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|The Root of the Problem
Raising teenagers is hard. No strike that – it is painful. But I believe I have finally pinpointed the exact problem that makes raising teenagers so challenging.
There are a lot of issues out there facing teenagers. None of them new. As parents we might want to think that things are so different from when we were teens – but once you are honestly in the thick of parenting teenagers you come to the quick realization that it isn’t so different. You are able to recall so many feelings and circumstances that you had been in once yourself a long time ago as a teen.
I’m going to go out on a limb here to share with you what I have found the single most difficult issue to face in parenting a teenager. It’s not drugs. It’s not sex. It’s not alcohol. It’s not suicide. It’s not violence or theft, or shoplifting or anything like that. It’s not laziness or lying, disrespectful behavior or failing grades.
The most challenging parenting issue is convincing your teen that you are on their side. That is what makes all of those other topics such a problem. Teens do not see parents as anything more than the person who doesn’t understand or the road block to something that they want. If they believed that we were their biggest fan, wouldn’t parenting be easier? Once they become skeptical, getting through to them is nearly impossible.
Sometimes teens get involved with things that they just can’t see the future ramifications of what they are presently participating in. It doesn’t matter if it is a big issue or a minor one – they don’t hear us. We are the enemy and a crucial part of the problem as far as they are concerned. As parents, we are somehow at the root of why they are making bad choices in their eyes. We’ve become part of their problem. Now they will not come out and tell you this – in fact they may even put up a front that gives you the feeling that you’ve got a “different” kind of relationship with your teen. But make no mistake – they are not telling you most things that go on in their lives, choices they make, conversations they have or thoughts that they think because they just don’t really trust us like that. They will put up a façade and entertain you with a charade until they hit a stumbling block on the road to adulthood. Then all bets are off.
Every parent of every teen will experience this feeling. It’s almost a feeling of helplessness. You are speaking to your teen and you hear yourself – it all makes sense to you. You hear compassion in the wisdom that you are desperately trying to impart. But you may as well be speaking Greek. They just don’t hear your wisdom or the tone of compassion. Helplessness turns to frustration quickly when you realize you are having absolutely zero impact on your child. Your guiding words are nothing more than orange warning cones that they will bulldoze over in a moment’s notice.
Aside from the frustration, it is an overwhelmingly sad feeling. Especially when you know your teen is in trouble and unable to help themselves. I have tried to calmly sit and talk. Attempting a back and forth dialogue if you will. Truly believing that I am getting through, but always to no avail. Having the difficult conversations about the “scary topics” isn’t the problem…it’s the realization that you aren’t making a difference in their decision.
Inside every home that houses a teenager there has been a trying circumstance. It is a teenager’s job to test the boundaries and push the limits. It is every parent’s job to provide constant maintenance to the boundaries to make breaking through more difficult…hoping to keep their teenager corralled a bit longer. We’d all be fortunate to say that we are keeping things under control but if parents are honest, during those teen years, at least once they will feel a moment of panic and fear for their teen’s decisions.
Everyone wants to put on a front that they have things altogether and that nothing would ever happen to their teen. I can appreciate that. It is also an innate emotion to protect our young rather than throw their mistakes out to the wolves who seem to pace back and forth waiting for your perfect looking family to have a problem. No one wants to admit that their child has made a bad decision and no parent wants to admit that they can’t fix it. Everyone feels like a failure.
I always thought I’d be the mom that could speak to my teens well enough to talk them down from whatever trouble was in their path. After all, I am extremely verbal and have been blessed with a form of communication that usually allows me to reach the emotions of another. But that has not been the case with my teens. They want to charge head on into that concrete roadblock that I have so diligently been building to protect them, all the while assuring me they have things under control when it is so evident that they could not be further out of control if they tried.
I am currently experiencing such a situation with one of my children. After I confess that I am going through a particularly difficult situation with one of my children - everyone is probably scrambling to figure out which child and what kind of trouble they could be in. They will jump to the most drama filled conclusions as their minds race with thoughts of pregnancy, police arrests or whatever scandal we would most fear facing with our own child. While my situation is not as grandiose as all of that, I will remain silent, holding my cards close to my chest and muddling through the issue alone.
This is part of the problem. It sure would be nice if parents felt like they could talk with other parents when these things arose, rather than hiding them so that it doesn’t become fodder for gossip. That in turn causes the problem to become exacerbated because we then want to protect vehemently the one who needs the help the most. We protect them with our silence. Pretty soon we have enabled a situation to grow worse than it might have been had we been willing to speak out and let someone know that we needed help and we were able to find a compassionate community that would embrace our trials and tribulations. But instead we circle the wagons and work within our own walls, basically rolling the dice that our child will be okay because we are worried what people will think. But the honest truth is that everybody has got something brewing in their home when they are raising teens – but God forbid you say it out loud.
I wish it were enough for me to look at my teen and say, “I love you. It’s going to be okay. Trust me. I will help you.” I wish my teen would respond by agreeing to take my help and believing that no one loves them more than I do and finding that same blind trust that they had as babies. Remember when we would hold our infants over our heads and throw them into the air to catch them again? It was just enough to give them a thrill to laugh over but they always knew that we would catch them – they never feared that playful act because they trusted us with every fiber of their being. Teens don’t feel trust with the unconditional abandon anymore. They are filled with doubt. They doubt their relationship with us – they doubt whether they can trust us. They are reluctant to listen to us or take help extended to them.
It is strange actually. To sit opposite your child practically pleading for them to hear you…and they just don’t. I know that we will get to the other side of the mountain. It is just going to be a heck of a climb. There are no magic words. No fancy psychological tactics to use. It is going to be whatever it is going to be. It is a time that is out of a parent’s control. Up to now, a child has a need and a parent meets it. Child is sick. Parent gets medicine. Child is hungry. Parent provides food. Child is sad. Parent tells a joke. Child is cold. Parent gets a blanket. But eventually a teen is finding their own way and they don’t want the parent to meet a need. They think they will figure it out for themselves. They don’t believe the parent is on their side. That’s when parent prays unceasingly.
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