The teenage brain is an interesting and scary place. So is Disneyland, but I’m not forced to live with that in my house.
My daughter is 15, and while she is by all accounts a great kid and a model student, she is EXHAUSTING and aging me before my time. My 10-year-old son exhausts me physically, but I can handle that. A good night’s sleep after a day with him and I’m back in fighting form. Nerf bullet sniper attacks and silly putty on fabric surfaces are nothing compared to the emotional and intellectual tangles a teenager provides.
Case in point: My daughter is another story. (I actually wrote that “a nother”—two words, and it looked correct for like two whole paragraphs. See? She is sucking my brain power with a lethal mix of hormones and JLo “Glow” body spray.)
School is almost finished for the year, and I've already made three (three!) trips because she had forgotten stuff at home. I know it’s a natural part of teen development to be forgetful due to the growing child’s biological and . . . BlahBlahBlahWhenDoesTheLiquorStoreOpen? Normally I'd let the stuff sit at home and have her experience natural consequences, but this stuff was ultimately going to cause more headaches for me than for her, so back in the car I went.
I’m sure I wasn’t like this—no, that can’t possibly be right. I remember my own teenage years as being spent filled with meaningful conversations* with friends** over coffee***, at the local Tim Horton’s.****
* arguments about our communal copy of Pink Floyd’s The Wall
** some guys we met in the mall parking lot
*** beer we stole from our parents
****my basement/backseat of a van/Ontario farmers field/school smokers pit
Here’s a slice of how I’m being repaid for my own teenage transgressions (and what is giving my neck wrinkles so deep that I resemble a crepe party streamer):
“Hey! I’m packing a lunch for your brother for tomorrow. Since you haven't eaten anything that's had roots in over a week, I'll pack you one. Can you get me your water bottle, please?”
“Oh, yeah. I don’t know where it is.”
“Did you leave it at school?”
“Uh, I don’t think so. Does it matter? Whatever.” She walks away.
This is water bottle #435 since she started school in 2004. I’m thinking of sending her with a 2-gallon lambskin canteen so it stands out in the “lost and found” box at school.
“You need to start taking better care of your things. This is getting expensive.” I can’t help but mutter my current favourite parenting expression. “AND fucking ridiculous.” Add the water bottle to a long list of items now missing, which also includes flat irons, winter coats, textbooks, and pants. (PANTS!?!)
“Mother!" she admonishes. "I do take good care of my things! I just don’t know where most of them are.”
I do. They've vanished into thin air, gone forever—like my once dewy complexion and stretch mark-free mid-section.
RELATED: Why Does This Job Get Harder the Longer You Have it?
Being a teenager is hard, but being the parent of a teenager is harder.
If you are the parent of a teen, or even if your children are still small, today’s post is for you. One can never prepare enough for the turbulent years ahead, and any morsel of information you can gather now may pay off later.
So here are a few of my favourite tried and true tips I’ve used to build trust with my teenage daughter for the past few years. She’s often been reduced to tears by some of these methods, and with such a visceral emotional reaction on her part, I just know they’re working.
1. Learn who their crushes are. If you can identify said crush by name, twitter handle, and astrological sign, then you are on the right track. Referring to someone as “the cute little guy with the bad haircut” is too open-ended, and really, that could be anyone on the Family Channel. Pro Tip: Be sure to get their full name correct. Accidentally referring to One Direction’s “Harry Styles” as “Harry Ballsack” will earn you nothing but full-force eye roll and a door slam.
2. Kids respond to music. It’s a form of expression and communication, as well as being a safe method of venting frustration. Teens often organize themselves into cliques based primarily on musical genre, so why not get your kid some street cred by blasting “cool” music when you’re in the pick-up line at middle school dismissal? Try something with a catchy beat: “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” or “King of the Road” are always crowd pleasers.
3. All teens need a trusted advisor. Parents today are busier than ever and some kids are going to fall through the cracks, no matter how loved they are. This applies especially to girls around the time of their first menses. Why not organize a “field trip” to a local drugstore for your teen and her friends to talk to the pharmacist about hygiene options? Don’t pick a large chain store. This calls for a personal touch. No; it’s best if you call the hometown pharmacy owned by the guy with the milky eye. Sure, he’s 102, and deaf in one ear, but he’s been around since women used “hygiene belts,” so he really knows his stuff.
4. Most teens love fashion. Your own clothing choice is one way to show your kids that you’re hip to their jive. Surprise your teen by showing up at one of their parties or gathering places in head to toe Disney trademark clothing, or a Justin Bieber t-shirt and slouched jeans. If you really need to jumpstart your relationship, insist on matching outfits.
5. Take an interest in her life. If your teen seems down, ask them to “cop a squat for a rap session.” Some hesitancy is normal, and can be expected. Teens are not by nature communicative with adults so you may have to pursue answers. I’ve found that asking countless questions about even the smallest things is often a springboard for discussion. Here are some to get you started: Where did you go? Why? Who was there? What did you do? Why did you do that? Why do you think I’m asking why you did that? Why didn’t you do something else? Why are you crying?
6. Today’s teen is nothing on the social scene without the latest technology. Ensure your child’s popularity by allowing them and their friend’s unrestricted access to the family Betamax and record player. Consider purchasing an extension telephone for the rumpus room so your teen can chat with pals in private.
If, after applying all these helpful tips your teen is still hesitant about opening up, remember that this behaviour is perfectly normal.
It’s hard for parents to be cut off and shut out after so many years of our children never wanting to leave our side. If you are feeling particularly disconnected from your teen, get them in a situation where they cannot tune out, i.e., the car. Then give them a long, detail-rich reiteration of their birth story. Be vivid — remember that the teenage brain responds best to images, so be sure to get graphic when describing their exit from your vagina.
Read more from Jeni Marinucci on Teens
Binge Drinking, Facebook, and Your Teen's Privacy
The Modern Teenager: An Infographic