(As originally published on HuffPost)
The litany of challenges facing teens in today’s modern culture mocks the floodwaters of generations past. As a veteran teen raiser, I’m amazed by the tenacity exhibited by the Millennial population considering the ill-effects of growing up in a projector screen society.
Public is the new private for adolescents. Hard to fathom swimming in such shark infested waters when already weighed down by insecurities, body changes, and conflicting self-awareness.
Teens also have to battle the label war. In general, many adults look at teens cross-eyed and down-nosed because their attitudes and behaviors defy perceived social norms. Making matters worse is the fact teens are crazy. Not an insult, but a scientific statement.
The frontal lobe of a human brain, the thing in our head capable of discerning, “If I do this, then that will happen”, isn’t fully developed until well into our twenties. Quite a ca ca meme scheme drummed up by our Creator.
What was he thinking allowing a parent’s worst nightmare to coincide with a parent’s worst nightmare, i.e. teenager AND non-working brain?
As a mom who at one point housed three cards short of a full deck under her roof at the same time, I found little solace in the irony.
Until I did.
Rapid cycling emotions and bewildering fads aside, teenagers have more of a grip on the world than adults give them credit for.
Trying to unravel the mystery of why a teenager does, well, lots of things, teeters on exhausting. All we need do is glance over our distant past and attempt to dissect our teenage delirium. Considering my ‘ager season ended twenty-seven years ago, remembering what I did as a bopper strains the brain let alone recalling the why.
Parents have the benefit of wisdom and experience; bi-products of evolved forward-thinking. The knowledge both snares us with exasperation when our teen does something stupid and strokes us with benevolence when we recall our jaded past.
Because we can better see Yellowstone beyond the pine in our face, when our kid cries, “Uh, I never thought of that”, we tend to fume, “How on earth could you not see this coming?”
At the same time, when we come to appreciate the third world make-up of our teen’s brain, our frozen begins to melt, giving them some leeway to screw up.
And screw-up they will. On repeat.
Just like we did. Multiple times over.
The teenage years represent some of my mom-time favorites. Call me and my matured frontal lobe crazy, but I love raging, hormonal acne-bearers. My three almost killed me emotionally, but I’m still here writing my story. Thank you, the mystique of prayers, Goose over ice, and God’s grace.
Parenting through teendom molded me into the woman I am today – a hot mess. Not true. And that’s a false statement. But the journey of a thousand miles begins with every stage of parenting. And the footprint I end up leaving on the world will include, in large part, the influence of my beautiful kids in their most difficult years.
My children taught me a lot about myself early on, the real meaning of love for one. Holding a living being, created and formed in your womb for nine months defies logic. If love is gravity, having kids anchors your heart to the soul of your offspring.
While the early stages infused my heart with tenderness, the high school years purified my soul. The mini battles around expectations, drawn-out wars over rules, peer drama, emotional storms, adversity et al, and haphazard mania refined my spirit. To such a degree, in fact, I began to rethink and unlearn decades of pre-programmed expectations.
We come into parenthood wrapped in an educational cocoon based on our upbringing – our degree in parenting attained via classes instructed by our parents, other families, and sitcom protégés. At some point child rearing gives us reason for pause; time to question whether our second-hand smoke instruction still makes sense from our new parental perspective.
I realized in my late thirties I was judging and evaluating my teen’s behaviors through a microscope of muddled supremacy. The playing field for today’s teens includes a culture infused with temptations, communication mediums, and generational juggernauts leap years ahead of the challenges present in the seventies and eighties.
The gauntlet of social media, narcissistic pretense of instant everything, evil of streaming porn, dilutive effects of constant communication, incrimination of cyber warfare, insidiousness of terrorism, ever-widening availability of addictive substances on neighborhood street corners creates a vacuum of disasters waiting to happen.
And this is only the short list of crouching lions looking to pounce on a teen’s well-being.
Becoming wise to the nuances of the current teen streetscape helped me recognize my parent pride and ignorance. I chose to build a bridge between my personal teen experience and my kids harrowing reality. Together we walked across the planks sharing the good, bad, and ugly.
Being mindful of our past and sharing our mistakes, poor choices, and misguided pursuits are value-added ingredients of a burgeoning relationship with our children. The authenticity opens a window of relatability rather than slamming a door of condescension in their face.
Not to mention, teens can sniff out a hypocrite a magnificent mile away. The truisms associated with adolescence tend to fog over as we age and mature. We all benefit from remembering we once shuffled in a version of their Nike’s.
Having authority and setting appropriate boundaries are an obvious must, but finding common ground creates necessary connection. And connection allows us to Hubble into the teenage abyss, learning to appreciate their ambiguous perspective on life.
Aside from the shot in the dark approach to decision making, teens are thrust into a balancing act on the high wire of change. Hormonal, emotional, physical, spiritual, relational, communal, psychological metamorphosis all taking place on the road from dependence to independence.
The mouthful of upheaval masks the one simple need universal to all humankind, especially teens: to love and be loved. A longing which, at a genuine level, requires depth and certitude, honesty and freedom – all things grossly contorted in the era of technology.
The 24/7 world of texting, snapping, posting, uploading, downloading, and tweeting about everybody’s business shallows even the best intentioned waters. The result is a cesspool for teens to drown in insecurities.
As a Gen-X, I never knew what was going on with my friends or the world except through face to face communication, in-class note passing, or talking over an antique gadget connected to a wall. There weren’t cords long enough for us to drag our earpiece to the mall, ball field, or park.
Drama only thrived during the school day. The lack of contact during the evenings provided opportunities to cool down, reflect or…gasp…even forget the pettiness.But today, teens wallow in an illusion of meaningful connection Click & Tweet! . The incessant cyber gibber and constant contact waters down and glosses over authentic relationship. Observing my teens navigate these waters weighed on my heart.
I grew to appreciate the vital importance of the following truths:
- Today’s adolescents more than ever need caring adults who demonstrate the value of true communication; a give and take of listening and sharing based on trust and appreciation. The cyber-interaction reeks of counterfeit genuineness.
- The teenage brain functions in the now. Therefore it is imperative to express our gratitude, acceptance, understanding, and compassion today even if we are still fuming over their failures, mishaps, and antics tomorrow.
- We need to meet our teen right where they are, not where we hope they will be or wish they were already.
- Teenagers desire to be known for who they are, what they stand for, and what they believe whether we agree or not. Even though their journey of self-awareness is still ongoing, accepting them at each step along the way breeds hope.
Learning these lessons while raising my three teens made be a better human. For years leading up to all things teenager, I worried and vexed and grayed while assuming the formidable stage would be a disaster. I thought for sure I’d fail as a mom and screw up my miracles for good.
Until I didn’t.
The real results of experiencing teenagehood were a new and better me. Just when I thought my mom heart couldn’t overflow any more with love, reverence, admiration, and appreciation for my kids, they became teens. Love and respect entered a new realm.
And now I have the privilege of peering into the current world through a fresh set of Ray-Bans which continue to protect my eyes from the unyielding visceral (UV) rays of I know it all.
What a gift.
Love your teens, crazy Mommas!