My kids have all returned to school, and with them their friends, their boyfriends, and the happy high paced days and long nights of holiday with teenagers. Teenagers do not sleep the same hours as us adults, and trying to keep up with their zany schedule is as futile as it is exhausting. Irritatingly, it is often the late night conversations with teenagers that are the most rewarding, those conversations where they share a little bit about what is going on in their life, the observations they are making about friends and choices, the plans they have for the future. Teenagers don’t care if you, like me, get up at six in the morning and like to be tucked happily in bed by eleven. They want to talk when they are ready to talk, and it’s usually rather late in the evening.
Our home is the go to place for my kids and their friends. This makes for a messy house and a large food bill, but it allows me to keep a pretty close connection to what my kids and their friends are doing and thinking. Here are some observations that might be helpful to share.
My first is that kids really want to talk to adults who have the ability to listen without judgment. They will tell you all kinds of things if you allow them to talk. They are much more tuned into energy than us adults, so they know right away when you have moved to judgment or you have disconnected with them. Chopping vegetables in the kitchen was the setting for many deep conversations these last few weeks, the teenagers that came through my house were hungering for them, and they wanted to talk to an adult and be heard and supported in their ideas and problems.
Teenagers have big problems. I hear lots of adults scoff at the “1st world problems” of teenagers. It’s so easy to forget that this is a time of huge pressure. My kids friend’s are trying to figure out where to go to University, if they can afford University, if they will get into a University and if they don’t go to University how will this affect their life. These may be first world problems but they are huge decisions that will affect the course of their lives.
Teenagers are in a unique time developmentally. Just like children, teenagers are not mini-adults. They are still developing critical thinking, their pre-frontal cortex is changing profoundly and they can have issues with impulse control and decision-making. This is part of their development, and freaking out when they make a bad decision will not help the matter. Understanding a little about what is going on in their bodies and their brains can go a long way to developing a more compassionate approach to problems. I haven’t even mentioned hormones. A couple years ago, I was explaining to my then 14 yrs old daughter how pre menopause was contributing to bouts of intense anger and frustration: “sometimes I just feel so frustrated and overwhelmed,” I shared. She looked at me and clear eyed said “mom, that’s how I feel all the time!”
Teenagers need boundaries and limits. I have had several of my kids friends share that knowing what is expected of them makes them feel safer. One in particular lives in a home where she can do anything. This puts added pressure on her and makes her feel like she has to be a mini adult. My kids respond with a groan when I tell them to be in by 1am, but they know I am paying attention and that I am involved in keeping them safe.
Kids have a sixth sense for artifice and they crave authentic relationships. Children and teenagers know when someone is being fake; they know when you are saying one thing and feeling another. Don’t even try to fake it – it doesn’t work. Share who you are authentically with them and if you are lucky, they will share who they are with you right back.
Respect is the foundation of every healthy relationship. This is not about all your young adults respecting you; it is also about you respecting them. Teenagers have different cultural influences than you do, they will listen to different music and watch movies you can’t easily relate to, but treating the stuff that they are interested in as inconsequential is disrespectful. You may feel frustrated by them, you may be angry with them when they break the rules, but they always deserve your love and respect. Always.
Being with teenagers is a privileged space. I am alternatively curious, captivated and moved to tears of laughter by my children’s lives and adventures. Opening my home and my heart to their friends enriches my life enormously and I am grateful to them for showing up in such an honest and open way with me. There is no reason to dread the teenage years, it can be an amazing time in parenting.