Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Don't Assume My Teenagers Are Making Me Miserable

"You have three daughters?? Wow! Watch out for those teenage years!!"

"Your daughters are how old? I bet you have your hands full!"

"I bet there are a lot of tears and slamming doors in your house!"

"They're adorable babies, but I bet they'll hate you when they're teenagers!" 

I've been hearing comments like these for years now and, when my daughters were little, they had me pretty terrified of what the future would be like. Now, with a 16, 13, and 11 year old, I think it's safe to say we are firmly planted in the teenage years and we'll be here for a while. 

You know what? It's really not that bad! In fact, I have friends and relatives with toddlers and newborns. While I'm more than happy to snuggle their little ones and even change a diaper or two, I'm also happy to hand them back over and come home to my house full of teens where I can have a conversation that does not involve cartoon characters and, then, sleep soundly through the night.

I'm not going to lie. There is definitely some eye-rolling, some door slamming, and, as my teens would say, some "salty" text messaging happening in my family these days. Trying to anticipate mood swings is like trying to predict the path of a hurricane and emotions run high from time to time. If I'm being honest, though, I'm just as guilty as they are on occasion.

That's not the entirety - or even the majority - of our interactions, though.  

There are also lots of laughs, smiles, and hugs. Now that they are older, we are able to have real conversations about real things. We can offer each other advice, encouragement, and comfort in frustrating situations. We help each other out- whether it's choosing the right shoes to go with an outfit or math homework that even I can't figure out. The good moments outweigh the bad ones by far, so I'm kind of tired of hearing all about how awful teenagers are! 

In general, if your'e old enough to be parenting a teen, you are probably well aware that they have pressures today we never even dreamed of 20-30 years ago. There is the constant pressure of social media - looking a certain way, being a certain way, having the "right" friends, and having the "right" stuff. They cannot escape stories of school shootings and mass violence no matter how hard we try to shelter them. When my oldest was just 14 and at the very beginning of high school, people were asking her where she wants to go to college and what she is planning to declare as her major. She's trying to get good grades, rack up some service hours, and make sure to have some extracurricular activities that will look good on a college application - all while she's suppose to already know exactly what she wants to be when she grows up?!? Not to mention the raging hormones that they cannot control no matter how hard they may try. They are also experiencing lots of new feelings about other people and this great big world they were not familiar with just a short time ago and coping with those emotions takes a level of maturity they may just barley be beginning to reach. It's a lot for kids - yes, KIDS - to shoulder and, since they are just kids, they are still trying to figure out how to cope with all that stress.

As adults, we don't help them by setting our expectations so low and just presupposing they are automatically going to be unpleasant, disrespectful humans when they hit teenage-dom.

Maybe, they are just living up to (or down to) what we have all told them we expect them to be. 

Maybe we should try to understand the pressure they are under and cut them just a little slack. (That does NOT mean abandoning the rules and letting them go wild!)

Maybe not all teenagers are monsters. 

If you're currently raising toddlers, I'm here to tell you that you don't need to dread their teenage years nearly as much as people may tell you you should. Sure, parenting teens can be tough, but, hey, raising toddlers isn't all sunshine and roses, either, right? There's no universal law that requires teens to be terrible, so you shouldn't just assume that they will be any more difficult at 15 the they are at 5 - there may be different frustrations, but not worse. In fact, you might actually enjoy them as teens if you head into those years with a positive attitude. 

If you are currently raising teens, I am a firm believer that kids will embrace our attitudes and expectations. If those are negative or full of dread, then you will reap exactly the behavior you are sowing. If you can, instead, view your kids as real people with real pressures, but also with beautiful, valuable gifts to offer, you will see those gifts shine through and the teen years will be a lot more positive for everyone. 

Will there still be mood swings and eye rolling? For sure! Lots of it will come from them and plenty will certainly come from you as well. How about we try to focus on the positive moments, though, and let those be the ones that define what it means to raise teenagers and watch them becoming the unique, amazing people they were created to be. All the teenagers I know are actually pretty awesome people if you just give them the chance to show you.  

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