My husband and I have a blended family. We have three children in their early twenties, and six children at home, five of them are teenagers. Lately, conversations with friends have organically taken a turn towards the topic of raising teenagers. So many of us are struggling, wanting to do the right thing. In this dispensation, helping a teen find their way in this world without stifling their free agency is a delicate process, and let’s face it…really really hard. Often our help or advice is met with resistance.
Everything I’ve read on the subject says honesty is the best policy. This letter was born of that philosophy.
You are right. I don’t know everything. And maybe you’re also right, I don’t know more than you; I just know different things than you. But there is something to this growing-up thing that gives one a bit of wisdom. Experience is a wicked teacher, but a teacher nonetheless. There are things I know for certain that I did not know when I was your age. I want to share a few of those things with you today, in hopes of quelling any misunderstandings between us.
1: You are loved. I didn’t know that fully when I was a teen. I thought my parents wanted me to fit into some kind of box. You are not a disappointment. You are cherished.
2: Because you are cherished, I desperately do not want to see you suffer. Unfortunately, this suffering thing is part of life. I can’t protect you from all of it, but I can try to protect you from some of it. When I set boundaries or expectations, it isn’t because I want you to conform; it is because I don’t want you to suffer. I know that there is always an easier path from point A to point B. Easier paths, and a million harder ones…some even torturous. If I stop you on your journey and ask you consider a different path than one you are choosing, it’s because I know the path I’m asking you to consider will bring less suffering if you so choose to take it. How do I know this? Because I have traveled both the easier paths and the harder ones, many many times. I can’t always see the difference between the two at the trailhead, but life has shown me some telltale signs to watch out for. I can help you watch for them.
3: Family inclusion is not meant to punish you. When I ask you to do something with the family it’s because I know we’ll make a memory together. I know that when you grow up you will remember those torturous family times with tender abandon, but those days on your computer will be only an inconsequential blur. Those YouTube videos will bring you no respite and solace in your old age. The memories of the hours spent on your computer will not heal your heart. It won’t give you the sense of belonging that only family can. Your siblings will be your best friends one day, but only if a relationship is established. You need a foundation. As a parent it is my job to provide one for you, and that might mean you going to a restaurant that you don’t like, or seeing a movie you aren’t excited about, or playing a game you think is boring.
4: I’ve made mistakes in my past. Regret is important and teaches us important things. I promise you will look back on your life and wish you had done things differently at this age. I can’t take away those mistakes from you, they will come and in some ways they are essential, but maybe I can soften the landing by helping you work through those mistakes. Maybe I can help you learn the lesson sooner than later. Having to learn the same lesson over and over again is humbling, and miserable. I can make the process easier for you if you let me in. I’m a good listener. Don’t mistake my passion for you as judgment. I want more than anything for you to be happy.
5: Life isn’t always fun. Work is an important part of success. There are many jobs that seem enticing because you get to sit in front of your computer forever. I get that. But to be successful, one needs to learn, and that takes work. And effort. Also, in the grown-up world you have to do things that you don’t want to do, every single day. You will have to work with people you don’t like. You will have to sit through boring diatribes often. Everyone has to do it, so I respectfully ask that you stop trying to excuse yourself from it. If we only had the luxury of working with only those that are likeminded, this world would be a boring place, stripped of creativity. Change demands diversity.
6: I want you to know that consequences are part of every decision you make. The smallest, most trivial decisions have consequences, as well as the big ones. You cannot escape them. Bargaining with your parents or your boss doesn’t have the power to eliminate them. Thankfully, there are not only bad consequences, but good ones too. Cause and effect is real. I know it comes naturally to blame the adults in your life for this natural phenomenon, but alas…consequences are innately embedded in everything you do. Please remember that every decision will have a consequence, and often, there will be an immediate consequence and then another one waiting down the road. After you forgotten about making a decision in the first place…years and years later…there can be a consequence waiting. As an adult, I understand this concept well, as I have seen it manifest itself in my and others lives over and over again. The concept is hard to wrap your head around as a teen. That isn’t a dig…that’s just the way it is. You may be old enough to make your own decisions, but accountability follows, whether you are 17, or 100.
7: I know you are smart. In fact, I dare say you are brilliant. My perspective may be different, and it may not be yours, but it is one worth listening to. This may come as a shock, but the adults in your life don’t like being at odds with you. They want more than anything to effectively communicate with you. You know how you want your perspective to be heard? Adults want that too. I promise to listen to you if you promise to listen to me. I will be sincere; I hope that you will be too. I get frustrated when you are dishonest or when you make excuses. If you are frank with me, you will glean the respect you desire. I may not be as brilliant as you, but I know when I’m being played. Also, if I ask questions to dig deeper into your answer, it is because I sincerely want to understand your point of view. If I am gobsmacked by your point of view, talk with me about it, not at me. By definition, communication must go back and forth between two people; otherwise it’s just words spewed and nothing good can result.
8: Please see number 1. I'm not perfect, but my love for you is.
All my love,
The adult in your life.