Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Teen angst

Parents of teens have a whole different set of worries than parents of any other age group. And worse, they know they're less powerful, which means, obviously, that their children are at greater risk than any other children.
Most of the parenting blogs I read talk about mischievous toddlers and growing gradeschoolers. Very few of the blogs I frequent talk about the trials of teengers.
I have a couple of theories about why this is so, but the foremost idea is that the parents of teenagers have all been driven crazy, both by their children's behavior and also by the constant, nagging worry that it's going to get worse, and therefore don't have time to talk about the struggle.
Because actually? It does get worse.
In addition to raging hormones and snotty attitudes and an overwhelming sense of entitlement that parents of teens are dealing with, there's also the normal fears: they'll get sick or injured, have issues with bullying or problems within their peer groups, have trouble in school, or trouble adjusting to life's curveballs. Then there's also the fears and worries that come on once kids reach a certain age: drugs and drinking, sex, peer pressure, teaching them responsibilty, allowing them a certain amount of freedom, and just generally trying to convert them from the natural assholes that kids are into something slightly less.
Don't think kids are assholes? You've either drunk too much Kool-Aid or haven't been around any teenagers yet. But wait, your time will come.
The real trouble isn't actually with the new set of worries. Those worries could easily be managed if only we could all lock our children up, homeschool them, take away their communication devices, and bar their windows for the next seven to ten years.
Unfortunately, I'm informed that this isn't a viable option.
Not only can we not imprison them for their own safety, we must also be teaching them independence, as they're only a few short years away from doing whatever the hell they want without needing or even wanting our approval or guidance.
I spend the majority of my time- well, whatever's left after settling squabbles about whose turn it is to do the dishes or sit in the front seat or who left the milk out- the majority of the rest of my time is spent encouraging these kids to make their own choices, and helping them see which ones are good and which ones get them grounded.
I'm not raising kids. I have kids. I'm raising people. And these people, young as they are, have all realized at some point or another that I don't have one frigging clue about what I'm doing. Parenting books focus on keeping babies alive and teaching toddlers not to bite.
Very few people talk about how to tell your child she can't wear a certain item of clothing without slut shaming her. Don't understand that struggle? You've never had a headstrong young woman on your hands whose body has developed far more quickly than her brain, who can't understand why leggings and a crop top aren't appropriate for twelve year olds to wear to her uptight Christian school. Or anywhere. There's a fine line between giving her a reason that doesn't start and end with "Because I said so" and shaming her about her body- something she has no control over, and something you want to encourage her to feel good about, no matter what she wears.
But the world? It's a scary place, and while I'm prepping these monkeys to be let loose in it, I'm also striving to keep them safe from it, for just a little while longer.
At the same time, I have to ensure that they don't grow up to be part of the danger. Sure, at some point I'll not hold myself responsible for their actions, but for right now? Everything they do is because of me, or the other adult influences in their lives.
They learn much more from watching us than they do from my near-constant nagging.
Which is precisely why parenting them is so much harder. They're sneaky, you see. Skulking around listening to conversations that don't involve them, watching me text while driving even as I pass a sign that tells them death is imminent if they participate in such risky behavior, seeing me sneak a cookie when they're supposed to be in bed.
Teens, let's face it, don't listen to half of what we say. But unlike with younger kids who sort of follow rules and have regular bedtimes and can be fooled into believing we're nearly perfect, teens are also aware enough of their surroundings to call us out on all that bullshit.
They see our flaws, they notice our mistakes, and they're not shy about bringing this knowledge to our attention. So not only do we know we're just people who fail at a good many things, but we know they know.
The whole business is enough to drive a person to madness.