Friday, September 24, 2010

Teen Angst

Millie writes:

I am one of Those Moms. Our house is the place for teens to be; we understand about having enough food and drink on hand, Lance and I know enough about music and movies to talk about them but not so much that we make them uncool, and we don’t mind the occasional accidental f-bomb. Besides, our home is set up for a horde, so having a few more around doesn’t raise our blood pressures appreciably.

As a mom, I’m pretty lucky because most of my kids’ friends are fantastic people. I mistrust those parents who tell you they “just LOVE teenagers!” in the same way I do those people who “just LOVE!” anything – you never know whether they really like you or not, do you? – but I can say that the teenagers who come around here are top-of-the-line. Frankly I don’t know for sure why they think I’m “awesome” – I pretty much just trade a little welcoming banter and then try to stay out of the way. (Perhaps I just answered my own question, come to think of it.)

Anyway, enduring six teenagers and their friends is an education all on its own. Emotions run high in this crowd as they fight to figure out who they are and where they belong in this world – sometimes there are so many hormones sloshing around in our house that I fear for the carpets – so I’m here to observe and report on a few of the contradictory rules for dealing with people on the front lines in Angstville.

If you’re dealing with a teenager who’s in a Mood, take him seriously. You know it’s a Mood, he knows it’s a Mood, but for you to say “oh, it’s just hormones” belittles his emotions and cuts off any chance of communicating with him. Hormones may make it harder for him to remain calm, it’s true; but hormones don’t make what he’s feeling or thinking less valid. Discount for dramatics if you have to, but listen to him respectfully.

If you’re dealing with a teenager who’s in a Mood, don’t take him TOO seriously.
It’s all too easy to be consumed by passion at this age, so listen to the words but dial your perception of the urgency down by several degrees. Teenagers don’t have enough experience yet to be able to gauge their emotions, but you do, and at least one of you should try to remain calm. However, even if the kid is exhibiting more drama than Boris Karloff, do not laugh at him. You may only be trying to defuse a tense situation, but it will hurt his feelings very much.

Don’t get involved
. If your kid is in pain because she was asked not to sit with The Gang at lunch, resist the urge to stomp down to that school and start ripping off faces. It’s natural for you to respond with maximum prejudice when your child is hurting, but even if you know exactly what should be done to “fix” the situation you will create a worse situation by taking the problem out of your child’s hands. If she seems receptive, do a little gentle brainstorming with her on ways she might handle the problem. Avoid saying anything specific that is critical of the people she thought were her friends, because loyalties and relationships change with frightening rapidity during these years; the boy she broke up with today might be her date for the Homecoming Dance tomorrow, and she’ll remember it if you called him a pizza-faced little twerp. Bite your tongue if you have to, but butt out.

Get involved. There are some things that are too big for a child to deal with on his own, even if that child is seventeen, gets straight A’s and volunteers at the homeless shelter on weekends. If your child tells you about a friend who is considering suicide, a place near campus where everyone goes to buy drugs or that he is being bullied, you must act quickly and decisively. Thank your child for telling you and let him know that you are going to take steps to protect the people involved. If he is concerned about it becoming known that he told someone about whatever-it-is, you can reassure him that you will keep his name out of it – but deal with it you must.

Be cool
. Your children’s friends are not your children, so it is not your responsibility to correct their grammar, nag them about their grades or criticize their taste in clothing. If they are visiting your home you should treat them in a pleasant fashion, offer them food and drink if it’s appropriate and make a little friendly conversation with them to put them at their ease. It is easier for anyone to be a good guest if you are a good host.

Don’t be TOO cool.
It is, after all, your home; visitors must respect your rules. When your child’s friends come over, stop what you are doing and greet them so that there’s no doubt in their minds that there’s an adult in the house, and that the adult is observing them. If you have rules such as “no cursing” or “no feet on the table” or “no peeing off the upstairs balcony,” it’s up to your child to correct this behavior how he sees fit; if he doesn’t do it pretty promptly, it’s up to you to do it (politely and privately, at least at first). Demand respect.

Remember, it’s not like it was when your kindergartener brought a pal over for a play date – your teenager and his friends can amuse themselves, they don’t need you to plan activities to keep them from getting bored. That being said, you should always have an activity or two in mind, like suggesting that they bake cookies or play Guitar Hero . . . because otherwise they might get bored.

See? It’s simple!

1 comment:

  1. Oh! How I love this. I do like teens, but I have to remember that the particular teens who are my daughter's friends are particularly lovely people (even if their parents aren't). When I've been around, say, the student section during football games, I'm really aware that some teens (like some people) are just not.that.nice.

    I'm trying to figure out if I should have a rule that says boys can't take off their shirts in my house because that seems to be a kind of a habit amongst this particular crowd.

    That's a joke. They are fine. I love my kid's friends. And they love me, not because I'm a "cool" mom, but because I'm ... well, there and not there, I suppose. but you know all about that.



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