Every parent dreads it (or will). Every grandparent remembers it with a mildly disdainful grin. Every child (pre-10) cannot wait for it. Every teacher cringes daily because of it. And absolutely no one (no one, I say) can figure it out.
Roughly age 13-19- when kids generally get a free pass to every bad decision and situation they can find. As parents, we’re trained to prepare for it like Armageddon. We’re told things like, “you’ll get through it, somehow”, and “get a dog, it’ll be the only thing that shows you love.” Parents, teachers, scientists and politicians have generally teamed up to convince each other and us that the angst (and even real dangers) of teenagehood is inevitable. Their brains don’t know right from wrong, they are wired to be risk takers, and (my favorite) they are developing a sense of self.
In the not-too-distant past, kids left kidhood and entered adulthood with absolutely no mention of this thing called teenager. Kids were taught to behave in a civilized way. Kids worked. Hard. At a young age. And they naturally assumed the roles and responsibilities of adulthood early. It was necessity. It was norm. It was what it was.
And then we became “progressive”. The Progressive Era brought gobs and gobs of laws that (rightly so) protected young children from long hours and brutal working conditions. From the Progressive Era was born the concept of leisure. Parks, limiting work hours and education reform meant kids got to be kids longer.
And thus the need to define a new stage of development- the teenager. Not a kid, but not yet an adult.
And so, society has since been trying to figure out what to do with this newly invented enigma. We study their brains, their sleep patterns, their decisions, their test scores. We observe them in their natural habitats (basement sofa, in front of an xbox). We’ve realized there’s money to be made off them. We make movies and TV shows that appeal to them. We create video games and apps and gadgets that only they can figure out. We insure them, medicate them, coddle them, love them, hate them, excuse them, feel sorry for them, and pray they somehow transition into adulthood very much like a caterpillar becomes a butterfly- natural, automatic.
As parents, we don’t know any better. We’ve bought into the idea that it’s part of growing up. Heck, WE were teenagers! So if our parents believed it, how could we believe anything else but the notion that it is an absolute necessary stage of growing up? We wouldn’t be “good” parents if we didn’t baby them through this traumatic (cough cough) phase of life. We’d only be making it harder if we put any more pressure on them- things like work, or chores, or any real expectations beyond getting up each day.
Get a clue people. Stop this insanity. Don’t believe the hype. Kids and teenagers, just like any other stage of humanhood, can and should function under pressure, make good choices, live with rules, have expectations and suffer consequences. We’ve got to stop the madness of just getting them through. Stop thinking that teenagers are some wildling group of creatures that we all need to keep a safe distance from, and let them work things out together and alone. It’s absolute nonsense! Absolute craziness! And it’s a reflection not of just an upside down society, but of parents who are unwilling, unable and unprepared to be the kind of parents that YOUNG ADULTS need and deserve.
I challenge you, parents of teens, to:
- Show them how to work- early
- Show them how to manage money-early
- Show them how to be an adult- early
- Have expectations about the kind of person you want them to be- early (see What’s Your Parenting End?)
- For God’s sake-stop living through them! Stop believing they define you! Stop letting them make their own decisions! Stop telling them they’re special, unique, and important. Because they aren’t (does that sound harsh? Well, the world they are living in is harsh too).
- Stop buying into this idea that they NEED to experience this thing called teenagehood- with all its debauchery, low expectations, apathy and general mendacity.
- Stop being their friends. Actually, never start being their friends. Ever. Being a parent is never the same thing as being a friend. They have friends. You have friends. Never be their friends. Never expect them to be your friend.
- Don’t buy into what other parents say and do, what politicians say and do, what schools say and do about teens.
- Read this.
I wish I had this same advice a few years ago. Because I am, regrettably, one of those parents that thought my teenager would just “get it”, eventually. And until then, my duty was to serve him, and stick by him through all the “necessary” trials of being a teenager. Because he’d notice, and he’d appreciate, and he’d want to become an adult, naturally. And then it hit me. Too late. I enabled him, I did not prepare him. I sheltered him, I did not expose him. I believed he’d want to be an adult, but allowed him to live as a child for way too long. He’s ill-prepared, and frankly, unwilling, to leave the cocoon of teenagerhood that we created for him. And he feels entitled, because we thought he was entitled. We thought (because we were taught) that all teens are entitled to some rite of passage that included nothing but laziness, self-centeredness and absolutely no real responsibilities. Luckily, I have a shot at making this right, because I have two more kids coming into this phase of young adulthood. And hopefully, I can do it differently, better. Because it matters. Let’s start supporting each other more, and supporting our teens less.