May 28, 2013

What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Teenager.

Advice for those of us who suddenly find ourselves parents of a teenager.

There’s plenty of advice for parents of young children. But it seems like all the advice givers go into hiding at the sound of their first voice crack. No one warns us it can be heart-wrenching and scary to raise a teenager.

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

Your teenager might 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.

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 monitor their computers and phones. 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!).

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

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.

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 unrelated consequences. Honestly, those kinds of consequences just stop working, like taking away privileges. They will make your child miserable for a while but they don’t really learn anything.

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 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 they 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.


Ed: Kate Bartolotta

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