I Love Teenagers

Those who know me well, know that I love teenagers.  This is a good thing since, by the time my babies turn 20, I will have had teenagers for 17 straight years.

Teenagers are greatly misunderstood.  Our culture promotes a general mistrust and suspicion of teenagers and this often results in teenagers being overly criticized.  I have been around a lot of teenagers and have worked snack sales at the high school for some time now, and I laugh to myself when I hear parents criticize kids for opposite reasons, i.e. one for having hair too long and the next one for having hair too short, for example.  It seems, no matter what they do, there is someone there to find fault.

And, unfortunately, due to this general mistrust and suspicion of teenagers, they are often not believed when they share their experiences of mistreatment and abuse.  It is a fact that teenagers and kids of all ages are abused at the same rate as younger children.  Abuse of young children and babies gets more press, but no kid deserves to be mistreated or abused.  Even teenagers.

As kids get older, however, we start to think that they must have done something to deserve it.  Not unlike spousal abuse.  Or our society still holds onto some of those subconscious feelings that children are property, and their parents have rights to do what they want with them.

For me, I find teenagers endlessly fascinating.  Most teenagers will experiment with at least minor delinquency and rebellion sometime during these years.  Teenagers will also experiment with different identities – they are trying to find what fits and what makes sense for them.  And, almost all kids will experience great moments of self doubt.  The great fluctuations in hormones add to the wild swings of emotions that you experience with most kids during their teenage years.

These are things which make living with teenagers a wild ride sometimes.

Research shows that teenagers do not yet have fully developed brains.  They just do not think and act like adults - in spite of what some adults and 18 year old teenagers say.  They do not yet fully understand long range goal setting and long range consequences for their actions.  And long range for a teenager can sometimes mean a few hours from now.  That is why it can be so hard for them to understand deadlines.  That is why zero tolerance rules make little sense for teenagers.  That is not to say that they should not have to suffer consequences for their actions – because they most certainly should.  That is partly how they learn.

My experiences show me that the overwhelming majority of teenagers are really good kids.  Even the ones with crazy hair, tattoos, multiple body piercings, droopy drawers, and who “look scary.”  I recommend looking into a kid’s eyes and talking directly to them.  You might be surprised, in a good way, what you hear.

Many parents bail on their kids once they hit middle school and especially high school.  They take it to heart when their kid says to leave them alone or don’t embarrass them by getting involved.  But, really, at the end of the day, all kids want their parents to be involved.  They just don’t know it yet.

The polar opposite of this problem are the helicopter parents.  Those parents who micro-manage their children’s lives all the way through high school.

I have found that many of the kids whose parents fall into one of these two categories go really wild and seem to have the most trouble getting to adulthood.  That is because, one way or the other, they have to go through the stages of social-emotional development.  You can’t do it for them.  You can only hold their hands and their hearts.

I like to tell my kids that they didn’t come into this world with a How To Manual.  We are all learning together.  One thing that I have learned is to trust my instincts.  Another thing I have learned is that respect works both ways.  We expect, we even demand, that kids respect us as adults, but we should also respect our children, too.  One of the great discussions we have with our kids revolves around trust.  Inevitably, most teenagers will violate the trust that they are given by their parents.  Learning that regaining trust is hard is one of the toughest lessons for a teenager.

The bottom line is that all kids, no matter what age, but especially when they are teenagers need to feel safe and loved.

To date, we have had 6 kids live with us.  Four of them are our birth children, one is our niece who came to live with us through the Division of Family Services, and the most recent addition has lived with us “unofficially” since last Fall.  I consider all of them to be my children, and they consider each other to be sisters.  It doesn’t matter that they all didn’t come out of the same womb.

It looks like kid #6 may be ready to move back to her birth parents’ home soon.  It will be a bittersweet moment for me.  I hope they are all ready for this.  I hope that she will be safe and loved.  She is ready to make the “leap of faith” as she calls it, so I am ready to help her make it.

I will no longer be able to hold her hand or to hold her in my arms, but I will always be able to hold her in my heart.

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3 Responses to I Love Teenagers

  1. Pingback: My Sixth Daughter | Mama's Empty Nest

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