What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Teenager.

Via Catherine Monkman
on May 28, 2013
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Photo: Teresa Delcambre on Pixoto.
Photo: Teresa Delcambre on Pixoto.

Floundering. That’s how I would describe myself as a parent of a teenager.

When I was pregnant with my first son, I was inundated with parenting advice for new moms. There were countless magazines and books. Everyone had wisdom to offer and there were so many right ways to raise a child. Because I was a 19-year-old single mother, the amount and urgency of the information I received was amplified.

When my son was born and right up until he was about five, there was still so much information thrown at you: dealing with picky eaters, potty training and surviving kindergarten.

It seemed easy enough, so I had a second one.

My children grew and their interests changed but they were just bigger, stinkier boys and it wasn’t complicated. I learned to identify strep throat on sight and I learned how dirty ears could really get if you forgot to clean them. The various avenues of advice and wisdom faded away. I was completely unaware of how woefully unprepared I was.

Suddenly, I was a parent of a teenager.

My first son turned 13 in November and there was no advice to be had. In fact, it seemed like all the advice givers had gone into hiding at the sound of his first voice crack. Seriously, give this a test: Google search “advice for new parents” and “advice for parents of teenagers.” How many search results appear for each? Bingo. And how much of that information (not just from Google, but even from our own parents) is relevant today? A lot has changed. Advice evolves. Cigarettes were once prescribed by doctors and spanking was encouraged.

No one warned me it was going to be heart-wrenching and scary.

Sure, raising a child is easy enough, but there are a number of things I wish I had been told before the teen years hit so that I could prepare myself.

Things like:

How to deal with a teen who talks about or threatens suicide—and you’re not entirely sure if they’re serious. (Always treat it like they’re serious.)

How not to pry into your teen’s blossoming social life, but still know enough to keep them out of dangerous situations.

Your teenager will hate you because they won’t understand until much later in life why you do the things you do. Explaining yourself is a futile endeavor.

Teenagers are actually a lot more expensive to care for than babies.

Your child will morph into something resembling an adult, but you can’t expect her to act like an adult would.

How to survive your teen’s first heartbreak.

You have to talk about sex and discuss appropriate sexual behavior, and…

Despite the talks, the digital age means there’s a still good chance you’ll catch your kid sending a nudie on her cell phone.

Then you’ll worry that your kid will grow up to be a violent, deranged, sexual predator even though you think you raised him well.

Many teens (if not all) will have self esteem issues and will want your praise more than ever before. They’ll try to give the impression they don’t care what you think but will be grasping for signs that you approve nonetheless.

You’ll have a light bulb moment where you realize your own parents actually knew things and your kids won’t grasp that you were once a teen too until they’re your age.

Teachers become your peers and sometimes you have to ask questions and stick up for your kid because teachers are no more infallible than you are.

You have every right to put monitoring software on their computers and to look through their phones, no matter what they say, and privacy be damned. Don’t get lazy and complacent! (Remember to pick your battles. Learning about your child’s drug use and dealing with it is important. Petty day to day teenager drama isn’t.)

You’re going to have to give your teenager condoms (girls too!) and furthermore, you’re going to have to wonder what size to get.

At some point you stop getting notes home about talking in class and you start offering advice on how to deal with a friend that cuts.

When they said that teenagers know everything, they forgot to mention that you also have to let teenagers know everything. Teens most often become humbled when they learn lessons the hard way. This is a process that could last well into early adulthood.

Teens want to be independent until it involves cleaning anything.

It’s difficult to stop doing the things for them that you have since they were little. It’s difficult to let them make their own tough decisions.

Teens are more sensitive and fragile than their past eight year old selves and their future 20 year old selves. A comment about an unfortunately placed pimple will haunt them more than you think.

Your teenager will teach you valuable lessons that can’t be learned anywhere or by anyone else. Prepare to be amazed.

My son has been 13-years-old for only six months and this is just a small portion of what I wish I had been told. What about serious girlfriends? Drugs and alcohol? Driving? Difficult friendships? Actual sex?

Parents: raising a teen is hard.

How can you prepare yourself? Get familiar with today’s popular trends and issues for that age group. Some things never change, but how they’re dealt with do—like bullying. It was once widely accepted as just a part of growing up with your peers, but not anymore. Don’t just learn how to deal with your child as a potential victim though. It’s equally as hard to parent someone who’s been doing the bullying.

Use each hard moment as a teaching experience rather than an opportunity to dole out consequences. Honestly, consequences just stop working. They will make your child miserable for a while but they don’t really learn anything.

Teens Shoes Kicks

What changes behavior is open dialogue and what makes the biggest impact is simply listening to what your teen has to say. You’ll be surprised at how often your perspective will change. The kids we’re raising are becoming, as a whole, kinder and more intelligent. Is it perhaps time that the parents learn a thing or two from the teenagers?

Parenting a teenager is a difficult, confusing task. You don’t know the answers and you won’t know if you’ve done a good job until it’s too late. There will be many terrifying moments.

You’ll worry less about clean laundry and more about a clean world for your kid to thrive in.

You’ll do the best you can and just hope that these mini versions of yourselves will become good, happy people.

Most importantly, you’ll come to the realization that at some point, you have to let go and it will be up to your teen himself to decide who he becomes.

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Ed: Kate Bartolotta

Picture Source: Uploaded by user via Karen Oliver on Pinterest


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About Catherine Monkman

Catherine Monkman is a shy, friendly Canadian living in a small house with her two nearly-perfect children, two kitties and two goofy dogs. Cat spends her free time reading, growing vegetables and cooking them, traveling, and learning life lessons courtesy of and along with her family. Cat began contributing as a typo vigilante and now eagerly serves as an editor, writer, and student of the mindful life.


23 Responses to “What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Teenager.”

  1. Carolyn Riker says:

    Love! I have two teens and they don't come with a revised manual. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Cat B says:

    Thanks Carolyn, and you're welcome!

  3. @pegmulqueen says:

    "Parenting a teenager is a difficult, confusing task. You don’t know the answers and you won’t know if you’ve done a good job until it’s too late. There will be many terrifying moments." TRUTH! Thanks Catherine!

  4. Manuel says:

    I think that using a monitoring software is excesive, overpowered control is never good for a teenager. Any measure that gives him the feeling of curtailed liberty will carry him to wanting to rebel. And never clean ears, isn't good (search on google info concerning cleaning ears).

  5. cindy says:

    My first, oldest, was simpler. I cannot believe how much things have changed in just eight years…and I have a degree in child psych! It is hard, and one day they are a child, the next, adult, and back again. They need an extraordinary amount of love. The path is a shit mess. I am plowing through. Bless anyone who is on the same route. Thanks for the confidence boost.

    • Cat B says:

      Cindy, you're so right! They do go back and forth quite a bit, don't they? It's funny that so many parts of them mature at different stages. I picture something like an equalizer when I think of it.

  6. Anne says:

    Also please be aware that many teens today consider themselves fluid in their gender and sexuality. We need to make sure have our attitudes in check and are accepting.

  7. Anne says:

    The reason you probably forgot is because you are a mom trying to write at the same time. Your article is important. I have both teens and a six year old and I notice all the time how the moms that don't yet have teens are not aware of how intense the teen years can be. It sounds like yours shares alot with you which mine does too and it is both a blessing and a curse. Teens have their own code that they talk to us in and we have to learn it. Like when mine is sharing alot about telling me the drugs or unsafe stuff that one of their friends are doing, I take it to understand they are asking me to set boundaries with that kid which I do. But othertimes I just listen and try not to judge. But I do think parents need to know what is coming but i don't want to overwhelm them before they are ready. This article is great for giving them the information of what is in store.

  8. Lisa says:

    Cat, thank you for your article. My daughter is almost 17 and is starting to settle down, but I've been through the fire with her and at times wasn't sure I would survive. The most important thing you've done is articulate how difficult and confusing it is and letting other parents know that this is NORMAL and it is OKAY to acknowledge and share the bafflement and overwhelm. I think all of your suggestions are valid, INCLUDING MONITORING SOFTWARE. This is not an invasion of privacy, at least with young teens – limits must be set because they have no idea how dangerous some of their activities are. By the way, transmitting nude photos of minors, even when the person sending it is the one in the photo, is against the law (transmission of child pornography via the internet) and most kids are doing it. Local police informed me of this.

    • Cat B says:

      Thanks so much for your comments Lisa! It's like being lost in a jungle some days! I've been told I've got it a little bit easier having a boy than a girl. (And knowing myself as a teen, I can believe it.) So hats off to Moms of teenaged daughters, like yourself!

  9. Dana says:

    I love this Cat! You are so right. I don’t know how many times I’ve looked up information on raising a teenager or issues of teens. Thanks for writing this!

  10. Maggie McReynolds says:

    Brilliant! I have a new teen in my house since my son turned 13 a couple weeks ago. And I have had conversations (and insane–as well as inane–arguments) I could never have possibly imagined. He craves my attention and approval–except when he doesn't, which is most of the time. Then he wants to be in his room with the door shut. He comes out periodically, hugs me fiercely until my ribs threaten to crack, then disappears again. It's a confusing time for both of us!

  11. Elaine says:

    Your article made me laugh and cry. As a mother of 17 & 14 year old boys the teen years have been been just that laughter and tears. They amaze me and make me proud but it's equally as heartbreaking letting go and watching them learn painful lesson of life as a young adult.

  12. Julia says:

    This is a sobering essay. As a mother to a five-year-old and two-year-old boy, I'm already fearful of the teen years – especially when it comes to my daughter, who has always been a sensitive, emotional roller coaster. My one quibble is with the statement (said twice): "Sure, raising a child is easy enough,…" One of my pet peeves is when parents of teens act as though young children were so easy in comparison. I think moms who declare this have forgotten how hard it is to care for babies, toddlers and preschoolers. I know that parenting a teen must be draining and confusing on a different level, but don't imply that parenting young kids isn't hard in it's own way. It sounds condescending to me, and I assume it involves rose-colored glasses. But other than that (sorry – touchy subject for me, apparently!) I loved this, and appreciate you getting the truth out there for parents about to embark on this scary adventure.

    • Stephanie says:

      Raísing little ones is super hard no question but is primarily caring for their physical needs. I have 3 daughters (15, 13, 11) and there were times I would crawl into bed and weep from exhaustion when they were little. Teens, however, are more about caring for their emotional needs and that is a very different challenge. It’s always difficult to see moms with young kids look at my girls in horror based on what they are wearing, listening too, even talking about as if they will never allow their sweet babies to grow up like “that.” Ha!

      • Cat B says:

        Exactly, Stephanie. Although I think smaller kids have emotional needs as well, they are more simple and honest, therefore much easier to deal with. Three girls! I can't imagine!

    • Cat B says:

      Thanks for your comments Julia! You may be right—it takes some effort to remember the years when the boys were little, never mind recalling the details about how I felt at the time, so I may have misrepresented how hard it is to raise little ones. Good luck on your journey! I'm sure your kids will be lucky to have such a thoughtful Mom!

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