The Thing About Raising Teenagers No One Wants to Say Out Loud

In the category of poor decisions, please don't ask me to explain that hair.

In the category of poor decisions, please don’t ask me to explain that hair.

During the past few of years, I’ve noticed a trend. As more of my friends’ children are becoming teenagers, the parents begin to feel more isolated. It’s a concerning situation.

It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with location. Friends from every part of the country are expressing this. It doesn’t seem to have to do with gender. Parents of boys and girls feel the same. It doesn’t seem to have to do with religion. Those of every faith and no faith at all say similar things.

It seems that when you have young children, you get to confess openly your mistakes, your struggles, your fears, all of it. When you search your toddler’s pockets for contraband, that’s funny. Everyone giggles about the odd things sticky fingers managed to pick up and squirrel away when no one was looking. You get support. You get reassurance. You get the magical words, “Me too.”

When you search your teen’s room for contraband, people may or may not judge you as a parent, or more importantly, think your kid has some sort of moral failing. No one is laughing. No is reassuring you. Everyone one is uncomfortable and averting their eyes.

I don’t know if there is any objective evidence on this, but it feels like the stakes for teenagers are much, much higher than when I was younger. Some say the record social media leaves creates a longer memory for what would have been otherwise forgotten moments. Maybe there’s some validity to that. Others think we are in a time and culture with very little grace. I think that’s definitely a piece of it.

I don’t know about you, but I am not even close to the same person I was at 17. Thank God for that. But I didn’t feel like adults around me thought I was fully formed. I got the message that there was still a lot of time in front of me to grow up.

Today, I’m not sure that’s true. I hear the sentiment a lot that teenagers are “old enough to know better.” And yes, they are. But they may not always be grown up enough to choose better.

No matter what you think about the age of accountability, we trade in a judgement economy. We’re practically required to have an opinion on everything and everyone. And that creates a culture of silence among teen parents.

Who’s gonna raise their hands and say, “I tossed my kid’s room looking for drugs because he was acting strange.” or “My kid bought prescription drugs from another kid at school so he could stay awake to study.” or “My kid was out till 2am. I’m pretty sure I believe the perfectly innocent story she told, but I’m not really sure.”

NO ONE. Because if you tell another parent at the PTA that you’re not sure if you’re making that right choices or if the values you taught your kid are sticking, exactly how long do you think it’s gonna take for your child to get labeled in a way they don’t come back from?

But this silence breeds paranoia. Everyone else seems to be doing just fine. Even though exactly no one is doing ok. Everyone is second guessing and worried and holding on as tight as possible to survive. And I don’t care what you believe about God, everyone is praying to some kind of higher power to just get their kid to adulthood without needing more therapy than insurance will cover.

Since I’m not in any of this yet, I’ve become the “safe” friend to tell these stories to. Because parents of teens don’t seem to really talk to each other much, and they have to talk to someone. So I’m breaking the confessional seal to tell you all this much:

This is happening to everyone. Yes, even that “good family” you’re thinking about right now. Everyone feels scared and unsure and worried. No one is confident. Everybody is just doing the best that they can.

What I hope more than anything for the next few years is more grace for our kids. I feel bad for high school students right now. This is really hard. It always has been. But the expectations today seem unattainable, and there is just no room for error.

As I recall, that’s when I made a lot of mistakes. That’s when I was supposed to make mistakes. I was shown grace for those screw-ups because people seemed to understand that. I hope to see that understanding, that so important mercy, return.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep rumor mongering, like a good high school girl would. My big piece of juicy gossip: You are not alone. 


19 thoughts on “The Thing About Raising Teenagers No One Wants to Say Out Loud

  1. Really great. Thanks for this. And for the record, the hair is lovely, it’s the sweat shirt with built-in collar that’s hideous. 😉

  2. This is a wonderful post! Because so many bloggers seem to have young children, there is not much being written about these difficult years. I am at the beginning stages of trying to create a space for those who need a place to share openly. I want there to be a place where parents can lose their guilt, shame and walls. Thanks for helping to open a door for such a place.

  3. What a great post!! I am blessed to be a part of a Facebook group that is comprised of mom’s of kids born in December 1999 (now 15 year olds). We’ve been together on various online platforms since we were pregnant with our now teenager. Thankfully we have a judge-free zone and talk about the good, bad, the ugly and the unimaginable.

    I call these ladies cyber – Aunties to my 15 year old and I can’t imagine going through the trials of parenting a teen without them.

  4. Very well said…..I have a 23 yr old and an 18 yr old. My best advice has always been…have no fear and start the conversation, you’ll be surprised who joins in and opens up. Before you know it, you have a great therapy session going on! Cheers 🙂

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  6. I think both sides of this are right. Teenagers are old enough to know better in many situations. The challenge is their brains are still very impulse controlled, That’s what gets them in trouble and that’s where they still need their parents to guide them. In the moment, buying drugs so they can stay awake studying may seem like a good idea. So they do it. Our job as parents is to watch for the odd behavior, demand explanations, provide options. We must give independence so our teens get invaluable problem solving experience. But before we send them on their way, we must provide expectations, communicate consequences and follow through. Do this with love.

  7. It’s harder now more than ever to stay really connected to your teenage kids. It’s easy for them to isolate themselves in their bedrooms with screens and devices. It’s easier that way for them, and for the parents. Don’t let this happen in your home! No phones at dinner table, at least once a week take a walk with your child (children), at least once a week read together as a family (your own books, but be together), play a board game with them once in awhile, cook a meal together. Parents have to make these things happen or we will continue to be fractured/isolated families. Your teens need YOU now more than they need their cell phone/friends. (and it’s ok to say NO to parties). Monitor what they are doing on social media and who they are hanging out with.
    (A brain isn’t fully developed until 25 years old, they need your maturity, guidance and wisdom).
    From, Mom of 4 teenagers

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  9. There is no reason to feel inadequate because your teen (well past the age of reason) is making poor choices. When my teen was in the middle of that – Toughlove parent support groups were still around and that is where you could talk freely and share information – I urge anyone that is a parent of teens that are nervous, afraid, confused or feeling isolated, to find a group of like minded parents and meet weekly – bring in guest speakers – (guidance counselors, narcotics officers, etc.) you can help each other through your teens destructive years. It saved me and a number of my now lifetime friends.

  10. Great post! Totally agree with you on the good times: “As I recall, that’s when I made a lot of mistakes. That’s when I was supposed to make mistakes. I was shown grace for those screw-ups because people seemed to understand that. “

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  13. While I think you share a lot of truth in this article there is one thing I would like to point out. A lot of parents of young kids share openly on social media because it is a relatively safe space away from their child’s ears. However, once those cute little cherubs grow up and have their own Facebook and instagram accounts it changes the game a bit. Once my kids were old enough to have their own social media accounts, and their friends were friending me on my account, I thought a lot longer and harder about what to post. I don’t want to shame or embarrass my kids, and that is the primary reason I don’t spill my guts about my family struggles as much anymore.

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