These are my 8 Rules for Raising Teens That Don’t Suck.
I’ve been doing a lot of parenting lately.
If you’re thinking, “I hope so, you’re a mother”, know that I am not talking about the act of physically taking care of my child. Those are just the requirements of being a mother. Parenting? That’s a choice. I’ve been in the trenches with my stubborn, willful, creative 4 year old lately and it’s got me to thinking about the ways we parent and the basic parenting ideas that most people share. As a baby, it’s simple: make sure they’re fed, clothed, bathed, and nurtured. As a toddler it’s the emphasis on how we treat others, how we behave socially and at home. At 4, we introduce and instill concepts – courage, humility, determination. Each stage brings a new challenge, a new parenting obstacle for us to trip over. So, with all of this parenting going on, my mind naturally begins to drift to the later years. What will he be like at 10? At 14? How will I do this at 18? The mind of a mother is always one step ahead; one foot in the present, one preparing for the future.
Recently, I was having a conversation with a co-worker who mentioned he’d just gotten back from taking his step-daughter and her friend to a concert in a city many hours away. He drove them there, waited for the concert to finish, and drove them all the way home just so they could be back to their morning classes. Wait, morning classes? Yes, college classes. He explained to me that his step-daughter was a 19 year old freshman in college and that he only escorted them at the request of their mother, who insisted they have someone there to “make sure they made it home okay”. My jaw dropped. “I know, I know”, he lamented. “I told her that when I was 19, I sure as hell didn’t have my parents drive me on my out-of-town adventures…I mean, she still makes all of her daughters doctor appointments, for God’s sake”.
And that is precisely the moment my mind blew.
It’s not that I’m this cold, distant mother who doesn’t believe in lifting a finger. It’s just that I can’t imagine a world in which my own parents did those things for me at 18 and I am so glad for that. Where did the goal in parenting shift from raising them into healthy, stable, independent adults to the idea that our jobs are to ensure their lives are easy, comfortable, and without challenges? You show them the things they will need when they are young so that when they are on their own, they are able to not only survive, but thrive, in the real world – and the real world we know of doesn’t hesitate to offer blow after devastating blow to perfectly good people. That being said, I know I was raised a little more “independently” than others. Many times, I did things for myself that I didn’t want to, out of necessity. While there were times that I resented my parents (as all kids do at some point), I know without a shadow of a doubt that my confidence and resilience as an adult is a direct result of the life skills I gained when I was younger. Did I fail a lot? Yup. Did I make some mistakes multiple times before I finally learned? You bet. However, is there anything I would change about that? Not one thing.
I’m not saying to let your teenager walk the world blindly without guidance or advice. Who would we be as parents if we didn’t offer our words of wisdom? It’s not the coaching or emotional support, the parenting, that we have to adjust when they fly the coop…it’s the (s)mothering. So, I’ve devised a list of what I consider to be a few basic rules for parents of teenagers – from my humble, young perspective.
- If your college freshman calls the nail salon when she wants to make a mani-pedi appointment, then she is very capable of calling to schedule a doctor appointment. If you want to shoot her a text to remind her of her appointment, fine. But if she misses it, it’s on her to re-schedule. If there is a serious medical concern, you absolutely should be involved. If it’s her semi-annual teeth cleaning? Put the phone down.
- If your teenager is capable of using the microwave, he can use the washing machine. Laundry is not rocket science. At 24, I still don’t separate my colors and I’ve only had a handful of pink shirts as a result of my mother not teaching me that! However, she did show me the basics of using a washing machine at 12, and I’ve been doing my own laundry ever since. I was young enough that it felt “cool” and she ran with that idea like a genius.
- If your Senior in high school can navigate Facebook privacy settings, she can research the processes for submitting college applications. By now, your kid has done hours of research in high school and outside of it. Do not let them trick you into thinking they have no idea how to follow links on a website. They’re a millennial, they’re probably better at it than you are. If they need help, advise them but give them the responsibility of doing some of the work on their own.
- Working in high school/college won’t ruin their grades. If your baby boy is 20 years old and has never been on a job interview in his life, he has a lot more to worry about than keeping his 4.0 GPA. A co-worker of mine is 26 years old. He recently disclosed to me that his father didn’t want him to have ANY job in high school OR the entire 4 years of college out of the fear that he would “miss out on the experience”. Clearly, the father was just trying to give his son an opportunity he didn’t have himself. But what Daddy didn’t realize was that at 26, his son had missed out on something a lot more valuable than another frat party. He admitted, “I wish I would’ve at least worked part-time because it kind of sucks not having a lot of experience with these things”. HE WISHED HE WOULD HAVE BEEN ALLOWED TO WORK. Dad was hindering, not helping. Give them the experience of awkward job interviews and poorly-written resumes now! Now, while the lack of work experience/skills doesn’t cost them a promotion or a job raise that they need. If you are afraid of them failing out of college because of a part-time job, then you’ve got bigger fish to fry.
- If your kid can drive to the mall, they can drive to get an oil change. This is one of those things that Dads especially like to do for their teenage girls. I get that, I really do. But if you’re a father who would rather spend your limited time WITH your daughter rather than getting her oil changed so she doesn’t blow the engine, do not feel bad. This is an opportunity to teach her that in adult world, you’re going to have to do things you don’t want to do. You suck it up and do them.
- Do not call your kids boss for them if they’re too sick to come in. When your 18 year old is balled up on your couch with a fever looking like they just survived the Apocalypse, it’s really tempting to let your parenting instinct take over and bow to their every whim (these are the moments mothers live for). Your role may be to care for them physically when they are ill but the caretaking shouldn’t extend to their responsibilities, too. Especially when it comes to responsibilities they’re going to have for the majority of their life. Calling in sick is awkward for a teenager. The role of employee is new and having an authority figure who isn’t a parent or teacher can be weird at first. Let them get over that uncomfortable feeling of letting someone unfamiliar down. Unless your kid is in the hospital, let them handle their work obligations themselves.
- Just because your college freshman is too lazy to buy groceries, doesn’t mean they will starve. Likewise, just because your kid is too lazy to buy soap, doesn’t mean he won’t bathe in something. Look, teenagers are sloth-like creatures. They will find a way out of doing the most mundane of tasks until they’re forced to. I don’t remember a lot of grocery store trips when I moved into my first house at 18. I do remember a lot of Ramen. I may have forgotten to buy laundry detergent for the second week in a row, but I learned that Dawn dish liquid gets clothes clean enough to go to class in. I know you want to stock their cabinets with all of their favorite things because you worry they’ll go without – and because it’s like leaving a tiny little “I love you, son!” in the form of a Pop-Tart. I am sure I will do this at least once if and when my son goes to college. However, if you’re doing this every month then you’ve forgotten the magical resourcefulness of a college student. You’ve also forgotten that you are no longer responsible for their basic needs! TRUST ME – when they want something, they’ll find a way.(Case in point – Keurig not necessary)
- Stop being an ATM. This is the most controversial rule of all but it is the one rule that can make or break your teen when it comes to how they handle finances (especially, lack of them) as an adult. I grew up in a home where the money I made at my part-time job was just as crucial as the money my mother made. Point being, we didn’t have any to go around and I used a lot of the money I earned at my part-time job for simple things that I either needed or wanted, like new shoes or junk food from the vending machines at school. This taught me more than I could say in one post but overall, it simply taught me the value of a dollar. The times when my mom handed me gas money on a random Saturday? They were rare so they were PRAISED, not expected. If I wanted a new purse (a non-necessity), I was going to either have to save my money to buy it myself or wait the 6 months until a birthday or Christmas. When money isn’t earned, it’s taken for granted. When a teenager takes something for granted, they will do the same as an adult. When they don’t get what they expect as an adult? You know those people. We all know those people. Nobody likes those people.
In the end, we all have times where we smother. I still dress my four year old in the morning out of habit and convenience, even though he is perfectly capable of putting his own shirt on. This is as much of a reminder to the future me as it is to anyone else. So, now that I’ve added this worry on your list of parental anxieties, I leave you with this.
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