Category Archives: teens

Dear Parents Who Are Dreading The Teen Years

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The scene: 

A Wednesday night, after dinner.

I had music blasting on my little bluetooth speaker, because I’d been working on building a new playlist, and wanted to listen to it while I picked up the table.  Paxton, who’s 16 and a talented musician who’s been instrumental (ha, see what I did there?) in helping me discover new bands to listen to, came into the room just as the husband had picked up the ukelele and started to strum along to the music when a new song came on.

“Paxton! This is the Best. Song. Ever” I told him.  “See if you can play it.” 

He grabbed my acoustic guitar from its stand in the corner – where it lives, sadly, mostly untouched by me – and quickly picked up the chorus of the Best Song Ever.  I cranked the volume even further, and he continued to play while Tegan (who’s 8 and never misses an opportunity for a dance party) grabbed my hands and twirled me, laughing, around the room.  Everett (12 going on 17) heard the commotion and eventually joined us, curling up on the couch next to the cat.   The bond he has with that cat gives me serious relationship goals.  Not just pet relationship goals, but relationship goals in general.

The song ended and the next one began… but no one really noticed.  Everett kept petting the cat, and Tegan kept dancing, and Paxton kept playing, challenging himself to play along by ear with even the most unfamiliar songs.

At some point, Spencer (19) came into the room and announced, “It’s so nice having socks.”  We all stopped and looked at him.  If you know Spencer, you know he’s the king of the non-sequitur, but that was random, even for him.  And then I realized he was wearing new socks that he’d gotten for Christmas…. which is the goofiest, most cliche Christmas present ever, except he needed them and wanted them and asked for them.  And in that moment, he appreciated them, and his comment wasn’t so strange after all.   He laughed at the way it had sounded, and we went back to dancing, and singing, and playing.

So is that what it looks like after dinner every night in our house?  Well, no, but it’s not unusual for us either.  And I share it today for one simple reason:  I want you to know, dear-reader-who’s-stressing-out-about-the-teenage-years, that having teens is really freaking FUN.

I always hesitate to pick a “favorite” age, because they’ve all been wonderful.  Seriously.  But I think I enjoy them more and more as the years pass.  I enjoy the snuggly baby years (but then there’s that whole getting no sleep thing), and I enjoy the sweet, exploring toddler years (but then there’s that whole frustration on both of our parts as they learn about and test their budding independence thing), and I enjoy the young childhood years (and really have no disclaimer for that).  But the teen years…  I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated being a parent more than I do right now.

Teens are funny and intelligent and interesting creatures.

Just a few of the many, many reasons I’m enjoying my boys more than ever:

They make me laugh.  We laugh around the dinner table a LOT.  Not politely chuckle, but LAUGH, with full-on snorts and tears and gasps for air.

They make me think.  All three boys have their own ideas and opinions about religion, and about politics.  They have their own unique views about the world around them.  I genuinely feel privileged to get to talk to them about it, to learn from them, to think about things in a new light and in a new way, and to learn to appreciate the world from an angle other than my own.

They inspire me.  If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you likely know about the journey I’ve been on to discover who I am, and what it means to be my own authentic self, not worrying about what others think of me.  But my boys?  They already have that, in spades.  They know who they are, and they have more integrity than I’ve seen in many adults.  This year I got to witness one of my boys carrying something incredibly difficult, and he carried it with so much grace.  It was something that a child never should have shouldered on his own, but something he carried in part to protect me…. and it was poignant and painful and I wish that he hadn’t had to do it.  But it showed me – in a way I hadn’t seen before – how much maturity and class that he possessed.  Light years ahead of where I was at that age.  Light years ahead of where I am at my current age.

They are great friends and companions.  The popular opinion in current parenting lore is that you should avoid being friends with your teens at all cost.  But I think that that’s bunk.  Teens make the best friends!  I love to hike with them, to talk with them, to laugh with them, to share my life with them.  I think that if you’re not friends with your teens you are seriously missing out on something great.

They are interesting conversationalists.  To be clear, I enjoy talking to my kids when they are younger too, but there’s just something really cool about the mature conversations you get to have with teens.  Not only can you talk about shared interests like TV shows and books and movies and music, but you can talk about the sticky things like politics and religion.  You can talk about life and relationships and the thrill of a first love and the betrayal of a false friend.  You can talk about hopes and dreams and disappointments in a way that you just can’t do when they’re younger.  You can talk about Donald Trump, and about news around the globe.  I love hearing my boys’ unique take on current events and all the goings on in their lives and in the world around us.

They still need me.  One of the interesting thing about teens is that while they are often independent adults… sometimes they still just need mom.  They come to me with their problems, they share with me honestly, they get me in the middle of the night when they’re sick.  They ask for advice for everything from blisters to broken hearts to ingrown toenails.  They’re six feet tall and fearlessly forging their own paths…. but I still get to be mom.

Even so,

They’re independent.  There’s a whole new dynamic in the house once you have teens.  They cook for themselves.  They pick up after themselves (sometimes usually).  They do their own troubleshooting.  They largely keep track of their own life.  Just by virtue of their age and ability there is a different give and take in the relationship that didn’t exist when they were younger and required more direct care.  I bring them fresh-baked cookies when they’re at their computers (unless they’ve made them themselves, something that Everett excels at), and they bring me coffee when my cup is empty.

But wait, are there ever bumps in the road?  OF COURSE.  They’re still humans, still doing the human thing.  The reality is that being a teen is hard sometimes, that there are inevitably going to be growing pains, and that sooner or later there are going to be problems to solve and hiccups to be worked through.

Relationships – of any kind – require care and attention, and relationships with your teens are no exception.  But it is NOT a foregone conclusion that when you have teens that they are going to be sullen and angry and rebellious.  A good relationship with your teens is very possible.

Is it work sometimes?

Yes.

It is worth it?

Yes.

Yes.

A million times, yes.

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Teens, Privacy, And Why The Only Text Messages I Read Are My Own

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I’m a pretty private person.  Maybe that sounds weird coming from someone who has shared many intimate details about her life over the past several years, but I am.  Not just when it comes to my personal relationships (though certainly, I’m private about those too) but also regarding some of the things I have on my laptop, and in my phone, and in my desk.  And it’s not that I’m hiding anything or ashamed of anything, or feel I’m doing anything “bad”.  It’s just that some things are… well, private.  I keep journals, I’m constantly writing little notes and reminders to myself, I often write emails and potential blog posts that don’t ever make it out for public consumption.  Over the past three months, I’ve also been keeping a notebook for therapy.  I’ll carry it back and forth every week and jot down notes of things I want to remember, homework he’s given me, issues that come up for me during the week, and things I want to talk about next time.  Sometimes it’s in my purse or in the car, but most often it’s sitting right out on my desk, so it’s easily accessible throughout the week.  As personal as it is, I never worry that anyone’s going to open it.  Why?  Because we all respect each other’s privacy.  On those rare occasions that Mike needs something out of my purse, or from my desk, or to access something in my email, he’ll ask.  I trust and expect and appreciate that within the four walls of my own home, I have a modicum of privacy.

Why wouldn’t I give my teens the same consideration?   (I’ll get back to that later).

I remember being a teenager.  Quite well in fact.  It’s been 26 years since I was 16, but for as fresh as the memories are, it may as well have been two.  It was fun and exciting.  Difficult and hurtful.  Confusing and overwhelming.  I remember feeling like life was an emergency… like it was all just SO MUCH.  Such blindingly beautiful high highs, and such agonizingly painful low lows (In hindsight, I don’t know how much of that was normal teenage angst, and how much was the fact that I had an untreated mental illness.  But I digress.)

I don’t agree with all the decisions my parents made when it came to raising me – not because they weren’t good parents, but just because evaluating and re-evaluating and learning ways to improve on what was done before us is what evolved humans do.  But one area where I feel they absolutely got it right was how they parented me as a teen.  They gave me space.  They respected my privacy.  They respected my friendships.  They allowed me the room to have my own relationships, and my own conversations, and my own whispered late-night phone calls.  They trusted that they’d raised me with a good head on my shoulders.  They gave me the freedom I needed to learn what it meant to be independent, to make my own decisions, and yes, to make mistakes and ultimately grow from them.  They did all of that while still letting me know that they were there for me, that they loved me, and that when I had a problem… they’d have my back.

Now that I think about it, that’s the way most of my friends were raised as well.  And I can’t but wonder:  When did we stop trusting our teens?

I see article after article warning parents to keep stricter tabs.  Know all their social media passwords (if you even let them have social media), read through their texts, monitor their photos.  In short:  Don’t let them have a private life at all.

And I get it (kind of.)  We all want to keep our kids – of all ages – safe.  We want them to be happy and healthy.  We want them to make good decisions.  But did you ever stop to think about the fact that in order to learn to make good decisions, they at some point have to be given the trust and the freedom to actually practice making those decisions in the first place?  Monitoring their every move actually robs them of the chance to grow, to mature, and to make healthy decisions in the absence of someone looking over their shoulder.

But it’s more than that.

Teens are human beings who are deserving of their own space, their own privacy, and their own right to have personal conversations and exchanges with their friends.  Full stop.  And when it comes to things like reading their text messages, you’re not just inserting yourself into your OWN teen’s private life, but into the private lives of their friends as well.  Even if you fully believe it’s your right as your teen’s parent (something I strongly disagree with, to be clear), is it right to read the private words of someone else’s teen?  Words that he or she believed would be for one person, and one person only?  Where does it stop?

Right before I started writing this post, I went for a run with my 12 year old.  As we were cooling down, we talked about the pros and cons of the different ways of keeping in touch online.  (He’s a Skype fan, and I pretty much avoid it at all costs) He told me about some new games he’s been playing, and which friends he’s been chatting with.  I told him about what I was about to go home and write about, and he was initially aghast at the idea of parents reading their kids’ private things.  He thought about it for a few seconds, and eventually asked me why anyone would do that.  I answered that they just want to keep their kids safe.  As usual, he responded more succinctly and with much fewer words than I could ever muster: “Or they could just raise them right so that they know how to keep themselves safe.”  Indeed.

You know what else helps keep your teens safe?  An open line of communication with their parents, one that’s born of trust, mutual respect, and genuine relationship.  Breaching that trust and snooping through private correspondence is pretty antithetical towards that end.

And listen, I know people are going to disagree.  That’s okay.  But for me and my teens:  I’m going to keep talking to them.   Keep being involved.   Keep listening.  Keep being a safe sounding board.  Keep loving them unconditionally.  But ultimately giving them the trust and the space and the freedom to have their own private lives;  lives I’ll occasionally be invited to visit, but that will otherwise grow and flourish and exist without me.


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