Your teenagers are okay. No really, they are. (Stop laughing.)
How do I know? I am a teacher and over the past decade I have taught thousands of your children. Like you, I have seen them be different people from one minute to the next. They have made me laugh, made me proud and made me want to smack my head repeatedly against the wall with frustration. Unlike you, I get to see a different side of them. I get to see how they really act with their peers. I hear about their lives, and about you – their parents or guardians. Your teenagers have a lot to say, but they won’t always tell you the important stuff. (Or any stuff, for that matter, if they are too busy looking at their phone.)
So, as your kid’s teacher, I think there are some things you should hear.
They appreciate you. (No, I’m not making it up.) They know you do a lot for them. They see you sacrifice that new outfit so they can go on a school trip. They appreciate you driving them to hockey practice 300 times a week and going out at midnight to get that thing they need to complete that project due tomorrow. They love when you make them dinner and no food will taste as good as yours. They tell me all about it. So why don’t they say it to you? Maybe they have a fear of vulnerability. Maybe they are worried about looking cheesy. Maybe they don’t want to embarrass themselves. Maybe they were going to text you but ran out of minutes. Who knows with teenagers! Just know you are appreciated.
They want you to push them. Did you make them get a job instead of giving them money? Did you call them on their terrible assignment and make them do it again? Did you tell them “this is not your best effort”? Good. They want you to do that kind of thing. No, really, they do. I see this every day. They complain that it is too hard, but don’t let them give up. They will fight you every step. They will get rude, angry and defensive and make you regret ever standing your ground, but keep pushing them. They will get it. They will learn how to work for what they want and they will get to experience the feeling when their effort finally pays off. This feeling is your gift to them. While they curse you during the process, they do give you credit for the positive outcome. (Probably not to your face though. Sorry.)
They do like the funny things you do, even when they roll their eyes. They won’t tell you, but they tell me. Your corny jokes, silly songs or funny family traditions? They love it, but they can’t appear to love it. You may think they have outgrown it or that it is time to move on. Don’t do it! They are being thrown headfirst into a new adult world with increased responsibilities, expectations and worries. They are told to grow up. They are told to change. They are asked to be someone new daily – sometimes hourly – and while they decide who they are now, they take comfort in being reminded of who they were. So please, don’t embarrass them by making them ask you to keep up those silly traditions. Just keep them going and they will thank you one day. (Again, not today. Sorry.)
They are listening…most of the time. You sit them down to have an important talk. You have practiced it in your head all day. You are honest but not too preachy. You are nailing it. It is the stuff of parenting legend. They seem to be really listening! They remove their ear buds, and you think: I have finally reached them! Then they look deep into your eyes, smile and ask if you can get pizza. Sigh. You want your kids to be good people. You lead by example. You talk to them about making good choices. (Over and over again.) You pour your heart into teaching them your values. You talk and talk in hopes that when it really counts, they will listen. Here’s what I have noticed: most of the time they do. I have seen your teenagers do some amazing things. I have seen them applaud the worst presentation the loudest because they know that their classmate is having a bad day and needs the support. I have seen them turn down drugs from their friend, even when they know it will cost them their friendship. I have seen them stand up to bullying and homophobia, because they know it is the right thing to do.
You did that. I know it doesn’t seem like it, but you really are reaching them, so keep talking. They don’t want you to be perfect. You know all that time you spend worrying about not packing them Pinterest-worth lunches, swearing too much or not being able to afford the newest piece of technology? They don’t care about that nearly as much as you do.
They understand that you are not perfect, and honestly, it is a relief for them. They don’t want perfect – they just want you. You are a real person, with real flaws, and you are doing just fine anyway. Your imperfections give them permission to accept their own imperfections.
Sometimes, it’s not about you.You ask them a seemingly innocent question, and it is met with a torrent of anger and tears. As they storm away, you are left wondering what the hell just happened. Everyone who lives or works with teenagers has been there.Here’s the good news: Most of the time it’s not about you. Yes, they are screaming at you, but they are really reacting to someone or something else. Maybe their friend said something behind their back. Maybe they failed a test. Maybe their boss gave them a tough time at work.
For some reason they did not or could not react in that moment, but they still need to react. You are just the one in front of them at that moment. Tough luck, I know. Just take a deep breath and hope they got it out of their system. If not, just toss them an electronic device and wait it out in the other room with a glass of wine.
(PS. Your kid’s teachers like wine too. Just saying.)
About the author: Newbie Mom Liz is the proud mom of a seven month old son and a 3 1/2 year old chocolate lab. She lives in Toronto with her wonderful husband and the aforementioned dependants. Currently she is on maternity leave, and writing her thoughts in her blog: Newbie Mom Site, for you lovely people. She has also been featured in Mommy Connections East Toronto’s blog. In her other life, she is a high school music teacher, which is much louder and crazier but has better hours and fewer dirty diapers. Find more stories from Newbie Mom at: Newbie Mom, Facebook and Twitter.