Lately, I have really been examining how I treat my teen, and all teens I know. I find myself absolutely determined to fix what they endure.
The irony is that I am realizing that I can not. I can not fix the problems they face, and its a hard realization. I believe the reason why is found in the image of the roller coaster.
Remember experiencing your first roller coaster, with the twists and turns, and think about how it felt to you. For me it was the not knowing what to expect. I remember my first climb not feeling too scary. I remember feeling upon hitting the summit of the climb of pure exhilaration. Unfortunately, that exhilaration was met by a frightening heart pounding plummet faster than I could imagine, losing my sense of gravity I felt no sense of direction, and I remember wanting it to end so badly in that moment. I had no idea what the next turn would bring, and I wanted that summit feeling to return. Frightened as I was , I was unable to enjoy even the fun parts for fear of what might happen next.
I think that is a whole lot like life as a teen or even middle school age child. These kids go from receiving stars and smiley faces, to actual grades and achievements of ages 7-10. They learn the rules of that game, and often even the straight A students, hit their first real life feeling plummet, the devastation of feeling lost in a crowded hallway, shoved into a wall by a crowd, or even worse bullied, late for class, missing a notebook, and the list goes on of what that plummet may include.
As parents we can remember those awkward or intensely emotional days of braving those halls, where we were shuffled from class to class. Today the dangers and the fears seem so much more real. More kids seem to be diagnosed with anxiety or social anxiety, and I sometimes wonder, is it really them? While schools are experiencing lockdowns and walk out days these kids are facing a much harsher plummet than we did. I think what is roughest about the plummet, is that its often the first time they face the drop we all feel during hard times, even as adults. They just have not experience the recovery yet. Its up to us to teach them about that fact that it does get better. But, how do we teach teens, who are becoming more self reliant, the perspective that what they are facing is temporary, to really help them see that life does get better. How do we do that?
Today we expect young people to have their futures planned, extraordinary grades, excel in extracurricular, and be more prepared for life than I remember in my time, the eighties. And, we should have expectations, but what are we doing? Are we listening to them. Do we hear them as they say it’s too much sometimes? How do we know when to be tough love, or helicopter mom, or just be what God asked us to be, ourselves. I like to think that the intense pressure I feel to pressure mine is, well, self imposed. Not only that, it’s more harmful to her than helpful. Once they reach an age, we can’t truly make them do anything. So, perhaps, it’s time to try something new. Mine works very hard. But, I am constantly asking her what she has accomplished.
I am letting go of my reigns a bit. I am keeping expectations. Rules, boundaries, all in place. I have told her what they are, and I have simplified them. The rest, I am letting go. She is on that roller coaster, and otherwise I am a voice that only intensifies the fear of what is to come. I have faith in God. I have faith in the people he has brought into our lives. The whole network of adults and great mentors that God has brought to her life. There is a time to panic, to lay the law down and let them know that we are formidable parents.
But, there comes a time as well to let them make mistakes, to let them choose when to share rather than jumping on them about every thought and concern, but to trust them to grow and try their best, not to be perfect, but to try their best. That’s the only way they will learn.
Plus, not every single thing that they do is life or death. We make a bigger deal over the choices they make than our own. Sometimes, they, like us, need to just be allowed to be human and say they have too much on their plate. They need to learn how to slow down, and live a little, to enjoy life.
I think in our generation there is a drive to be both a helicopter parent and the joe cool parent. Navigating what one’s child needs is a nightmare. I have been both. But, I hate the terminology. There is a time to be a helicopter parent. There is a time that your child’s ass is grass and you have to be a low cutting lawnmower. There is a time to let them come to you, all mowing and flying aside, and just see if the seeds you have planted, if the support, if the boundaries you put in place, actually are helping, and to be a gentle reminder rather than the drill sergeant, or even the flat overly worried mom who just adds stress with the “I’m just worried about” commentaries. Boy, do I do those. Time to show some confidence. The roller coaster is rough. I think a little confidence is the best parenting for a young person who is actually hanging on. So, I’m showing confidence in mine, and its not that hard to do. I have been listening more, and speaking less. I am treating her with more respect for her ideas and thoughts. An amazing thing is happening, because I am really enjoying this part of parenting as a parent. I am getting to know her as a teen, and when I accept her completely, as a young person, I get a window into who she is becoming. But, she opens that window. I can’t force it open. I can’t tell her how to do life. I can share and teach. I can keep the boundaries, but her world is going to get bigger really fast. Showing her I believe in her, is really important. Listening is an amazing gift we give, and its simple. We just close our mouths. Who would have thought, thats a really big part of parenting.
If you are that young person, pat yourself on the back, the ride is tough and your hitting some serious G Force. Pull in those who care about you, who lift your spirits, and do your best. But, don’t be perfect. Only one person was perfect. Just be yourself, and realize, it’s tough. Your first roller coaster, high school life, is tough. But, it always gets better. Don’t give up.
From someone who has been there many years ago, and is now on the other side.