July 09, 2014 —
I don't have kids of my own and I don't profess to know a thing about how extremely difficult it is to raise them. But I do teach kids. 180 of them, in fact. I teach English in a suburban high school in Utah- five senior classes and one junior classes. Every day, I interact with hundreds of teenagers. I talk to them, I read their papers, I get to know them all. By the end of the year I am shedding tears as I say goodbye to them, and I feel like I am saying goodbye to my own kids.
I am finishing my fourth year of this gig, and I don't see myself quitting anytime soon. I adore these teenagers. They may be a bit of an enigma, but after four years, I have definitely learned a few things about teenagers and the way they work. They are often willing to tell me things they might not be willing to share with their parents. I don't have the power to ground them for the weekend, after all. Plus, I have the added benefit of being younger than 50 years old (a fact that certainly makes me a much more susceptible candidate to tales of their worries and woes).
Again, I don't know everything about teenagers. But I do know a these things.
- Teenagers are not nearly as "bad" as you think they are. On the whole, they are kind, loving, funny, vulnerable, quirky, scared, anxious and very sweet. They are likely not up to half of the mischief you think they are.
- Teenagers are seeking your approval. More than anything, they want you to be proud of them.
- Teenagers lie because they don't want to disappoint you. They don't want to ruin their relationship with you and are afraid if they tell you the truth it will damage the relationship you have. They aren't trying to be deceitful; they are trying to protect their relationship with you.
- Teenagers want to go dinner, catch a movie or just "hang out" with you. They want to spend time with you even though they would never tell you that.
- Teenagers want you to ask them questions about their lives. They might not open up on their own, but there’s so much that they want you to know and, with a little prodding, they will start to share things with you. More than you realize, they crave a close relationship with their parents.
- Teenagers are smart. And manipulative. Even when they don't realize it, they are often subconsciously trying to manipulate adults. Give them clear limits and boundaries and don't let them take advantage of you - that is the only way they can really thrive.
- It's okay for your teenagers to be bored. Teach them how to deal with boredom and how to entertain themselves.
- It's okay for your teenager to go without his or her cell phone. Set limits on it (turn off texting after a certain time at night) or maybe even make him help pay the bill! Have no texting zones like the dinner table or the family car so your teen can learn how to hold conversations without checking his phone every two minutes.
- When a teacher calls home because of a problem with your teenager, take the teacher's side. Nine times out of ten, the teacher is in the right and your teenager needs to know that you are not going to save him from every situation.
- Teenagers want to be seen as adults, even though they're not quite ready for that responsibility. Their two greatest needs are 1) Love and 2) Freedom - in that order. Give them as much freedom as you can (within clear limits, of course) and let them have a voice and a say. Most of the time, they just want to be heard.
- Teenagers are moody. If your teenager is lashing out at you today that means nothing about how he will treat you tomorrow. Most of the time, it has nothing to do with you.
- Don't let your teenager come home, go into his room, close the door and spend the rest of the evening on his computer. Just don't.
- You don't have to be the cool mom or cool dad. Just be a parent who will listen to their teenager.
- Your teenager is likely the busiest and most stressed he has ever been in his life. He is juggling more than ever before. Be patient, loving and kind with him and validate his stresses.
- Your teenager adores you. He only wants the same from you.
Bonnie Blackburn Larsen teaches high school English to many lucky (and some not-so-lucky) 16-18 year olds in Utah. She blogs at thelifeofbon.com and lives in Utah with her ginger husband and her ginger toy poodle. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.