There is a sign in my kitchen that I particularly love: Raising a teenager is like trying to nail jello to a tree. Teenagers certainly have their moments. Sassy, endearing, hurtful and loving….moods, moods, moods. They know everything or at least think they do. You try to offer words of wisdom and the eyeballs roll. I am surprised that parents can hold themselves back. You would think more heads would be rolling.
Working in a middle school and a high school, it is always fascinating to see children growing into their adulthood. Rebel? Hell, yeah! These kids affect as many adult mannerisms as they can manage, always questing for the pinnacle of cool. To me they might clearly be children but in their own eyes they are miniature adults.
This is a necessary stage of development. Kids need to argue and think and push back to assert their individuality. We know it and do our best to accommodate which can be a difficult task. I do not mean tolerate poor behavior. Rather we work to keep things in perspective. Setting limits and standing by your word is essential, but so are an infinite well of patience and serious dose of understanding. Humor comes in handy. Listening and being there when you can is important. So is learning to gradually let go and trust your teen to make decisions. Mistakes are part of the package. So are ever present attitudes.
I found it helpful in my boys teenage years to remember two essential things: First, you were a teenager once. Take a moment. Breathe. Remember your own rebellions, the inner fire that colored your thinking, the fresh romance in your soul. There is such beauty in discovery. Your teen is trying to figure out identity and purpose, learning how to negotiate the social stratosphere. It is an exciting and terrifying time.
Honesty here is helpful. I know a parent or two who behave as if they never had a single doubt or transgression along the way. “I never behaved that way.” Really? Of course you did. Who are you fooling? We are all fallible. We have all made errors in judgement or been sucked into high school drama. Then there is the other extreme, to remember your own teen years and in direct response, tighten the rules to resemble an army barracks. You may be well-intentioned but this plan may prove a spectacular misfire as it forces your child to push back against those boundaries harder than ever, driven to outrageous lengths to assert himself. Do not expect your child to be perfect. You weren’t. Be honest and realistic. You must find livable middle ground, rife with expectation but also allowing freedom. You must provide limits, reassurance and unconditional love. No one promised it would be easy. Just worth it.
The second hint comes from a memory of my own mom saying to me “Someday you will understand.” Of course I rolled my eyeballs! It pains me to admit it but she was right. It is true. I now have the perspective to understand so many more of her positions. With age wisdom does develop and evolve.
My sons are well on their way to being strong men. I have survived the teen years. The boys, firmly in their twenties, are coming around. Before long they will be parents and will finally understand how tough that position can be, especially when you are trying to nail jello to a tree.
I hope I am here to see their children’s teen years. I hope to add humor, some truth and a dose of patience. That is what grandmothers are for. Let the teens keep their heads. The adults who emerge on the other side of the Rolling Eyeball Rebellion are truly spectacular people, well worth the wait.