Raising Teens

A month or so ago, a local teenager made a reckless decision and the decision had dire consequences. The story was on the news and all over social media, and the accompanying images were horrific. On social media, the responses to the story were brutal.

“Serves him right!”

“Where are the parents?”

“I have a 15 year old, and I always know where my teen is.”

I experienced such a visceral response to these comments that made it difficult for me to write anything for a time. Some time has passed, but this story still claims a large chunk of my emotional energy. There are a couple of points on which I remain stuck.

First of all, what’s up with the bullying among adults? Is it any wonder that we have bullying issues in our schools? When children see their parents making comments like these, they must begin to believe this is the way to respond to other people. And with the exponential growth of social media, there is no question that children see what their parents post—even their responses to news stories. After all, the parent’s name is attached to the comment, so anonymity… it’s not really a thing in an online community.

Perhaps these comments are born out of the need to uphold one’s own superiority, but it seems we have become so competitive that we have lost sight of compassion. The I am better than you mentality has taken over society, and we are unable to reach out to those who are suffering without claiming some imaginary trophy and keeping score. Bullying starts at home. It starts with adults who see no problem with posting brutal responses to tragic stories because they need to feel that they are better than others—just as a school-yard bully would do; they need to claim the position as better parents, better guardians of their teens, more efficient workers, etc. This competition is so destructive to society.

This situation reminded me of another horrible accident a year or so ago in which five teenagers were killed in a head-on collision on the highway. It was late at night and they were driving home from a concert. A man with a mental illness and a commitment to destruction of everything around him was driving the wrong way on the highway after a failed mental health visit to the ER. Now, if you have ever encountered a wrong-way driver on the highway in the dead of night, you understand how extremely disorienting it can be. You will likely not even realize what is happening until the other driver has passed, at which point you slam on the brakes and think, “Wait, what just happened??” If I’d been on that road that night, I wouldn’t have stood a chance just as these kids didn’t stand a chance. Yet, in the comments of this news story, responders blamed the parents for letting their teenagers attend a concert. I’m not sure when it became irresponsible to allow a teenager to attend a concert, but I digress.

As for the commenter who always knows where her teenager is…. I can pretty much guarantee that she does not. I have worked with teenagers for thirty plus years, I have three teenagers of my own, and I (sometimes) understand how teenagers think. It’s not necessarily that they disobey, but rather, they omit. History and literature are rife with examples: Rapunzel, Romeo and Juliet… these parents thought they knew what their teens were doing, as well. But in truth, try as we might, we don’t always know where our teens are and what they are doing. Maybe it’s okay not to always know. In fact, maybe it’s healthy to give our teens an increasing amount of space to make their own choices and decisions as they grow and mature. How are kids supposed to learn responsibility and how to face tough decisions if they are not given the room to do so?

Over the years, I have worked with some practically independent kiddos, and I have worked with others who still need a good deal of guidance; I have taught A students and F students; I have worked with wonderful young leaders and painfully shy followers. And I have seen everything in between. All of the teens I have worked with over so many years have one thing in common: they all have a still-maturing teenage brain that is not fully able to think through all of the consequences of a decision, and therefore, they are prone to making the occasional bad decision. It is through these questionable decisions that teens grown and learn how to make better decisions.

Maybe we could all work together to encourage our teens—and all the teens we come in contact with—to make smart decisions. And maybe we could work together toward healthier reactions and less judgment. If our first response is to have compassion rather than to chastise, we might be able to build some mighty bridges and educate our children in the process. After all, our children learn far more from our actions than they do from our words.

{Image is a photo taken by my daughter}

15 thoughts on “Raising Teens

  1. That is so sad. Shows the levels to which our society is sinking. I never had children but did lots of child sitting. When my young cousin was about 14 she came to live with me for a time. (Her mother has drug problems) Now I have to work but I got her a cell phone and explained the house rules. Well teens being teens one night she did not come home and did not call. I was ready to push the panic button. I could not sleep and I kept calling her phone. Turns out she was with her friends and finally got to my building either 1 or 2 am. Yes I was both angry and relieved at the same time. I let her know how I felt. Now she is a grown woman in her 20s. I no longer see her but my hope is that the time she spent with me helped her see the world in a more positive light and grow as a young woman.

    But thinking back on my teen years during the 70s I was cutting class and hanging out. Kids tend to be impulsive. All you can really do is teach, train and pray. Obviously you cannot chain them to the bed though that has happened! As for the teens killed returning from a concert the fault lies with the drunk driver not the kids. Everyone enjoys a night out with friends. They were innocent victims and my heart goes out to their parents and siblings. God Bless

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  2. Sadly, this post should be read globally and frequently. In my lifetime the pendulum you speak of has swung to both extremes and is coming back around; my core family raised me to respect all life and promote peace with peace – and then my family tore to shreds and the world taught us other lessons. I’m not proud that my sons learned first to be quick, willing and able to fight – but I’m proud they now seek peace first and defend the helpless.

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    1. It is a challenge to raise compassionate, considerate, and thoughtful kids in today’s world, However, that is exactly what this world needs. If more grown ups were to think before they post, children would follow suit. I am hopeful that things will begin to change. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

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  3. I simply can’t stand such ‘I know everything parents.’ Being a parent and having two teens at home right now, I can assure you that my children still surprise me now and again even when I think that I know them so well. They’ve got independent minds of their own, they think they are invincible and the best we can do for them as parents is to provide the right foundation and guidance, to pray for them and to lead by positive example. Sometimes, I encounter some so-called adults online and I never cease to wonder ‘what on Earth is wrong with them and how nasty they are as humans,’ with the virulence and bullying tendencies that they exhibit towards others.

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    1. I sometimes use these comments (or other inappropriate adult behavior) as examples of how not to behave. Sometimes, I will say to my teens, “Wow, that’s pretty harsh, huh?” or if we are in a store, “That [man] must be having a REALLY bad day….” I am striving to raise individuals who can rise above the negativity the same way you are–a good foundation and guidance. Constant guidance. Wishing you luck on your journey. Time passes so quickly as we prepare to send our babies out into the world…. ❤

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  4. As a mom of 2 teen-ish girls (older turns 20 in a few months, so she’s less of one now, I reckon), your thoughts are particularly poignant. As a parent who is still learning on this job, I wonder at the vehemence and intolerance that is expressed.

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    1. It’s a constant learning process, isn’t it? Just when you think you have it figured out, your kids are on to a new stage. 😉 I am really hoping the greater society will soon shift toward greater tolerance and acceptance…. Thank you for reading, and good luck on your journey!

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  5. Great post! Like you said, teenagers NEED guidance. At this stage in their life, they get so caught up with fitting into the social norms. Sometimes, they no longer think about what is right and wrong and think only about being accepted by their friends. If teens know that their parents/ teachers/ friends always degrade them for their mistakes, they will be afraid to open up. We need to always open our arms to them with love and care.

    – The Lupine

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