It seems to happen overnight. Children grow from toddlers to teenagers as if we werenít even there. They may or may not be ready for what is about to come. Often we are definitely not ready. We were just getting comfortable with the whole parenting role, alongside all the other things going on in our lives. The stories we hear about teenagers and their out of control behavior, their attitudes and lack of respect donít exactly instil confidence in us either.
Nevertheless we find ourselves in a world that while new and unusual is also strangely familiar. Perhaps itís because weíve been there ourselves. After all we were all teenagers once and surely some things donít change all that much. Maybe itís because our teenagers are still the same underneath, just going through a fairly big overhaul. These thoughts can be comforting and help steady us if we can hold on to them.
It can begin with the small changes we barely notice Ė a slight attitude shift, some physical changes or a sudden mood change. We can notice and comment or we can pretend it didnít happen. We can even overreact and trigger a reaction that helps no-one. Maybe one of the most helpful things we can do is to think about what is happening for the teenager Ė what might they be thinking and feeling and what will help them. In spite of the changes, we still know our children well and have a relationship that can continue to grow and deepen.
We can reflect on our teenagers and compare them to others. This can help but can also lead to unhelpful comparisons and make us lose sight of what is special and unique about our teenagers. Talking to other parents can sometimes relieve us as we share common experiences. When we get into competition about who is doing well and who is struggling, it can become dismissive of our own experience and not respect our teenagerís own journey. While other parents can be our greatest support, they can also bring us down. We can wisely take our own advice and carefully choose our own friends.
Speaking of advice, where do we begin to share advice with our teenagers? Sometimes itís sought and welcome. Other times, particularly when unsolicited, itís unwanted and can be used against us when things donít go so well. What has our parenting role become though if we arenít there to dispel myths, share our wisdom and protect our teenagers from making the mistakes weíve made?
There will be many times of calm during the teenage years. We may not always recognize, or appreciate, them when they appear. They are the times when our teenagers are ready to seek us out, when they have some friends who are there with them and their world opens to us. These times might not last for long so we have to be alert to notice and embrace them.
Then there are the times when our teenagers shut us out, want to do things for themselves and seek out friends we may not know. It looks like they want to do the exact opposite to whatever we suggest. If we understand this as a short phase, a testing out stage, a real opportunity for teenagers to try out something new, to experience life without our active involvement, we will feel better about it. We will also be able to stay close, to walk beside them, to look for opportunities to acknowledge their growth and embrace their new found independence. We will also notice if this is going too far and be able to step in to provide support. Doing this without fear of losing control but understanding the power of influence will be enabling for us.
So time will pass in waves of energy for our teenagers. Sometimes theyíre loud and easy to notice as they engage with whatever the world brings them. At other times theyíre hiding away and internally focused. Our job is to be there throughout this rollercoaster ride, to be the steady driver, draw on our past experiences to navigate the path ahead as we gradually let go of the controls. They will appreciate us always riding alongside but never getting off the ride without them.