#AtoZChallenge: F is for Finding a Way with Teens


teens
photo credit: Bday Enigma [16/52] via photopin (license)
Teens get a bad rap.

F image.jpgWith white conservatives and Denver Broncos fans, teenagers rank among the ranks it’s still okay to belittle. They’re moody, they say. They’re unpredictable, they say. They’re a bubbling, volatile cocktail of angst and hormones and turpentine.

Okay, I made that last one up.

Natasha at OMG Parenting wrote of five parenting truths for the OMG teen years. Just this week, Andrea Mowery of About 100% posted the Most Important Lessons for Teens. “The most important thing a teen will learn,” Andrea writes, “is love.”

Natasha and Andrea nailed it, as you can see. What could I offer to the cause?

I swim hard as dad of two teens. My girls are tender, but with a tough demeanor and uncrackable outer shell that makes Ankylosaurs look like a tub of butter. In my peripheral vision, I can see them take care of each other and friends. I don’t look directly at them.

They lash out, sometimes.

Sometimes, my daughters’ honesty stabs.

Sometimes, their honesty jabs. Other times, it stabs. I’ll cover my mouth in mock shock when Marie takes her swings. Sometimes, it’s not so mock, that shock. I’ll never tell them that, though. For questions, refer to the Everyday guide to being brave.

Communicate.

I’ve three daughters, and three languages to learn.

At least, I have three dialects to master. I learn all the time more ways to hear them and reach them. I also find ways to fail at communication with them. In those moments, silence seems to serve best.

With Elise … it’s best to listen, first. Not to butt in. Hear the story, respond to the story. Ask questions after the story. Invite her to grocery shop, and offer a snack.

With Marie … opportunities are golden, but fleeting. Don’t try and be cute. I’ll never be cute. Don’t openly celebrate when communication unfolds. It’s unseemly.

With Grace … I can count on my right-hand girl to have a plan. Grace writes and listens. She asks, often. We reveal, we share, and we care. For a fifth grader, she sure has a way of taking care of her daddy.

I love those side-by-side moments with my girls.

(One kid used to try to rub my earlobes. Maybe her mom did that. It’s a sweet sentiment, for mom, not a coach.)

I miss them, as their soccer coach, sharing a huddle with them and their teammates. Feeling one lean on my shoulder as other kids draped an arm around my neck and another sat on my lap.

(One kid used to try to rub my earlobes. Maybe her mom did that. It’s a sweet sentiment, for mom, not a coach.)

After walks went away, there were other side-by-side moments.

In the car … secrets and concerns, fears and hopes, all revealed. There’s proximity and privacy, without the face-to-face confrontation.

On the field … I pace the parents’ sideline with my girls on the field, silently. I offer meager assistance for Grace’s club coach, and walk with them after the final whistle.

With the family … outings at my sister’s or their grandparents’ usually draw us together, too. We’re kindred and often misunderstood spirits, my girls and me.

Model.

It’s as simple as folding one’s hands, away from the laptop, when conversations start.

Forced to pick a virtue to hope I model, I’d select empathy, toward others, and toward them. That galvanized resolve and diamond-cut resiliency means little if the children I’m charged with learning haven’t the capacity for compassion.

It’s as simple as folding one’s hands, away from the laptop, when conversations start.

It’s sharing dinner with them, without checking a phone. It’s sharing a daddy/daughter date, and focusing on that girl and that girl’s questions and stories, no matter how much the server looks like Eliza Coupe.

Why so important, these?

As Andrea said, that voice we use on our kids’ downfalls and gifts?

That develops into our teenagers’ inner voice.

Teens sometimes get a bad rap. Teen life is hard, no doubt.

Ask yourself: Will the voice you’ve helped instill resonate with positive?

Will it reverberate with negative?

Teens sometimes get a bad rap. Teen life is hard, no doubt.

But words and time and example given in love? They hold the potential to strip the sting right out of the angst and remind you, the parent, it wasn’t long ago you needed that too.

teenager quote

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23 thoughts on “#AtoZChallenge: F is for Finding a Way with Teens”

  1. Hey Eli, loved your post! Your fifth grader, Grace, sounds like my sixth grader, who is my right-hand girl also. I enjoyed discovering your blog 🙂

  2. lovely post with humour, Eli 🙂 We’ve got a son and yes, it was tough when he was a teen-ager, and we’ve sailed through hehehe all of us still intact! cheers!

  3. This was wonderful to read, Eli. I don’t have any kids, but my brother and I have very different ways of communicating (probably because he’s a guy and I’m, well, not *lol*). So we both presented our… unique challenges to our parents as we grew up. But yes, in the end, all anyone wants at any age is love of some form. Acceptance, friendship, compassion – even just a listening ear sometimes.

    1. Thanks so much, Sara. I understand the gender differences – but think I might communicate like a woman. Maybe? Acceptance, friendship, compassion … all that … they’re from the same spice rack, aren’t they? It’s all love.

  4. My oldest is 13, so we are just stepping into the teen waters. She is currently in tears over 8th grade math homework, so i have a feeling its going to be a bumpy ride!

    1. It’s not as turbulent as advertised, Lisa. Just remember that tragic life hiccups like math homework are a big deal because in their grand scheme, well, it really is a big deal.

      We can remember what it’s like, right?

  5. I really love your positive approach! It’s nice to see someone taking such a human and thoughtful path to communication. It also bothers me how much culture demeans teenagers; they’re really just learning.

    @IsaLeeWolf
    A Bit to Read

  6. I have four…children. Two are grown now, one is almost grown but still a teen, and the little guy… he’s not there YET. 🙂 I loved/love the teen years. I think every age is a good age, and you’re right, the inner voice their hear when they are teens, often stems from the voice we’ve offered to them. I try to make mine positive, so that theirs is positive too. I also agree with you on the empathy. With it, they’ve already got a huge head starts. 🙂 Excellent post as always!!

    1. I love the approach you took, Rosey! You can just tell when you see a teenager who has had that kind of love and support. This world needs more parents like you.

  7. You four — your girls and you — are lucky and blessed to have one another. I love this post, Eli. But then, I usually love all your posts 🙂

  8. Beautiful, Eli! I always cherished those days of the carpool when, as you said, there was proximity without face to face confrontation. My kids were teens before smartphones were ubiquitous. The distraction that the phones bring sure can put a damper on conversations.

    1. Thanks Mo! I love taking my two high schoolers to school every day, even when days aren’t beautifully engaging, like today was.

      You know you’ve done something right – or at least mildly compelling – if you can get a teen to put the screen down and engage.

      It’s not their problem – the competition we face is considerable!

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