As a father of two teenagers, one still stuck at home with me, and the other already studying abroad, I am often left wondering how I got here without having read the manual on how to raise children, because I’d like to think we’ve been doing a decent job at parenting so far. That stage of my life is at its end, since in a few inevitable years, my kids will no longer be technically kids and they will strike out on their own. Then after another decade or so, they will probably be the ones worrying about their parents who will start to act like teenagers, and then become the little kids, starting with wearing diapers.
I know I shouldn’t be patting myself on the back yet, because we still have to get two kids past the university level, and then wait for them to get a job, find a vocation, and start living in the real world. But so far, the journey hasn’t been as terrifying as I thought it would be when I was just a new dad, imagining how hard-headed my babies would be when they become teenagers and beyond.
Thus far, I’d like to think we’ve done a good job. My kids have decent grades, seem to keep good company, don’t have any vices (that I know of), and we still communicate, which in my opinion is the most difficult thing to maintain as a parent of teenagers.
Grades aren’t that hard, as long as you start with good genetic stock (naks!). Kidding aside, my theory is that as long as you get them used to study habits by taking time to study with them in early grade school, they should be fine.
When it comes to friend groups, this is where faith really comes in, because there is a lot of luck involved in ending up with the right (or the least harmful) group of friends that they will grow up with. Maybe we can try to nudge them in the right direction when they talk about their friends, but that means keeping more or less updated on who they hang out with, and actually listening when they talk about those people that they ultimately spend more time with than their parents.
As for vices, this really depends on the friend group, because that is where they will pick up the bad stuff, if not from you. Luck also plays a major role here, because you will never know who or how they will be introduced to drugs, alcohol, gambling, or sex. But I guess if you are still communicating, then maybe we as parents should still detect any red flags that start waving. In our case, we drink with our teenage kids every now and then, to help them find what they like to drink without the peer pressure, and also so they can know their limits and know when it is time to slow down, water down, or worst case, call us to bail them out.
Which brings us to the last and for me, the most important part of having a teenager: communication. If they still communicate, then we know if they are in good company or if it is turning borderline bad. We know if they are picking up bad habits or vices. We’d get a clue if their grades are being photoshopped just to make us happy.
For me, this is also the most difficult one to maintain, because teenagers are notoriously fickle and like to keep to their kind when it comes to communicating. Unless you are alright with waterboarding or other enhanced interrogation techniques like constant nagging, having a teenager that still talks to you is pretty rare.
For this, the strategy is simple: just to be there, ready to talk whenever they are. Presence is key because they won’t talk to you if you are not there, physically or emotionally. This doesn’t mean that I talk with my teenagers constantly, because more often than not, they are either cooped up in their own corners, scrolling or typing on their smartphones. However, I make sure that if and when they want to talk, about anything under the sun, they know that I’m around. I’m content with little things like hobbies and weird teenager interests, because I already consider it progress when we have little conversations which will hopefully lead to more meaningful ones.
No self-help books were involved in choosing this tactic, just good old fashioned DIY parenting, which makes me wonder how our own parents figured things out when they were my age now. There is no school or program for parenting. We just figure everything out ourselves, while at the same time providing for our families. Failure is of course, always an option, and as a parent, you can only hope you don’t fail too much, too hard, or too often when it comes to our kids.*