Adolescents Have Needs Too

Parents of teenagers, take heart! There is affection after adolescence. Even friendship.

For those of you who’d like to deep-freeze your teen till twenty-one — you’re not alone. It’s a toss-up whether puberty is tougher on the kids or the parents. And if you’re a single parent, you have no ally against the enemy.

It seems to happen overnight. Your cherished children, your enthusiastic little buddies who want to be just like you when they grow up, go to bed one evening and wake up as a tabloid headline: ADOLESCENT TURNS ALIEN IN SLEEP!

Where is the little person you bundled home from the hospital? The tearful tot who clung to you that first day of kindergarten?

Gone for nearly a decade, that’s where.

Teens don’t look up to you unless you’re on a ladder — holding your wallet. You only tower in the eyes of their friends: “Your mom is like, so rad! I wish we could trade.” Your child rolls her eyes.

Parenting a teen can drive you to drink — if the little darling doesn’t beat you to the bottle first. I raised three teenagers, all in their twenties now and people of whom I’m proud — people I even like, who think of me as their friend.

It wasn’t always so.

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I learned — the hard way — that this is what teenagers need:

To know we’re there. They may say they don’t need us at all, but they do. They need to know we want to be with them, that we’re available to talk, that we’re willing to put their needs above our own much of the time.

To be different from us. Whether it’s politics, clothes, music, religion, or whatever, it’s part of them proving to themselves who they are, separate from us. Don’t take it personally or overreact.

To be loved, even when they’re not lovable. When children act up, that’s when they need us most. We can say, “I love you,” cite their attributes, touch them as they pass, check up on where they’re going (even if they protest), and not give up on them.

To be heard. Their ideas may seem naive, dangerous, or heretical, but adolescence means exploration. One of our jobs is to help them become good thinkers. “That’s one way of looking at it. Have you thought about... ?” is a more constructive response than “That’s the most idiotic idea I’ve ever heard!” Make a habit of asking their opinions about family decisions, current events, ethical issues, and so on.

To hear our own stories of the pain of growing up. There’s a difference between sharing our experience and preaching. If we suspect they’re having a specific problem, it feels less attacking to say, “Did I ever tell you about the time I ... ?” instead of launching into advice-giving or trying to draw them out. Hearing their grandparents’ version of our teen years can offer them perspective as well — and prove we really were young once.

To belong. Create time together, even if they bring a friend along. Including them in extended family gatherings will help them see they’re part of something larger than a one- or two-parent family — and they may find a relative they can talk with easily. Expose them to family history, share family stories.

To have a spiritual base. This may come from church or synagogue attendance (teen groups can provide positive peer support) or volunteer work you do as a family (such as serving meals to the homeless).

Remember: You will survive. Your beloved child, who’s such a pain right now, eventually will become your friend. Hang in there.

As Dad used to say, “This, too, shall pass.”

Home Sweeter Home by Jann Mitchell.

This article was excerpted from:

Home Sweeter Home
by Jann Mitchell.

This article was excerpted with permission of the publisher, Beyond Words Publishing, (800) 284-9673

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Jann MitchellAbout The Author

Jann Mitchell is an award-winning feature writer and author. Her popular column, “Relating,” in The Sunday Oregonian has run for eight years and is carried by the Newhouse News Service to newspapers around the country. Her work has been featured in national magazines and appears in A Second Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul. Author Barbara De Angelis calls Jann Mitchell “the most conscious journalist in America.” Mitchell is also a sought-after lecturer. 


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