I don't have kids of my own and I don't profess to know a thing about how extremely difficult it is to raise them. But I do teach kids. 180 of them, in fact. I teach English in a suburban high school in Utah- five senior classes and one junior classes. Every day I interact with hundreds of teenagers- your children. I talk to them, I read their papers, I get to know them all. By the end of the year I am shedding tears as I say goodbye to them- over the nine months we have connected and bonded, and I feel like I am saying goodbye to my own kids.
I am finishing my fourth year of this gig, and I don't see myself quitting anytime soon. I adore these teenagers. They may be a bit of an enigma, but I think after four years I have learned a few things about teenagers and the way they work.
Sometimes parents will ask me for advice. They'll come in harried looking and frustrated to parent teacher conference or they'll write me a frantic email. "Ben doesn't open up with us, I don't know how to help him- anything you think I should do?" or "Have you noticed John has been moody and sad lately? Do you know why?" They have questions about their children, and they think that because I see them outside the home that I may know something about their children that they don't.
Maybe I do. And maybe I don't. Who's to say? I do know that many are willing to tell me things or open up to me in ways that they might not be willing to with their parents. I don't have the power to ground them for the weekend, after all. Plus, I have the added benefit of being younger than 40- a fact that certainly makes me a much more likely target for their tales of worry and woe. I observe a lot of students and their parents and the way they interact. I hear about a lot of home situations... kids fill up notebooks telling me all about their life experiences. And so, I never feel totally qualified to answer parents' questions about their teenagers, but I have started to catch on to a few things. With the huge disclaimer that I have never myself raised a child, I give you tonight what parents should know about their teenagers. If I were a parent to a teenager, these are the things I would want my child's teacher to tell me.
1. Teenagers are not nearly as "bad" as you think they are. As a whole they are kind, loving, funny, vulnerable, quirky, scared, anxious, and very very sweet. They are likely not up to half of the mischief you think they are.
2. Teenagers are seeking your approval and your love. More than anything, they want you to be proud of them.
3. Teenagers lie because they don't want to disappoint you. They don't want to ruin their relationship with you and are afraid if they tell you the truth it will damage the relationship you have. They aren't trying to be deceitful, they are trying to protect their relationship with you. (Read Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman for more on the study of why teenagers lie. It's fascinating.)
4. Teenagers want to go dinner with you or catch a movie with you or just "hang out" with you. They want to spend time with you even though they would never tell you that.
5. Teenagers want you to ask them questions about their lives. They might not open up on their own, but with a little prodding, there is likely so much that they want you to know. More than you realize, they crave a close relationship with their parents.
6. Teenagers are smart. And manipulative. Even when they don't realize it, they are often subconsciously trying to manipulate adults. Give them clear limits and boundaries and don't let them take advantage of you- that is the only way they can really thrive.
7. It's okay for your teenagers to be bored. Teach them how to deal with boredom and how to entertain themselves. It's also okay for them to be frustrated. You don't have to rescue them from all of their bad experiences.
8. It's okay for your teenager to go without his or her cell phone. Set limits on it (Turn off texting after a certain time at night) and even make him help pay the bill! Have no texting zones like the dinner table or the family car so they learn how to hold conversations without checking their phone every two minutes.
9. When a teacher calls home because of a problem with your teenager, take the teacher's side. Nine times out of ten, the teacher is in the right and the teenager needs to know that you are not going to save him from every situation.
10. Teenagers are like babies- if they are grumpy, it is likely because they are hungry or tired. Feed them dinner and make them take a nap and they will likely be much more reasonable.
11. Teenagers are mostly motivated by three things: money, food, and the opposite sex. Use that to your advantage.
12. Teenagers want to be seen as adults, even though they're not quite ready for that responsibility. Their two greatest needs are 1) Love and 2) Freedom- in that order. Give them as much freedom as you can (within clear limits, of course) and let them have a voice and a say. A lot of the times they just want to be heard.
13. Not all teenagers are having sex and getting high on the weekends.
14. Some are. But that doesn't mean they're not great kids.
15. Teach your teenager how to have a conversation with an adult and how to be polite to adults and other authority figures. This will get him further in life than any tutoring service or extra curricular activity.
16. Teenagers are moody. If your teenager is lashing out at you today that means nothing about how he will treat you tomorrow. Most of the time, it has nothing to do with you.
17. Don't let your teenager come home, go into his room with the door closed, and spend the rest of the afternoon and evening on his computer. Just don't.
18. I can tell the way you let your child talk to you by the way he talks to me. Don't let your teenager call you stupid or any other derogatory name. It is amazing how quickly I can tell which parents put up with demeaning talk and bad attitudes from their children. Countless times I have had a student be rude, sassy, or disrespectful to me only to later see him interacting with his parent in the same way. Demand respect and give it back.
19. You don't have to be the cool mom or cool dad. Just be a parent who will listen to their teenager.
20. Your teenager is likely the busiest and most stressed he has ever been in his life. He is juggling more than ever before. Be patient, loving, and kind with him and validate his stresses.
21. Your teenager adores you. He only wants the same from you.