This is all I’ve learned about teenagers, having been a really bad one and having one son that’s 16 and the other about to turn 13:
1. Some teenagers have trouble, some don’t.
2. The teenagers in trouble don’t always correlate to bad homes, bad parenting, bad situations, single parents, two parents. I have three brothers (named Tom, Dick and Harry, my dad’s cosmic joke) and one sister, we were raised in the Midwest, on a dairy farm by two traditional parents with a lot of discipline and love. Two of my brothers were shithead teenagers, one was an angel. My sister was an angel, I was a total teenage bitch. Three out of five turned into Bad Teenagers®. Odds suck.
3. Don’t judge the parenting of a teenager until you’ve raised one. For those of you that got lucky and had easy teenagers, good for you, but try not to look smug about it, it makes those of us raising Teenagers From Hell want to kill you so we can go to jail and get out of raising the damn alien that stole our sweet, adorable child. Especially do NOT remark that you don’t understand why teenagers have so many problems, yours were just perfect, maintained a 4.0, got a full boat scholarship to Harvard. STFU, ‘kay?
4. Teenagers talk when they want to. The single most important thing you can do as a parent is to be there when they want to talk. Don’t tell them what to think, feel or be, just shut up and listen. You can get your point of view in, but you have to listen first.
5. Don’t be a hypocrite or liar. Teenagers have a hypocrisy/truth meter like a bloodhound’s nose — they know it when they hear it, they don’t mind pointing it out to you, and if you deny you’re being a hypocrite, they won’t hear another thing you say. Their lying friends are a whole other matter — they are trusted absolutely in all circumstances, over you, so don’t expect that truth meter to work there. Remember, your teenager’s friends are someone else’s lying teenagers, ‘kay? And your teenager is their friend’s lying friend. Don’t get on a high horse about your kid’s friends, some other parent out there is in as much pain as you are with their own psychotic truth-impaired hormonal Teenager.
6. Blue hair, spikes and all black clothes can be attractive — it just requires a new definition of attractive. Love your teenager and let them figure out who they are without you overtly trying to help. They’ll figure it out eventually and return to an improved, older version of the lovely child you once had, but they’ll stick in whatever hellish outfit they land in if you try and form them back into Garanimals for Teenagers.
7. Set good limits, but be ready to give on the stuff you really don’t have any control over. Kid run away because they got bad grades and are grounded? Get him/her home safely. That’s your job, to keep that kid alive and off the streets. A kid can get their GED, can improve their grades, but you can’t bring them back from the dead. This doesn’t mean give them anything they want. This means be prepared to listen to why they think school isn’t relevant, that they feel left out, that they don’t feel like they fit in and compromise if you have to without giving up the stuff we can’t compromise on.
8. Love them even when you don’t like them. This is how they learn about unconditional love. They have to know from someone that no matter what they do, you will love them regardless — when they lie to you, break your trust, steal from you. This is the testing ground for all that stuff you just played around with when they were toddlers. “No, no, Junior, don’t bite your friend. I don’t like what you did, but I will always love you.” Lot harder to say and mean it to a snarling ball of nihilistic angst that’s taller than you, dressed in black with spikes in his hat that’s pulled down over his eyes. Refer to hypocrisy/truth meter in rule 5.
9. Don’t ever give up on them. They need you to keep believing in them, even when they’ve lied to you and broken every promise they made to you that morning. They need you to believe they can be better people. They’ll likely disappoint you over and over again, but don’t you dare accept where they’re at right now or they will stay there — ask them for better, expect better, keep going back over why trust is important, but never, ever ever tell them they’re a liar and a cheat and that’s all they’ll ever be. If you’re a liar and a cheat yourself, fix yourself first before you try and fix your Teenager.
10. Work on getting them to tell you the truth, but be prepared to hear it. Plead for mercy when you’ve had enough, ask them to warn you if they’re about to tell you a truth that could hurt, but tell them you will hear the truth and you’ll give it back to them.
11. Don’t compromise for a second on your morality. If you don’t have morals, go get some now. Then accept that for a while, your Teenager will likely not accept your morals or definition of morality or may even argue that there is such a thing as morality. This is not the time to play around with the concept of moral relativism in your thinking. Act like like a grownup for a while, you can go back to slipping and sliding morality once you get the teenager out of the house, but do not screw your kid up in that way and then foist him/her off on society with shifting values and a moral compass set to Maybe North.
12. No matter how many times your Teenager tells you “everyone is doing it,” don’t believe them. Has it been so long since you were using that on your parents? And that means sex too. Don’t flirt with this subject. Unless your moral compass thinks it’s okay for teenagers to have sex (and accept they’ll likely be having sex with much older people as well once you take that position), be very clear that you expect them to refrain. This includes young men and women. Do not wink at your son, slip him a condom, and tell him you know he needs to sow his wild oats unless you’re prepared to slap your 15-year-old daughter’s new boyfriend on the back and invite him to spend the night. Expect better from them. Be clear that you understand they may not always live up to what you expect, but you’re not lowering your standards. Society may be telling us and them that teenagers can’t control themselves, but have a little more faith in them. They aren’t animals with no impulse control over their sexuality. They ARE insane, but not insane animals. They want you to tell them the limits. They may go over them, but don’t let the reason be because you never bothered to tell them that their sexuality has value and shouldn’t be passed out like treats to whoever asks.
Mosty…be prepared to change into a better person. Teenagers will make you be the best person on the earth if you let them. You’ll have the patience of Job, the forgiveness of Jesus, the perseverance of a Saint. They will learn from you who they want to be when they’re done being an insane Teenager. I’ve only got about two hell-filled years under my belt so far, with about five more left, but I wouldn’t trade what my teenagers have taught me for anything.
But what do I know? I ain’t done yet!
tip for original article link to Marriage Movement, a great website