, listen to them, validate them, acknowledge their choices as *theirs* even when I don’t agree with them, they give the same back to me.

    It’s a great period in life. We watch Dexter together. We just about pee ourselves watching random, stupid you tube clips. We send each other messages and links on Facebook. We go out for *really* good coffee or a nice meal. It’s an excellent life when you take the relationship approach.

    Thank you Karen Lee for taking me, sometimes kicking and screaming, on this journey and thanks Jen for this excellent post.

  6. Jennifer Miller

    AMEN! I love my teens! I have two now (15 &16) and one more turning 13 this month… chased hard by an 11 year old. This is, BY FAR the most fun stage yet and I LOVE it!!

  7. Nancy M Valimaki

    Love it!

  8. Rachel Smith Fender

    First off, I very much enjoyed this post Jennifer. Nicely done.
    Secondly, I don’t think Jennifer is saying this is a 100% guaranteed way of raising children. Suburbancorrespondnt, I hear a lot of pain coming through in your post, and I am sorry for that pain, for you. I am being genuine when I say this, I hope that comes through for you. There have been times when the path I have walked with my children has been very rocky, so I know what it feels like to have the possibility for cynicism right at your doorstep. But as parents in these positions we can choose hope, and possibility, or defeat, and cynicism. I haven’t always chosen wisely, among those possibilities, so please don’t hear judgment in what I am saying, because I don’t intend it that way. I do know that parenting in a more respectful way with my own kids has healed some things in our relationship that needed repaired, and I think that was more Jennifer’s intent, to offer a possibility. Not to offer condemnation.

  9. Anon

    I get it, but these posts always make me so unbelievably sad. It’s like the posts that say if you do AP then your toddler won’t ever go through temper tantrums. Then you AP your heart out and you have all sorts of problems and you feel like you just suck.

    I have one teen who put me through hell in the teen years and that child was as “peaceful parented” as you could get. I spent a year and a half unable to sleep at night for fear she’d kill herself if I left her alone. She developed anxiety, depression, anger, etc. The next teen has been pretty easy even though she was much more of a handful in the early years. Both of them are just nasty to their little brother though, and it makes me sad because he idolizes them and they’re just awful to him.

    A friend of mine walked in on her 12 yo hanging herself and saved her just in time. Her daughter had never even indicated that she was sad, much less suicidal. Another friend of mine just admitted her 11 yo to a mental hospital for a week because she was talking about harming herself and was getting physically violent towards my friend.

    I just don’t need to hear one more person talk about how fabulous it is to parent teens. I belong to a whole secret message group of parents needing support to just survive these times. Some of them are worried if their kids will even live through them. I finally started talking and so many moms wrote me privately that we formed a support group for us all, since everybody feels so alone in the peaceful parenting community because of the constant posts like this. Every one of these posts drives us farther in the closet and makes us feel less supported in the journey of gentle parenting with older kids.

    I thank God we seem to be through the worst of it here but every time I see one of these posts I feel like more of a loser. I know it’s not the intent but for those of us struggling, we don’t need to hear how fabulous it is for you. It really stings. :(

  10. Stacy

    Could not have said it better myself!! I have three teens and the oldest is almost 18 ready for college this fall….that one foot in ‘adulthood’ is what I’ve been calling the ‘threshold of complete independence’ it’s crazy like I see him ready to take flight but still has those moments of “mommmmmmm”. And when they have those silly ‘child-like’ moments, it’s good for all of us to giggle and be silly at times! (Like Geoffery mentioned below.). I wish the stereotypes could be shed-it’s an interesting fact to realize the term ‘teenager’ hasn’t even been around that long! They are young adults and I strive to treat them as so. Mutual respect speaks volumes…

  11. mjg

    I opened and ran a youth center for 3 years- Teens have so much to offer if given an opportunity, encouragement, and an environment to grow. They do rebel against those who think of them as insignificant and annoying. The other volunteers and myself at the center never ever said a negative word to those teens and only ever pointed out the attributes- these teens helped clean the center, cook and serve others, and participated in community service activities! They where respectable and respected us…

  12. traecysmom

    I have two teens myself.

    My oldest is 19 now, and there were days that were rough, but that is when our relationship bloomed into something amazing. She is an amazing human being and I could not be prouder of the woman she has become. I respected her, I listened to her, and we talked about everything, and she was willing.

    Now, that being said, I have a 16 year old that is exactly the opposite and has threatened suicide. I feel the pain of the parents commenting. It is incredibly scary and humbling when your child hates their life so much. Through a lot of patience and a lot of talking we got to the root of the problem, she is attracted to girls and was ashamed of this.

    Again, through a lot of talking and showing an interest in what she is interested in, and just being there, we are surviving this time. It isn’t the walk in the park I had with her sister, but it is still a very enjoyable time, MOST of the time.

    Every single person is different, and Jen has never said that “if you follow my rules, you will have the same relationship with your kids.” What she is saying is that, it doesn’t HAVE to be horrible. The teens do NOT have to be the worst years ever, but every person is going to have challenges. Some people have challenges when they are young, and some when they are older, and some struggle through the entire process of growing up.

    Get to know your children, no matter how old, and you will never regret that time spent.

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