Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Most Important Lesson for Teens

Recently a friend and I were talking with some teen girls about relationships. “Do you get along with your parents?” we asked the girls. “Yes, but not always,” they said.

We pressed them. “When do you fight?”

The answers came easy: “When I don’t clean my room.” “When my siblings and I argue.” “When I talk back.”

“Why do you do these things?” we asked.

The girls paused. These answers needed more thought. The girls weren’t sure why they do these things. Behaving a certain way comes naturally, but explaining why we do what we do isn’t always easy.

“I fight with my brother because he annoys me.” 

“I talk back because I am frustrated.” 

“I don’t do chores because I don’t want to.” 

Then one girl chimed in and summed it all up for us:

“We’re teenagers! We’re supposed to act this way! We’re angry all the time!  We’re lazy!” They all agreed that this was their lot in life, at least for the next few years.

It was disheartening.  These were other people’s children, the peers of my own teens.  I didn’t like that they were describing themselves like this, because I don’t see my children this way.



* * *

One of the most important truths in parenting, and one that has stuck with me from the moment I read it is this:

The way you talk to your children becomes their inner voice.

What do kids hear that makes them accept that they are angry and lazy? The teens I know show up to school every day, go to class, do their homework, appear to be clean and well groomed, care for expensive electronics, maintain friendships, have reasonable relationships with adults, juggle hobbies and extra-curricular activities and family time and vacations, and maybe have a moment of snark or a messy room, but for the most part live their full lives well. These are people who carry on lively conversations, are active most days and nights, keep up with hectic schedules, and manage to do it all and stay healthy in the process. 

These are not markers of the lazy.  Their laughter, carefree attitudes, and occasional silliness do not scream “angry.”

It saddens me that teenagers still receive the message that they are awful to be around, that they still internalize labels like Angry and Lazy. Every new parent has worried about parenting teenagers. Comments like “I’m scared of them” “I’m not ready to deal with their issues” “I don’t even want to think about the teen years” “I want to keep my kids little forever” – all are prevalent in casual conversations with anyone who has an opinion on parenting teens. 

The truth is that kids adapt and change with age like all current adults have done, like we continue to do. As children grow older, they are able to understand more of what adults understand. It’s something that adults might forget because the process of growing and aging is too close. How many parents take time to examine who they were as teens and remember how they felt and behaved without the haze of their current hang-ups blurring the view?

Teens aren’t lazy or angry; they are in the process of learning that they are free to make choices apart from the constant monitoring of parents. They have a choice to do chores or avoid them, to argue or agree, to stay silent or express their opinions. Adults don’t have as much control over teens, because teens are realizing more control over themselves. But teens aren’t fully adult yet, and they still need guidance.


* * *

I’ve learned that this is my time to walk closely alongside my teens and not carry them or follow them with arms out ready to catch them when they fall, or drag them along by the hand, or insist on redirecting their behavior. The teen years are the gray area of parenting, the nebulous and one-size-fits-no-one years. They are the important years, because they are also the hardest.

As kids get older, they need their parents more than ever.

I’m not a perfect parent. I’ve told my kids to stop being lazy, to shape up and do what they’re told, to cut out whatever behavior is annoying or frustrating me at the moment. I’ve said disrespectful things to them that I later regret, and usually apologize for. I do these things less often as we grow together, as we all get older and wiser.  As I realize that they are modeling their own behavior on mine, I’ve learned to behave better.

I’m learning to be a better parent to my teens for their benefit and for mine. Just as I read baby books and tried out various ways of child-rearing when my kids were small, so am I continuing my education as they get older. As a parent and a person, I am improving. I only have two kids, and that doesn’t make me an expert on parenting or children.  I am learning how to raise the two children under my care using the best of my ability and resources, and it is often a trial-and-error process. My goal is to send them from this place emotionally strong and secure, self-confident and sure in their own skills, with a sense of who they are in the world and how they can contribute positively to it.

It’s a tall order. I’m not sure that I would have taken the job had I been able to see this far into the future. Normally I’m not up to that big of a challenge, if I can clearly see the obstacles ahead. But I took on the responsibility, and I am committed to it. 

This means that I will not accept that teenagers are angry and lazy. I will not agree that they are difficult to manage. I do not think that they are alien beings that took over the bodies and brains of former young and cute cherubs. They are great, cool people who are excited to discover something new, who are full of life and the capacity for love, who eagerly try out new freedoms and who can teach me to do the same. I enjoy them immensely. My role is to walk beside them into adulthood, to work out a way to relate to them without being overbearing, to protect them without suppressing, to encourage them when they fall and cheer for them when they get back up again.

And above all, to love them.

My kids need me as their parent; that will never change. I can do a lot for my own teens and others who come into my life, but at the core of what I do for them is love them, which is what I’ve always been able to give children of any age. It’s also what I believe they need to hear, especially now. If they get through life knowing that they were loved, then I have done my job well.

The most important thing a teen will learn is love.




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18 comments:

  1. This is SUCH a good post! "The way you talk to your children becomes their inner voice" - that alone deserves deep contemplation. My teens had their moments (especially my girls) when I just wanted to lock them in their rooms, but they were also fun to be around and sometimes said some very wise words that made me think. Sharing this on Facebook.

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    1. Thank you for the encouragement, Lori! I appreciate it so much.

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  2. I LOVE THIS POST and agree wholeheartedly. Of course no parent is perfect, and no teenager is either. But what they hear about themselves becomes how they feel, what they believe, how they behave. I began years ago to tell other people how well my kids got along within their hearing; I said things like, "They're just really good to each other and such close friends. It's wonderful." Now yes, I'll admit I am lucky that their natural dispositions lend to this, but I truly believe that the more they heard this, the more the thought "Yeah. I really DO like my brother/sister." Likewise with their attitudes. I try to compliment them directly as often as I can and also praise them occasionally in front of others (but not to an embarrassing extent). And no joke, they are so much more likely to do what I ask of them without complaint now. Kids become who they THINK they are. LOVE THIS!

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    1. Thank you, Julie!

      I agree with you, too. When our kids hear that we think they're pretty great, they act pretty great. It's not neurosurgery.

      I wonder how many of us would act differently if we read/heard/shared/had conversations about more positive things instead of all the terrible stuff? I mean, I'm certainly no Pollyanna, and I don't have my head in the sand, but it makes me think about what we all choose to put in our own heads and how it comes out later.

      You know? I know you know. :)

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  3. This is a really great post and it inspires me to do better! I have to be more careful about how I talk to my kids, and also monitor my behaviour if I see they are modelling the less desirable.

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    1. Thanks Jennie! Yeah, I'm not kidding when I say that having kids made me a better person. I monitor myself almost as much as I do them.

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  4. You make me excited to have teens instead of scared :) When we encourage the good, it's easier for them to see it in themselves, too <3

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    1. Yay! Be excited! They're fun. And it is such a great feeling when we can see that they think we're pretty okay, too.

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  5. Andrea, I just love the way you write. And I always love WHAT you write too...

    Thank you for this. YES. I so needed this affirmation and encouragement. I don't see my girl being angry OR lazy... and she is a month shy of 13. Maybe things will change- but I will treat her like they won't. Because like you, I love her and respect her and talk to her the way I want her to talk to me. (Like you, I mess that all up!) And oh that quote hits my heart hard. My kids will not have that message in our home either.

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    1. Thank you, Chris! "Maybe things will change - but I will treat her like they won't" - I love this!

      I'm not perfect at parenting by a long shot. My kids still see the messes I create and try haphazardly to clean up - but the best part is that they get it, they understand me, and they watch me try to make things right. A good lesson for any person.

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  6. That part about the way you talk to them becoming their inner voice is truly brilliant. My Daddy always said I could do and be whatever I wanted as long as I worked hard enough and I always believed it. Still do. And my Mom always told me God's love would see me through anything. And guess what? ;) ADORE this post.

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    1. Thank you Miss Elaine! :)

      I love that quote, too - I have heard it often lately. You are lucky to have had those affirmations growing up. I'm certain they are what helped you be the strong woman you are today. I hope that I am doing the same for my kids. xoxo

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  7. Beautiful, Andrea - this is so brilliantly said and with such heart. My oldest boy Berto has just entered these years, and I think you offer a great perspective for all of us moms and dads of teenagers. I long ago accepted that I would never be the perfect parent I longed to be - no matter how many children I had! But I also, like you, believe that educating yourself for the challenges ahead is truly wise, because we can always improve the ways in which we show love and become more emotionally intelligent and life-affirming for our families.

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    1. Thank you Hillary! One of the best discoveries about parenting is learning something new every day. I didn't realize that would be one of the most fulfilling parts of parenting for me.

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  8. Wonderful message - I'm so glad I found you and this post! I have an almost 14yo, an 11 yo and a 4yo (all girls) and I agree with you: teenagers ARE cool, and also exasperating and pushing our boundaries and scaring us a little. Parenting teens is all about accepting that they're growing up and away from us and still need us to help them on this journey. My heart aches a lot, not because of difficult behavior and situations, but because I'm watching my girl(s) become themselves apart from me. The aching is with both immense joy and twinges of sadness and future missing. Thanks for sharing this.

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    1. You just summed up all my feelings about my teens in this comment. So glad you are here to read and share with me. We are in good company. xo

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  9. Incredible. I'm writing about my teens for tomorrow. Why do we treat them like space aliens? I have loved the opportunity for my kids to get to know me as young adults, too. It's a beautiful process.

    Your kids are so lucky to have a mindful mom like you.

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    1. Thanks, Eli! There is definitely beauty in the process of growing, yet we rarely hear about it.

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