I have a teenager at home. You know, one of those who says ” HHun”- this strange sound that comes from the roof of the mouth and at the same time the back of the throat. In three years time, I’ll have 3 teenagers at home. People recoil in horror when they hear this. They warn me of all the miseries that await me- the mood swings, the silence, the lack of dialog, the porn magazines under the bed, the odd transformation of your lovely cute children into strange and unpleasant alien entities who take your home for a very cheap hotel.
Well, people, I’ve got news for you. I love teenagers.And so far – I’ve had plenty of experience with them thanks to unconscious or simply fed up parents who send them to me for the summer holidays in order to have a chance to catch up with sleep, sex, spring clean up and a marriage on the verge of divorce- not always in this order.
I love teenagers because:
– When they go through this phase of turmoil, you know you’ve done your job right. If they don’t have their crisis before 20, you can bet they will have it later. This means they will have then more money, more freedom and less common sense ( or scrutiny from their parents) and will in consequence do drugs, catch if possible all of the sexual diseases that rule the planet and instead of saving money for their retirement or paying back their mortgage they will drink it and buy expensive handbags.
– They are having a hard time. I see you blink. ” What?” you say. ” Hard time? Them? What should I say?!”. Well this is not about you. And trust me, the kids have it rough. You have forgotten all about it – so let me explain. When hormones start to kick in and your beloved child starts growing hairy patches all over his/ her body (although in the female case you may soon discover when you razor disappear that this goes more or less unnoticed as girls are supposed to get rid of it as fast as possible), more changes occur that you may not be aware of. Their brains for example starts expanding again. The sad results is that the connections of the brains get messy for a while as it takes some time for them to develop and reconnect properly- and a lot of sugar. This fact doesn’t usually go unnoticed as the teenager starts answering to all questions/ injunctions/ verbal exchange with the well know expression :” Hhhhuun?”. Worse, things that took the ever patient parents 12 years to teach him/her seem now to have been lost in the stratosphere. They don’t remember how to make their bed, load the dishwasher or get properly washed themselves; they seem to be unable to answer simple demands or have the slightlest hint of humor- unless it is at your own expense and sotto voce; worse still, their homework is the last thing on their minds and sex the first ( if sex is not, start searching their rooms for drugs). This process is more or less long- depending of how much catching up their brain has to do. So now, not only they have to deal with a world they barely understand and a body that looks like a horror movie ( let’s not talk about the pizza face that might magically appear in their mirror without warning), they have to deal with you. Because there is one thing you may not know: the release of these hormones is faster that the extension of the brain connections. The result is that most of the reality of their day – and most of their teenage years- will get simply erased from their memory. Some facts may survive if there is a specific reason ( accident, death, heartbreak) until adult age, but most of it gets lost forever.
– Teenagers are caught up between childhood and grown up time. It means that they still have moments where they don’t want to be responsible for their actions and/ or future but at the same time, they are showing signs of individual conscience . It means that they may react about the pollution of the earth, the political environment, the eradication of the rainforest but truly not care about your electricity bill or your efforts to separate your recycle bin items from the non recycle one. The sad truth is that they don’t know what they want ( there is a lack of experience there) but they know they don’t want to be, well, like you. By the way, do you have any reason to want them to be like you? This might give you an excellent opportunity to question yourself and your childhood dreams- and blow a fuse and buy a new jag. The dialog can turn sour very quickly if you try to double guess every sentence that is fired at you. Think computer, answer linear. Don’t be afraid to set limits ( the shouting and abuse you’ll get from it will let you know if you’ve gone too far, just measure the decibels) and let them know what is on your mind. A little introspection may not hurt. If you are sincere, you can always try to explain that being a parent is a hard job as you have just one go at it and no practice beforehand. Setting up rules that you discuss calmly is not a bad idea. Stick to your ground when it is important for you. But let them have some new freedom- with a limited responsability.
– Teenagers are into discovery mode. That includes drugs, sex, and all kind of fun that you have forgotten about which is usually immoral, illegal or fattening. Happy life mode. Do not expect schools to be their guardians. Do not believe that their friends are cuter than your own kid is ( they hide the ones you would hate- they are not stupid). Do not wait for problems to happen. Prevention works quite well. Have an open discussion about drugs. Drugs are highly enjoyable. If you tell them otherwise, they will never trust you again because 1) they either have heard the opposite from the mouth of someone else or 2) if they ever give it a go, they will probably like it and will instantly come up to the conclusion that you told them a bunch of lies – and any other good advice you will have sprinkled in their minds over the years will be lost. So what do you do? You tell them the truth. Can be: I’ve never done drugs because…Can be: I tried drugs and came to the conclusion that…Or: I am still doing drugs and look at the result today ( this works beautifully). I have personnally explain to all the kids I know that I’ve tried drugs – twice – in my life and although I did enjoy my first time, I didn’t like the addictive feeling it produced. Plus there is a dark side of drugs. They produces endorphines and nice sensations which actually start decreasing the production of the same by your own brain. You then feel depressed or down when your brain doesn’t do its job – hey, why make the effort when it can get it just like that?. The situation of course worsens and that’s why you end up with people having, at best, mood swings and loss of memory, at worst, dying alone in the gutter. Plus never forget that depending of the drug, your first shot could be your last. It’s like Russian roulette, you never know when your number is up. It can be the 31st, the 1004th, whatever…But it always come up. These simple facts may seem trivial but if they are delivered before some bozo tells them otherwise ( and teenage colleagues are really persuasive), the inprint in their mind might be more powerful than any speech in the schoolyard. If you have a live example to offer- such as a relative or the acquaintance as a friend who’s a real junkie who’s spent half of his life in prison, do not hesitate to introduce the two to each other. Most drug addicts, if asked, are more than happy to help you keep your kids off the street. They are a powerful influence in this instance. Sadly sex addicts and serial daters have the opposite effect, so beware.
– Teenagers are a really interesting species. They catch up with tecnological progress so fast that if you listen carefully you’ll be soon the crack of the office. Their questions usually hit the chore of any problem and they can have quite original solutions to your problems- if you have any. The moments where you can talk to each other without any resentment or animosity can be really precious and it is basically your last chance to discover who your child really is. If you have the energy to follow his daily events ( and you’re able to relax about the school performance) you may build a bond that will last forever.
– Teenagers are our future. You have to trust them as they will be the ones choosing your nursing homes in a few years time. Keep that in mind when you interact with them. By the way, most kids – whatever the age- have a tendency to learn by osmosis, i. e. by what you show them and what you do. Forget what you say, most of it is considered bollocks. Keep this in mind too.
I know you, parents, are having a rough time too. Well done, it means you’ve done your job. The end of the road is not near, but this is going to be a crucial phase for both of you. A little planning never hurts. A little love goes a long way. And an eye open is worth a thousand words.
Good luck, to all of you.