As of today, I am officially the father of three teenagers. My daughter hung up on me three times as I tried to sing her “Happy Birthday” over the phone. I don’t think I’m that bad of a singer. My daughters are now 13 and 15 and my older son is 17. And you know what? Life is really good. One of those myths of life is that teenagers are terrible. To be sure, they do have their challenging moments and the reality is that mistakes in judgment (of which they often have very little) during the teenage years can have much greater costs than do the spills and scrapes of younger children. But I genuinely like teenagers, which is a good thing considering my job as a school counselor / director of spiritual life in a Pre-K through 12th grade school. I feel lucky to be able to interact with teenagers on a daily basis, as they are really funny and naïve and quirky and challenging and unmotivated and caring and generous and angry and unique and brilliant.
Our challenge as parents of these creatures is to love them, unconditionally in the middle of their defiance and apathy. They really need to hear from us not just when they fall short of our expectations, but when they surprise us with their initiative and competence. Our goal as parents is to help our kids achieve independence by gradually giving them more and more opportunities and responsibility with the requisite preparation and experience.
Are they going to mess up? Absolutely, just like we do. Are they going to cause us pain, apprehension and fear? Are you kidding me, they are teenagers.
There are going to be times when we, as parents, do not and cannot approve of their choices and that is natural and okay. We must remember, however, that approval is not the same as acceptance and acceptance of our kids is not an option. It’s often the fear of not being accepted that keeps some kids from sharing with their parents those parts of their lives they fear mom and dad won’t approve of, or they feel compelled to lie about when caught. We cannot assume our kids know that our acceptance of them is unconditional. Tell them every opportunity you can that you love them no matter what. Show them by really listening and being sensitive to their perspectives and individual preferences.
Every kid is different in all kinds of ways and it’s important that we acknowledge their uniqueness. “I know you don’t want me to come to your tennis match, so you’ll have to find another ride home.” Recognizing their individuality doesn’t mean that we have to accommodate them, but it gives them the opportunity to deal with the normal consequences of actually getting what they want. The beautiful thing is that in dealing with those circumstances, they are gaining the independence that is the goal for both of us. Being teenagers, their ability to function without our assistance is probably closer than we, as parents, are probably comfortable with. Having teenagers isn’t something to fear, it’s something to celebrate. Happy birthday Sweetie
Darren Sombke is the father of four -- two of which are no longer teens, but his love and appreciation for adolescents continues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org