Teens get a bad rap.
With 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?
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.
They take their swings
Sometimes, their honesty jabs. Other times, it stabs. I’ll cover my mouth in mock shock when Hayden 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.
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 Madison … 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 Hayden … opportunities are golden, but fleeting. Don’t try and be cute. I’ll never be cute. Don’t openly celebrate when communication unfolds.
With Camdyn … I can count on my right-hand girl to have a plan. She 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.
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.
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. 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.
Words, 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.