The journey into teenage-dom. Whether you are raising a teen or will raise one in the future, every parent shares a common fear – how will we navigate through this terrifying phase? The truth is, yes, it can be terrifying at times, but hopefully, these tips for raising a teenager will shed some light on a phase that can’t be navigated by a road map.
Hi. My name is Megan Rix, and I am a mom of a teen.
It’s kind of like a secret club right? One that no one quite understands unless they’re IN IT. Vastly different from the infant stage, or the toddler stage. Quite literally, the teenage stage is like getting on a spaceship and flying to another planet.
We all heard it when we were in high school. Our well-meaning history teacher, who at the time seemed like they were 100 years old, but in reality they were probably middle aged, say to us…”When I was your age…”. Then we half listened and rolled our eyes as they schooled us on the proper manners and etiquette that was expected of them in the early 1800’s.
Their advice fell on deaf ears and we continued with our rebellious ways, sneaking out for dirt parties by the river and drinking Boone’s farm in a remote field. Oh wait, was that just me?
The truth is, there is no comparison for raising a teen in 2019. We can’t school them with stories of the good old days and how they should behave because let’s be honest, nothing in this day and age remotely resembles what life was like when most of us as parents of teens were in middle school.
if we’re being really honest, most of us wouldn’t survive as teens in times like today. My jelly shoes and Ace of Base shirt would have been destroyed on Instagram in comparison to girls in Ugg boots holding perfectly placed Starbucks cups.
My background with teenagers
Let me start by saying, I am not claiming to be any kind of expert. As always, you should choose to follow a path that is right for your family. What I share here are the experiences I have encountered and the lessons I learned after spending 13 years as a classroom teacher in grades 6-12. I’m also raising a teen of my own and each day is a new adventure.
As a teacher, I gained years of experience watching teenagers interact like I was a zoologist studying caged animals. I worked mostly with at-risk students so I have seen my fair share of the good, the bad, and the really bad.
I’ve walked with kids through all sorts of life’s obstacles. Fights, gangs, drugs, alcohol, toxic relationships, sex, depression, and suicide. They’ve told me things they were terrified of telling their parents.
I’ve seen the really bad kids make good decisions and the really good kids make bad decisions.
What we need to understand about teenagers
Their brains don’t work properly. No really. I went to a seminar in my early years of teaching that shed some light on how the adolescent brain processes information and uses it for decision making. It was absolutely mind-blowing. It gave me a glimpse into the social and emotional development of my students and was pivotal in how I shaped my classroom management.
As research from Stanford Children’s Health describes, the part of our brain that helps us make rational decisions and weigh the outcomes of those decisions is called the prefrontal cortex. Adults are able to look ahead and internalize the consequences of their actions. Teens?
They make decisions primarily based on emotion. And if you have a teen or know a teen, we all know those emotions have absolutely no rhyme or reason; which makes sense because neither do their decisions.
And guess what? That part of their brain, you know, the one that tells them that jumping off the roof into the swimming pool is a bad idea? Or why bullying has lead kids, even very young ones, to take their own life. It isn’t fully developed until they’re 25. Yes, I said 25.
With that being said, here are some of my tips for raising a teen.
Of all the experiences I encountered in the classroom, sadly, this is the one that stood out the most. Well-meaning parents who truly believed they knew their child well and were aware of each and every decision they made, were floored when they caught a glimpse of reality.
As parents of teenagers, it is really important to take a step back and look at the world they are living in. They are SURROUNDED by social media, and advertisements, and a world that preys on their innocence and inability to make rational decisions.
So don’t be naive. Cell phones are the biggest threat to our children’s ability to make sound decisions and they are incredibly well versed at navigating that world. I’ve seen students who can hardly form sentences, hack into the school’s wifi with ease. Kids are tech savvy and as parents, we need to be as well.
What to look for
There are apps that hide apps, apps that get them a wi-fi connection even if your home connection is shut off. Snapchat gives users the ability to send photos and texts that disappear and are untraceable. It also allows users to subscribe to web forums that have articles like “what to do and not do during sex” or “everything you need to know about vaping”. Many kids now have a “Finsta”, short for fake Instagram; an account they open secretly in addition to the ones their parents follow.
Remember those “choose your own adventure books” we used to read as kids? Well now our kids can play a game called Choices. A mobile version that allows players to choose a character and navigate through choices in different scenarios, many of which are heavily reliant on sexual situations. Sending nudes is as common as trading baseball cards used to be and access to pornography is as easy as looking up a recipe.
The list truly does go on and I’m sure my students are rolling their eyes as I divulge all the secrets they’ve told me throughout the years. But it has made me more aware when it comes to raising my own teen.
We can’t protect them from everything, and one day they will be exposed to all the things we tried to protect them from. But by knowing what’s out there and helping them navigate through tough scenarios, we can show them how to make more informed decisions.
Which leads me to my next tip.
Don’t be afraid to TALK to them. And, be willing to LISTEN.
Look, there is no road map for parenting a teen. And if there were, it would look like the path Dorothy took through Oz. Including the tornado. Each kid is wholly and uniquely different.
One thing unites us all. Our kids need us. Even when their faces are glued to their phone and their attention span is shorter than a puppy in a dog park. Even with all their sass and attitude, and their firm belief that they are the experts on life. Because inside they are dying for attention. Desperate to be recognized and heard, even if their words make no sense or seem out of touch.
How can you connect with your teen?
So if they like to play Fortnite or make TicToc videos until they’re blue in the face, ask them about it. Offer to play or have them teach you how to make a ridiculous video. If they brush you off with supreme horror that you dare be involved in their existence…try again. And again. And again.
Instead of making fun of their awkwardness or their terrible taste in music, or use of words like “bruh, bae, fleek, and shook”, use it on your own language. At the very least, it will give you both a good laugh.
When I was teaching, I used to call my classroom the land of misfit toys. Students of all walks of life used to congregate in and around my classroom, never allowing me so much as two seconds of personal time and space to myself. I truly believe it’s because, in my class, they were all welcome, all accepted, and they all knew that if they spoke, they were heard.
Did I always want to hear all about their Pokemon dual, or their fight with their girlfriend, or their probation officer, or ALL OF THEIR DRAMA? No. But I knew that it was important to them, so that made it important to me. And when teens feel seen AND heard, they are much more likely to listen in return.
Talk to them
If you don’t talk to them, someone else will. And you might not like the advice they’re getting from the other side, and most of the time, they aren’t always receiving accurate information.
Look, these conversations will inevitably be uncomfortable. I mean, what parent can’t wait to have THE TALK with their teen? But they’re also so very necessary. So take them out for ice cream, and start talkin.
Remember that you are the ultimate role model. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries.
I wish I could say that all the love, compassion, and patience that I demonstrated to my students stuck with them. as they moved on from my class. Unfortunately, the few hours I had with them each week was not enough to deter behaviors demonstrated at home or in their surroundings. And while you think they may be ignoring you, they are watching, and they are learning. Sometimes we need to do a little soul searching to see how our behaviors are reflected in our children.
In my house
It’s not easy. Even with as much experience as I have had, I still wonder if I am doing it right with my own kid. But you know what I am not afraid to do? Set rules for my kid. I will sit and listen to her for hours. Girl drama, how cute the boy in ELA is or how “shook” she was that he looked at her. But I am not afraid to give her consequences and follow through with my word.
For example, in our home, we have pretty strict rules concerning cell phone use. My 13-year-old has zero access to social media. She has an iPhone 3 that can only text and make phone calls. The camera and internet have been locked (yes you can do that). Also, every night she checks her phone in at 8:30.
I have an amazing kid. But I also know that if her phone is by her head at night, she WILL be on it. So it’s my job to take the weight of having to respond to 2 am texts away from her. And guess what? So far she hasn’t died by way of cell phone restrictions. Would she like a fancy new phone? Sure. But she is fully functional with the one she has.
This stage of parenting can certainly be terrifying, but it doesn’t have to be. Keep in mind that while they may resemble alien life forms, they are still children.
And always, always remember…there is no such thing as a child [or even a teen] who is unlovable.
**Photo rights belong to Reverie Photo and Film
Megan Rix is a former at-risk high school English teacher turned stay at home mama, lifestyle blogger, and entrepreneur. After leaving the classroom to focus on being a mama, she needed a place to document the life of her very strong-willed child and what she realized along the way were all the things in her life that “anchored” her. A love for food, beauty, family, and giving back to others helped shape the blog as it looks today. Follow her on Instagram @thisanchoredlife and her blog site www.thisanchoredlife.com.