Becoming a mother at the age of 22 years, meant finding myself playing the role of an agony aunt to my various friends who had children after they had sorted their lives. My kids have attended my friend’s weddings, held their babies, babysat for them when the mommies met and so on and so forth. Now when my kids are stepping into adulthood, their children are taking their first steps into teenage hell and so when someone asked me a while back how I handled my children and their attraction to other people, their hormones, mood swings, I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t realize what it was like raising teenagers.
I did tell them about strangers and touch
While raising teenagers, I did tell them about the perils of being alone, lost or straying too far away; about talking to unknown people, getting into their cars, giving out personal information to strangers. I had explained the good and bad touch and how to tell the difference. I had taught them to be kind to children and animals and also to protect the bullied. I had taught them that they should raise their voice against injustice that they should secure their physical safety first and then take action; it did not make them a coward. I had taught them to be strong.
While raising teenagers I never talked about falling in love
Had I even once spoken to them about the soft flutter of a heart when the eyes meet and you feel pulled to another? When your palms sweat and the best part of your day is when they smile at you?
Did I tell them it was all right if the person, who induced the above feelings, did not reciprocate the same, that they can be sad, shed tears if that was the case, and they will still be strong in my eyes?
I couldn’t remember. I asked my other half, had the kids come to him?
We could figure out on our own
Nope.We never explained the nuances of managing the surge of hormones, the lines that should not be crossed and the hurt that should not be caused even by mistake.
It never occurred to me that I was supposed to do this too. No one in my youth had explained how attraction, relationships, first love and betrayals worked. We lurched around on our own and figured it out ourselves.
Raising teenagers now is a different ballgame
But then again there were no mobile phones, tiny cameras in pens, video, MMS or WhatsApp selfie, snow filters or provocative pictures in our time. There was no threat of someone recording our most intimate moments and posting them for everyone’s viewing pleasure without us being aware of it. No one could shame us before our family and friends in a fit of jealous rage if we played it safe. We reached the second base only when we were sure that we were going to be with this person forever and for seven lifetimes.
There is no safe anymore. Being a teenager today is not for the faint hearted. Raising teenagers has become tough because children as young as 11 have smartphones and are adept at using them.
We as parents do not trust them to make a cup of tea unsupervised, but trust them with a gadget that can potentially ruin their or someone else’s life, if used inappropriately.
We as parents allow the kids to play in the closed room but don’t have the sense to check what games the child is playing. Who are the people behind those characters on screen who are playing the games with them? Isn’t this our responsibility if we are raising teenagers?
They don’t yet know the right from wrong
We sit grimacing through a kissing scene or flip the channel trying to stay normal and yet watch with rapt attention TV soaps that show the torment of the poor wife to be accepted in a household after marriage or to be proven worthy to deserve the love of a crude disrespectful man. Young observant minds unlike us adults do not have the fully developed sense to separate fact from fiction.
What we should do when we are raising teenagers
In my view, raising teenagers is like jumping over the moon, nothing you do seems to be right. Pre-teens and teens need help on several fronts. Let’s identify a few.
- They need us to take care of their physical changes; the looks are a huge game changer along with all their growing pains. But more importantly we should be aware of how they view themselves in relation to the opposite sex.
- We should teach them how to say “No”.
- How to handle peer pressure.
- How to handle their rioting hormones.
It is the need of the hour in today’s world of viral social media fall out and cyber bullying. So then what could we possibly say to our children who in our mind are naïve and innocent?
I went to my children to understand better
To be honest I am an intrusive mother. I ask uncomfortable questions, tell them embarrassing facts from my youth that make my poor husband blush. I discuss harsh realities of life and politics, over dinner.
To add to the chaos I have a daughter and a son, so there is always the gender war between an ideal situation and ground reality going on. To top it all they fall into the Gen Z demography while we are the ‘Baby Boomer Generation’. In case you are wondering Gen Z are people born between late 90s and early 2000. And in case you have a kid at home who is born in 2010 and after then he or she belongs to Gen Alpha.
I was told that is a thing for some time now and that I should have known this. I haven’t been hiding under a rock after all, I had replied with fake confidence, before hiding in the bathroom to Google the convoluted terms.
My kids summed it up for me
My daughter asked, “What is this about?”
I said, “How come you have never come to me for relationship advice?”
The kids looked at each other then at their Dad for salvation, who pulled out his mobile phone to hide from what he knew was going to be a long discussion.
This is what I gathered
- Saying NO to a toxic friendship.
- Saying NO to being a silent spectator of a wrongful act.
- Saying NO to peer pressure takes courage at any age.
Our children should know that if they are stuck at any given point they can come to us for help for guidance and above all a patient non-judgmental hearing and possible solutions.
Peer pressure can be as innocent as wanting to buy the same shoes as your friends to as dangerous as a dare involving a potentially dangerous act.
We have all heard cases of ragging gone wrong. Many collegians later said they didn’t want to do it but were unable to say no to their friends.
While raising teenagers, be aware that physical appearance matters
Physical appearance and looking their best is what most teens are focused on for the most part. Their sense of style versus what according to you looks good on them is a very tricky line. Parents often find themselves in the opposite end of the spectrum from what their kids want to pick up at the mall.
Remember you are not shopping for yourself. Reach a middle ground. If you are picking up five items give them the leeway to select 3 and you pick 2. More often than not they will agree to wear that T-shirt/dress you chose because you didn’t fight them on that garish monstrosity that they just had to buy.
Hormones are an issue, face it
Raging hormones translate to sex and masturbation. Period talk. Safe sex. Contraceptives.
Have the talk. Explain, send articles that you have read and agree with and that give a balanced view. Sound information which is backed by research will only help. Make them understand that there is no shame or disgrace in self-love. It is a need and should be treated as just that.
Both genders should be told about periods, what happens, why and how to handle the changes. What is funny and what is not. Most sons will be respectful of you and girls in general, post this talk. Most daughters will fume.
Despite what we may want, today’s teens and young adults do become sexually active much before we can even say- Geronimo. Tell them the power of being discerning. Why they should have sex if they decide to go ahead according to you. Tell them that if the time comes they should be smart enough to use a contraceptive. Then tell them why you are freaking them out.
Teens don’t really need any ‘advice’ from us, they already know that friendships, attraction, love, relationships are person and situation specific. They do however want to attract attention of their loved ones, their peers, be liked. If they don’t get that attention from you when they want it, they will use other ways to get it. This is a given. And you should be aware of it while raising teenagers.
Give them the responsiveness they are craving. Spend time with them. The baby has grown up to be a young individual who has her/ his own needs. Find out about the person without parenting and sermonizing. Bite your tongue if need be but zip it and just listen.
Stop helicopter parenting
They also do not need us to helicopter their mental state rather they need to be made to understand that disappointment, betrayal, heart ache, one-sided love and all the boundaries that come with a newly beating heart, are also emotions they will encounter in life.
It is difficult to see your child sad when her/his crush starts dating someone else. We need to keep vigil on those emotions rather than give in and say stupid things like, there are many more fishes in the sea. Acknowledging that your child is sad because their feelings were not reciprocated and pushing them to objectify and belittling others are two distinctly different things.
Take care of who you are
Most importantly, I found that kids do follow what goes on at home. Their relationships are the true mirrors in this age of beautiful lives on Facebook.
So be careful how you treat your partner and how they treat you. Teenagers and young adults have the sense and wherewithal to realize the unfairness that is being dished out. If you do not vocalize your needs and boundaries they too will grow up and hesitate to do so, sometimes to devastating results.
You are their role model, act like one.
When I look back, I wonder, “Could I have done more?”
Most likely, but I don’t think all is lost. I will snuggle up with my 18-year-old daughter today napping and giggling, asking intrusive questions that will make her chortle, being goofy because that is what I want my daughter to remember me as – a woman, who is strong enough to be imperfect.