I really wanted to title this post Why Didn’t Anyone Tell Me About This Part When I Wanted to Have Kids? So, if you’re immediate response is to shout out a heartfelt “Amen,” then read on, sister. You have normal kids that push the limits and this is our testament to the trials of raising teens.
If, on the other hand, you’re thinking “What is she talking about? My teenager has never given me a moment of worry,” then avert your eyes. This isn’t for you (and I secretly hate you).
Back to my people. I had two amazingly beautiful, loving children who, through some strange hormonal imbalance, suddenly lost the ability to tell time when they reached their teens. My husband and I would set a mutually agreed upon curfew with our kids – at least I thought it was a time mutually agreed upon – and then remind them midnight means midnight. I like to say “my husband and I” because it sounds so collaborative and equilateral but, truth be told, he would set the curfew and then invariably fall asleep while our teens were still out long after curfew. I, of course, would lay wake (like any good mother) and wake him up every few minutes so he could worry with me.
I had a friend who was so tired of waiting up watching television or reading that she began the practice of sleeping in her son’s bed until he got home. That way he had to check in at the end of the night if he wanted access to his room. I thought this was brilliant.
One Friday night long ago, my high school senior and his five friends came back to our place after a game to order pizza and watch movies. Eventually, they all decided to spend the night, so (again like any good mother) I asked them all to check in with their parents, tell them where they were and let them know they wouldn’t be home until morning. I got the “good idea nod” and they all said they would. All was good.
On Saturday morning at 5:00am our phone rang. One of the boy’s mothers was on the line and clearly struggling to hold it together. I could hear the trembling fear in her voice as she said “I’m so sorry to call so early – but is John there?” I told her he was, that I had told him to call her last night and that he had told me he had. At which point the fear in her voice turned to steel. “Thank you. Could you wake him up? I’ll be there in 30 minutes.”
I had the pleasure of walking into our den and kicking the feet of a young man who would probably be grounded for what was left of his senior year and telling him the fun would be over within half an hour. The fear I had heard in his mother’s voice was magically transported into his widening eyes as he began to realize the impact of making her wait up all night, calling every emergency room and waiting for the phone to ring.
If you’ve been through any episode like this with your children, you know exactly how it feels. After hours of running on hope and adrenalin, you’re completely exhausted, absolutely furious at your child, and wholly thankful for the outcome.
At the time my kids were teenagers, I was lucky enough to work in an extraordinary place called the Edgewood Center for Children & Families. (You’ll find a link in the Health & Wellness section of our Resources). Considered one of the best facilities of its kind, Edgewood cares for abused children who fall through the cracks of the judicial system and foster care programs. They perform miracles every day thanks to a devoted staff of compassionate and well-trained mental health professionals.
During one particularly difficult week, I walked into the resident psychiatrist at Edgewood and said “I think my kids are crazy! They don’t listen to me, don’t play by the rules and don’t even care if I care.” I’ll never forget his answer. “You’re right. Teenagers are basically mentally challenged. They have so much going on in their heads and bodies at this transitioning time of their lives, that they really lack the common sense to follow the rules. This will pass, it always does, and they’ll come out on the other side of being a teen to become great adults.”
He was right. They turned out fine. Did I age twice as quickly as they did during that time? Definitely. Did I learn anything I might pass on to you? Indeed. Here are four simple tips for keeping your teens – and yourself – generally sane.
1. Get to know your teen’s friends; all of their friends, not just the nice ones who tell you how nice you are. If you can, get all of their cell phone numbers, too, and find out where they live.
2. Make sure every teenager in your own family has his or her own cell phone – and make sure they know one big reason you got it for them is so you can reach them, anytime, anywhere.
3. Download an app on your phone that can map the location of your teen’s phone. Yes, I know this seems like spying and might seem wrong, but it’s not. You’re responsible for your children and the decisions they make. Remember the story above about teenagers lacking judgment?
4. Most importantly, make sure your teen knows without a shadow of a doubt that he or she can call you anytime, tell you anything, ask you to come get them anywhere – and everything will be worked out. Together. Always. No matter what.