Teenagers: Can’t Live With Them. But You do.

Do you remember being a teenager?  I don’t. Okay, I say I don’t. Mainly I say that because I have them.

I have a girl, 16.  I have a boy, 19.  To say you actually remember being those ages would mean you’d have to face the fact that you understand those at that age.  That means you’d actually understand why they don’t want to be nagged about those “things that COULD happen out there.” It means you remember answering general questions of “how are you” with an abrupt “fine.”

The reality is the parent/teen relationship is not so much the war of wills you’d like to think.  There is a method to the proverbial madness.  And, the reality is madness only occurs on days that end in the letter “y.”

But, there are ways to keep sane when all around you in the Teenage Wasteland seems out of control.
What I’ve learned — and continue to learn — from raising teens is this:

  1. Parenting Starts Before 13. Your relationship with your kid at 13 isn’t that much different than when they were 3. What you put in the game when they were watching Disney and Barney is what you get out of them when they want to go see Oz Fest. Do they trust you? Do they believe you? The teen years are all about trust and stability because so much of what they feel isn’t remotely close to those things.With hormones bouncing all about, rollercoastering self-esteem and equally bumpy rides of attention span, they need to know you are there. If you’ve exhibited that since Day 1, you have a shot. If you haven’t, you have given yourself a slight handicap in this chess match. You will need to work first on repairing those elements before you can stomp your feet to claim, “Well, they just don’t listen to me!”
  2. You Aren’t His/Her Buddy. You Are Authority. We all want to be popular with our kids, but you aren’t a teenager. Don’t fake that you are. That only blows out the trust factor I alluded to above. They won’t tell you this, but teens WANT a firm hand guiding them. That’s the stability part. Your home isn’t a military prison but nor should it be Charlie Sheen’s branch office either. Make it a safe haven from the outside world. But, set limits to follow, goals, expectations.
  3. Failing isn’t Failure.There are teens driving around in brand new SUVs. Why? I’ll bet you my Springsteen albums that 8 out of 10 moms or dads of those kids aren’t saying “they are big and safe cars” as fast as they’ll say, “I want to give my kids all the things I never got.”So, how do they learn to work for something? How do they learn to solve their own problems? One of my darlings declared to me that even though she had a test the next day, she should still be able to go to a friend’s to watch something or other. She had studied in study hall and felt prepared. I suggested (strongly) that perhaps getting some rest and re-visiting the material would be a better idea. No foot stomping from my teen, but an argument that closed with “I’m going to have to make these choices in college when you aren’t around, y’know.”

    Well, then, I thought, “Allow me to let you see that side of life upfront and personal.”  I granted my teen the approval to go to the friend’s house, taking it on faith that enough study had been done. But, knowing as you do, that was not the case. And, the next day? She bombed the test. When I was told of the grade, I simply said, “You told me that in college you’ll need to make such decisions. When you get there, now seeing what played out here, how will you decide something like this?”

Was it a life or death thing that I put my child in some element of danger to prove my point? Of course not! Did she learn something about herself and me? You bet. My kid was right about one thing: I’m not always going to be there, so she needs the skills to make decisions on her own.

Everyday my teenagers are healthy, safe, happy is a gift. Things change so rapidly. I’m pretty proud of my kids. They are well-rounded, do okay in school and have plenty of friends. I like them. We laugh. They respect me. They don’t like me every day, but I think they do most days.

—Sam Locricchio, Parenting Program Volunteer

2 Responses to “Teenagers: Can’t Live With Them. But You do.”

  1. 1 Anonymous January 23, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    I think raising a teenager is all about expectations. There are many cultures where they don’t have as much trouble with teenage years as we seem to here. Anytime any teenager behaves a certain way it’s usually explained away with “well what do you expect, they’re teenagers.” What I notice about parenting in some of the cultures I have had the opportunity to observe up close and personal is that the expectations are different. It is expected that you will do good in school because its tied to your future and education is highly valued. It is expected that you will be respectful to your elders. It is expected that you will help around the house without pay because you are part of a family unit. One mom whose child asked to be paid for good grades asked him a question instead of saying no . She asked him what he thought her job was as part of the family. He told her a list of all the things she does like making lunches, dinners, laundry, driving the kids around,etc. Once he was done she asked him how much money everybody pays her to do all that stuff. Answer was nothing, of course. Her next question was, “why am I not getting paid anything?” His response was your the mom that’s what your supposed to do. She told him that he was the child and doing well in school is what he’s supposed to do and therefore he would not be getting paid for good grades. Her children all have chores they do on a daily basis for which they are not paid. This she says is the way to teach responsibility– being in tune to family needs and helping each other. Her children do not get an allowance because its like getting free money and no one is ever going to give you free money as an adult. instead whenever anyone in the family wants anything, it is discussed and then budgeted for and bought. The kids are involved in the budgeting process so they learn financial responsibility. The teenager is aware of the spending in the house such as mortgage payments, bills, credit cards, etc. so that he can understanding what it takes to run a house. Her children do well in school, are respectful, and I have never once heard the teenager refuse to do a chore such as vaccuming , throwing a load of laundry, or helping a younger sibling with homework. I think expectations make a difference.

    • 2 Anonymous February 8, 2012 at 12:50 pm

      Great comment and much appreciated! Love the story on the “pay for good grades” particulalry the turning of the tables as to payment for the mom. I applaud mom’s cool headed reaction there as my heart stopped when I thought of the response my dad might give me if I asked for pay for good grades! Likely it would be somewhere along the lines of “Son, if you think I’m paying you for good grades, it’s going to take more than school to smarten you up!” Thanks for the comment – Sam Locricchio

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