Mothering a 21st century teen is not a job for the faint of heart. The path is rocky. The learning curve is steep. And every time you think you've got it down, you soon discover—or are summarily told by aforementioned 21st century teen—just how utterly clueless you are. I am in the midst of this mothering thing,
knee-deep and slogging through like all of us. But, in addition to the private roller-coaster ride I’ve been on with my
daughter, I also more broadly explored the mothering a teen thing when I
researched and wrote (not to mention lived) a book on the subject (My Teenage
Werewolf: A Mother, A Daughter, a Journey Through the Thicket of
Adolescence). However, this does not
make me an expert, so it is with humility that I offer the following “10 Things I Know About Mothering a Teen.”
1. I know that she
knows more than I think she does, sometimes astonishingly more than I think she
does—both about those subjects I wish she didn’t (drugs, eating disorders, the
messed up domestic lives of her friends’ parents) and the ones I’m glad she
does (how to protect herself from online predators, sexually transmitted
diseases). It’s important to recognize
this, as it helps me be less patronizing and preachy and more conversational.
2. I know that any
time I can honor her expertise, whatever it happens to be (applying eye
makeup, throwing discus, baking brownies, trigonometry), is an opportunity to empower
her and show that I respect who she is.
3. I know that to get a story, I tell a story. This is an old journalistic interviewing
trick, but it works wonders at home. Instead of those “So, what happened at school today?” questions that
elicit either monosyllabic responses or eye rolling or both, I tell a short
(very short!), preferably funny or self-deprecating story about an experience I
had that day to open the conversational door.
4. I know that there’s text and then there’s subtext—and
that teens’ comments, observations and stories are often all subtext. So I’ve trained
myself to listen for the real meaning lurking behind and underneath the
innocuous (or, for that matter, objectionable) remark.
5. I know that I must remember—or, oh boy, will I ever be
reminded—that not every moment is a teaching moment. You know how it used to be, when your teen
was a toddler or a youngster, and you’d see something or they’d do something or
something would happen and boom, you
were all over it because what a great time to talk about the environment/being kind to others/how older people can be wise! I don’t do that anymore.
6. I know that I must let her make small mistakes (spending
her allowance unwisely, not handing in homework) but fiercely protect her from
the life-altering ones (DUI, unprotected sex).
7. I know that I need to respect her space. This has been a particularly difficult one
for me, as every time I pass by her room I want to grab all the wet towels from
the floor, put the dirty laundry in
the laundry basket and the clean clothes in the drawer (a revolutionary idea, eh?)
and, you know, tidy up a bit. But guess what? This is not considered
helpful. It is considered invasive.
8. I know that when she pushes back, talks back, is ornery or downright nasty, I need to remember something: If she were not completely secure in my
love, she wouldn’t be acting this way. If she didn’t trust that I would be
there for her no matter what, she wouldn’t be acting this way. It’s her deep sense of my unconditional love
that gives her permission to be such a monumental pain in the butt.
9. I know that “this too shall pass.” The thunderclouds, after dumping monsoon
rains on me, will scud across the sky, and the sun will reappear, and all will
be glorious ... until the wind whips up and the temperature drops and it starts all
10. I know that everything I appear to learn about how to
mother a 21st century teen, I will have to relearn, again and again.
Because these are some of life’s toughest lessons.
You have secrets, and so do we.
And now, a word from the teenage daughter:
I’m writing about what I think moms ought to know (or
realize) about their teens. I want you
to know that I didn’t look at my mom’s entry before I wrote mine. Actually, we never look at each other's until
we’re both finished. But I’m mentioning
that because, as we discovered, my #1 is pretty much the same as her
#1. Except hers is written better. But then, that’s what she does.
1. Teens are much
more mature than you think. You might
still be thinking of them as your “little girl” or “little boy,” but they’ve
been out in the world. They know more
than they let on.
2. You don’t have to be perfect. We teens actually ENJOY when we see or hear
about our mother making a mistake. That
means you’re just as human as we are.
3. I know this is a
tough one, but YOU WILL NEVER FULLY UNDERSTAND YOUR TEEN. Yes, you were a teen once yourself, but it’s
a new generation and things are different. Your teen might even like to “teach” you about that.
4. You might consider BACKING OFF once in a while. We need and want the space to work out our
own problems sometimes. It’s part of
5. Keep in mind that
high school classes aren’t the only thing that might be stressing out your
teen. Social life (good, bad and ugly—real and online) can really affect us, especially mood swings.
6. You have secrets
and so do we. Please respect that!