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  • Susie Csorsz Brown

Middle school skills = real life skills

In less than a week, we will have a teenager in the house. You’d think this wouldn’t be such an awe-inspiring shock-inducing moment … except that I know that as soon as we hit the teen years, the angst will ramp-up, and no longer are my hubby and I the ones making all of the decisions. I mean, the teen angst; we’ve had our fair share of experience with the adolescent and tween issues already.

I’ve been reading books and articles and working on this for a long while now. I like to think I am prepared. I don’t know, though, as I have learned the hard way that there is only so far that preparation will get you when it comes to parenting. Kids are really good at throwing those proverbial curve-balls, as you may have already experienced for yourself.

Have you ever really considered what is going on during teenage years? This is a period of massive growth, emotionally, mentally, and (especially) physically. At no period other than infancy will their bodies grow as much in such a short period of time. Their bones and muscles will grow at paces that will likely cause pain and soreness, especially in the longer bones making them even harder to move off the sofa. At the same time, their hormonal changes will be concurrently sudden and sluggish, flip-flopping between childhood and almost-adult levels, wreaking havoc on their already unsteady emotional levels as their needs and wants change minute-to-minute. And if that is not enough, they will also be ‘pruning’ their neurological synapses, ridding the growing brain of nonessential connections. So they literally do not remember your nagging lessons of yesteryear because those memories have been cleared to leave room for new and amazing growth and development (though, that probably doesn’t make you any happier to have them look at you like you’ve lost your mind when you ask them about XYZ).

If you, too, are a fellow parent of a teenager, it might be helpful to create a mantra for yourself as you navigate this new territory: ‘I love this person, no matter how matter what.’

Teenagers are still children; Teenagers are not actually adults. I know, duh, right? Except that some of them are tall enough to resemble adults, and as such, they feel that they SHOULD be treated as adults. Except that they are not emotionally nor mentally ready for the responsibility. So … a conundrum, right? And what to do about it? Well, if I had the answer, I’d give it to you. But I don’t.

In a lot of ways, teenagers CAN actually handle adult-like responsibilities. Just because your teenager is a teenager does not mean that they should not have responsibility. Think of them as practice-big people; give them responsibilities in practice for when they are, indeed, actually big people. Homework is due when it is due. Teachers might not be their favorites and be ‘not fair.’ The long list of their to-do tasks are their own responsibility. In the real world, adults don’t often get to pick their bosses. They often have multiple projects going at the same time. They usually have home tasks on top of work tasks… it’s all very real, and now is the perfect time for your teen to learn these juggling skills. Do not lie for them. Do not make excuses for them. Do not do the tasks for them. They have to learn how to stand up for themselves in school, to their peers, to other adults, and they need to develop their self-organization skills to attain their own successes. Or failures. They can’t learn that, though, if you do it for them. They also need to learn to properly judge their capacity and limitations.

Your teenager does not need you to make excuses for them. They need to learn how to own up to their mistakes now, while they are in your house. Before they have all of the adult responsibilities that come with college or moving out, they need to learn what it’s like to have to face the wrath of another adult/person/entity that has come as a result of their own actions (or inactions). Why? Because Real Life will be hard – really really hard – and they will need you to be in their corner to MAKE them do it on their own. To repeat from above: Do not lie for them. Do not make excuses for them. Do not do it for them. They chose to make the mistake; they must fix the situation they created.

Remember: ‘I love this person, no matter how matter what.’

Your teenagers social skills are in a period of great development right now. Their socializing is actually very important right now as they develop their interpersonal skills. No longer are you the one picking their friends; they are at the helm whether or not they are ready to be. At the same time, the pressure they get from their peers will be good for them and completely horrible. Your job? Help them enter this period (and hopefully leave it) with a strong sense of self, positive frame of mind, and a growth mindset. They will have set-backs and stumbles, and they will likely fall on their faces; let them. With a strong sense of self, they will know what to say no to, and they will be able to identify negative peer influence as such, and say no; they will bond with others with a similar positive outlook; and they will grow in positive directions. Self-efficacy is having the ability to know that you can wrought change, that you are in charge of your own destiny. Your teen will understand this: you are in charge of you, not your teen peers, not your teachers, but you. So make it work for you.

School is one of the biggest stressors for teens. Why? I mean, besides the obvious (exams, homework, etc). One of the biggest stressors of school for teens is what is not included: teaching our young people the components of healthy relationships, which are a key ingredient of a healthy, well-balanced and emotionally successful life. In order to be well-rounded, a person needs social connections that are healthy and diverse. Schools focus on academic and athletic prowess, and not on helping our teens develop the skills necessary for a fulfilling life; that’d be your job as a parent.

What will benefit your teenager greatly will also anger them considerably: community service. I know, you’re thinking I am completely mad to be suggesting that we should add EVEN MORE to their already inundated schedules. But hear me out: community service not only helps your teenager (and you, and your other kids, too) see and help a part of the community you might not otherwise be involved with, but it will also be an absolute boost to your teen’s sense of self worth. Why? Because they will see the effects of their effort. They will see positive impact that they wrought, they see how much they matter (outside of the family) and it is a powerful thing.

Remember: ‘I love this person, no matter how matter what.’

Teenage rebellion is a very real, very ugly but also necessary thing. Why? Because your teen is developing their independence, and to do that successfully, they need to be able to test their wings. Testing their wings means that you are not in control any longer. You can have control or you can have growth. Reacting in anger to a rebellious action is not going to bring a successful parenting story; instead it will bring more anger, of which you likely have sufficient amounts from your teen. As hard as it may be, the best reaction to your teen’s rebellion is based on your principles of value. Your teen is in the process of recognizing who they are amongst their peers, who they are away from you, and who they are in terms of real responsibility. If you interfere, or try to control, they will not be able to fully discover who they really are. They are realizing how they embrace their own personal values that grow from what they’ve seen from you and from other adults they interact with regularly (and respect). This is very challenging to stand by and watch, but it is also something your teen needs to do for themselves. No longer are you the sole person making decisions; you’ve done your job, and you’ve given your teen a good example and strong framework; no w let them do what they can with it.

Know this: your child is going to lie to you. And this will be bigger than the ‘I dunno who dropped the paint pot on the carpet.’ Or ‘I guess my classmate stole my water bottle.’ Type of a lie you might already be familiar with from their younger years. This will be a whopper, grand-scale, are-you-freaking-SERIOUS?!!-type of a lie that will make your mind boggle. Just because your teenager has told you an untruth (or, let’s be honest, out-right lied), this does not mean they are not to be trusted. From having suicidal thoughts to being bullied to relationship issues, all of these are very big topics fraught with emotional landmines, and all of these will be very hard for your child to process on their own. They will be afraid their thoughts and reactions will be upsetting to you, and will not be straight-forward. They will likely be misleading about their interactions with their peers, especially if these are peers you do not necessarily approve of. They will lie about missed assignments and responsibilities. And it will be very very difficult, but responding in anger will not gain either of you any progress. It’s okay to be emotional, hurt, and angry as a reaction, but your teen deserves an adult response from you. They need you to help them deal with the repercussions – from you, from other affected individuals – and they need to take responsibility. They also need to know how much their lying hurts you, and it’s okay to let them know that in breaking your trust, you have to protect your heart, and heal your own wounds. That is your own responsibility. Now they are adult enough to see the impact their actions have on others; as much as they rebel and yell, they still love you more than they can say, and seeing how their untruth hurts you will be a lesson they won’t easily forget.

Remember: ‘I love this person, no matter how matter what.’

Your teenager needs you more than ever right now. They may be prickly, irritable, grouchy, moody, unpleasant and snarky, but they need you. They will push and push and push at you, just to make sure you will hold. They need you to tell them you are behind them, unconditionally. That you love them, no matter what. That you support them, and will catch them if they fall. That may seem contrary to what I said above, but know this: being there when they fall, and helping them brush themselves off is important, as much so as it is for them to get back on the horse themselves. They need you to be there to talk to about their tornado emotions about really sensitive topics: sex, relationships, drugs, peer pressure. They need you to not have judgment, and listen. Super super hard, I know, but also just as important. I can guarantee one or the other of you is going to get mad or sad or really emotional during these hard conversations, but you need to BE there for them, and demonstrate how much you care about what is going on with them; that is what a healthy relationship looks like. Find that thing you can connect with our teen in this new stage of their growth and development. You will undoubtedly receive flack and an exorbitant amount of hesitation, but connect with them, regularly and dependably. Put it on both of your calendars with ink. It is important and your teen will appreciate your effort (maybe just not immediately, nor in the next 5 years or so). Find out the things that are important to your teen, and learn about it. Find out what situations they may face, and prepare them for it. You are first and foremost their parent, and you’ve already been through many many hard stages with them.

Remember: ‘I love this person, no matter how matter what.’

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