I’ve been a teen parent for two years now, and I already feel like a veteran. But, in the midst of all the insanity, I still recognize the children I once knew. There are a billion books that help parents read their way through the terrible teens, but the only real way to survive is by trial and error. Here are seven challenges I dare you to complete as a teen parent: are you down?
1. The Mirror Challenge.
We already know that self image is an issue for teens in America; both boys and girls can’t escape the claws of judgement. My daughter spent an entire week telling me all the parts of herself that she hated–and that was just the parts I could see: her eyes, for being to almond-shaped, her shoulders, for making her look like a boy, her caramel complexion, because her sister and I are dark-chocolate. The list seemed to never end. My solution? Every time she said a negative thing about her body, about things she just couldn’t change, she had to stand in front of a mirror and say three nice comments to herself–even if she didn’t believe them–yet. Sure, it sounded stupid at first, and she fought the punishment. But in the end, we should always encourage positive self-talk with our kids, especially during the teen years. How many nice things does your kiddo have to say about themselves? It took a while, but eventually she got the drift: you are who you are, and no matter how many perfect people you see on TV, they cannot replace the perfect you that exists in the world.
2. The Ears on Deck Challenge
Children tend to move away from their parents between the ages of 11-14, but this is precisely when they need us most. They don’t stop talking to us because they don’t love us, and it isn’t because they don’t want to talk to us–it’s because we’ve given up on listening. My sister has a 14-year old son, and between him and my teen girls, the volume of conversation doesn’t change with the sexes. Teens want to share their world, but we don’t always make time. To solve this problem, I make time every day to listen: to who’s dating this boy now, to what girl is currently pregnant, to how boring German class is because French was full. I can’t promise to hear it all, but I listen. I respond. And more importantly, I listen not so much to what she says, but to how she says it. That’s my “in” to her emotions, the “in” to her feelings and to who she’s becoming.
3. The Cell Phone Challenge
So, if you’re following me on Facebook then you know I recently had to confiscate a cell-phone. Taking away a cell-phone is like taking away a two-year old’s blanket without warning–you are in for a helluva fight. Fighting is the last thing that a parent should invite into their relationship with their teen, so it must be done under only the most critical of conditions. If it is done incorrectly, then what you get is a broken young adult who feels totally violated. Teens are completely out of control without their baby blanket. When faced with the cell phone challenge, I did a trial-run. My cell phone challenge lasted less than 3 hours, because it’s not about the cell phone at all. I want her to have it; I need my daughter to know she has control and power over her life. Really, the cell-phone challenge is about the conversation that happens afterwards. That’s so much more important than using a cell-phone as a bargaining chip.
I wasn’t prepared for a tween that wanted long hugs, and I wasn’t prepared for a teen that wanted to endlessly hold hands and snuggle. I thought the teen years were supposed to be the “I hate you mom” years, and as my daughters inched closer to that time, I’d all but given up on the idea of hug. But hormones raged, tears flew about, and I began to tense up. I suddenly realized the power of touch. It was amazing. Sometimes breaking down a barrier in an argument is as simple as holding my daughter’s hands while I tell her the consequences of her behavior. The I Heart You Challenge should always be in the back of our minds as parents–we need it as much as our hormone-driven teens.
5. The I Promise Not to Hurt You Challenge
People who love you don’t hurt you. Period. That is a parenting mantra I’ve held to, and the teenage years make this challenge tough to swallow. Teenagers are masters at figuring out what you need–then giving you the exact opposite. I can remember being upset at my parents as a teen, and I would actively go against anything they said–no matter how sane–because they were wrong and I was right. But, it’s this kind of mentally that we as parents play into so well. We want to dominate and control our teens: if we don’t who will, right? But we are raising freethinkers, and this means we owe it to them to power through our own “power issues”. We have to help our teens solve their problems without violence–even if that means we need to find some help to do that. People who love you don’t hurt you. Period.
6. The Share Your Lap with Me Challenge
This challenge dear friends was a toughie to pass. There are some parents who relish the thought of their child getting older. They open their arms to teens who will catch the bus, make regular check-ins, and find their independent selves. I am one of those parents. Finally, all my years of hard work had paid off! So, when my then 12-year old daughter moved into the world of 13, what did she do? She parked herself squarely on my lap and didn’t move. I found myself constantly holding hands, hugging, and wondering, where did my teenager go? Then I figured it out: the teen years, like toddler years, are when our children need reassurance the most. During the teen years, our children are bombarded by signals and feelings they have yet to understand. My daughter wasn’t acting like a child, she was moving from one stage to another, and she needed to know that I was coming along with her. The Share Your Lap With Me Challenge takes many forms, but when you see it, you’ll know; you’ll also know that your teen is as independent as they always have been—they just want to know you are still standing next to them.
I’ll be honest–I hate this challenge, and my girls know it. They also know that I’ll look at or watch (almost) anything they want to show me. This challenge cannot be completed overnight; it takes time and patience to show a child that what they are interested in matters to you. Just last week, for example, I watched a video of my daughter’s friend–we’ll call her Emily. Emily was whining and screaming because she’d hit her foot on her bed post. Her fake cries made my daughter roll on the floor laughing–and when the offended toe was put in front of the camera, my daughter became totally nonsensical with laughter.
But this is not the only terribly unimportant video I’ve seen at my 13-year old’s request: I’ve seen friends dancing and yelling (sometimes with less than appropriate language), I’ve seen “vines” of Ronald McDonald throwing tantrums because kids are eating at Burger King, and I’ve even seen images and pictures that, after the laughter, required a bit probing. The “I Wanna Show You Something Challenge” will challenge all of your nerves. I watch in series of three. After three of anything, I reserve the right to say enough. But, those three videos that you watch will give you valuable information. You will learn who your child adores, hates, hangs around with–it’s all wrapped up in what they choose to share with you. So, the next time your teen wants to show you something–say yes!