I had the opportunity this past week to chaperone my rising eighth grade daughter and eleven other children on a chorus trip to Costa Rica.
Besides being an incredible chance for the kids to experience another country and another culture, it was a terrific experience for a parent trying to navigate the murky waters of the teenage years.
I shared a room with my daughter and two of her friends, which was an experience in itself. Teenagers, as you probably know, have a lot of energy — late to bed, late to rise, with a lot of giggling in between. They also aren’t the neatest creatures on earth; I spent a lot of time corralling lone sneakers, socks, wet towels, you name it. I also learned that when kids are away from home, they have lots of questions that seem like they would be no brainers to adults.
“What do I do with my wet towel?”
“They said it might rain, should I bring my raincoat?”
“Do you think $3 is too much for a Coke?”
But despite the closeness of the quarters, what I really loved about the experience was listening to them. At first, they were unsure of talking around me, but as the week went on, they became more open about their conversations, often asking my opinions on a variety of topics from the benign to the more serious issues facing young people today. I enjoyed listening to how they processed the world around them, how they worked through dilemmas, and how they were able to find joy in so many little things. I tried not to intervene unless I felt they were woefully off track or they solicited my opinion.
What I learned was that teenagers today are facing a much more complicated world with information coming at them at every direction at the speed of light. Thirteen-year-olds are caught in the limbo of wanting to be independent, but not quite knowing how to handle their complex world yet without lots of support and guidance from adults. Happily, I discovered that they can be very supportive of one another and encouraging . It gave me a sense of peace to hear girls, not yet women, caring about friendship in a meaningful way.
I truly felt honored to be allowed into their circle even for a short visit to help me better understand how I can be the best possible parent to my daughter as she grow into the wonderful young woman she is quickly becoming.
Now, if I could only get her to pick up her wet towel from the floor I’d have it made …
Amanda is the mom of two, a reporter for WRAL-TV and the author of several books including three on motherhood. Find her here on Mondays.