I admire teenagers and enjoy having opportunities to spend time with them and get to know them.
In fact, I have been working as a therapist with teenagers and their families for more than 20 years. I also am living with my own three teenagers as well. Actually, the youngest just turned 12, so she is not officially a teen but, with two older siblings, she certainly is acting the part. I find this stage of life fascinating and, while I am thankful that I do not have to relive my teen years, I am honored to be a part of others' journeys through this amazing stage of life.
My oldest daughter is applying to colleges. Whew! What a powerful statement! That means that in less than 10 months she will no longer be living under my roof.
Have I taught her all she needs to know? Does she know how to keep herself safe and choose reliable friends? Will she ask for advice and assistance if she makes a bad choice or will she feel like she is on her own and has to handle it without my input? Can I respect the choices she makes as she moves to the next level of independence? How will I cope not knowing where she is or who she is with? Will I pass the test of having raised an intelligent, caring young woman who can live with the decisions she makes for herself and their consequences?
It boggles my mind and, although I am worried about how the world and others will treat her, most of the time I am confident that she has the tools to weather the challenges and joys ahead. (Plus with texting, Skype and my love of road trips, I do not intend to lose touch!)
It is interesting that as my oldest looks at moving out of the house, my youngest has started middle school. This is the training ground for preparing our children to move out and live on their own. The process begins as they navigate these “tween” years.
They are exploring new identities, pushing limits, discovering their own talents, and the value of friendship. They no longer just accept what we tell them, they challenge everything and want to be given more freedom. We guide them in learning that extra freedom comes with more responsibility. That hanging out with friends more than family means selecting people who support their values, not following the crowd like a lost sheep.
We want them to question us because that translates to them questioning others. Friendship drama gives us the opportunity to impart life lessons about trust, forgiveness and honesty. But we can’t expect to be heard if we lecture. We need to listen and respond and know when to be quiet and when to walk away.
The timing of reaching out to teens and the most effective way to be heard by them is different for every individual. Our job as parents and people who care is to spend enough time with them to know how to reach out.
Melissa Huemmer is the Cary mom of three and clinical director at St. Paul's Center for Hope and Healing in Cary. The center offers programs and counseling services for kids to adults. She'll write about raising teens monthly starting today.