From a Teenager to a Parent

Dear Parent:

As we enter a new year, there are a few requests I’d like to make.

Please know from the start, that this is difficult for me as I really am going through an identity crisis and even though you still think of me as your little one, I am changing.

I want you to do me a favor before continuing. Walk over to a door way, putting your right leg in one room and your left leg in the other. Stand there for a few minutes and feel the discomfort. This discomfort is intentional. I  want you to experience a taste of what life is for me these days.

Sometimes I feel like I am still a child, dependent and in need of you.  At others, often within the same hour, I feel an oppositional defiance that you and many professionals want to diagnose as a disorder. But it’s not always that. In fact, it seems natural to me. Those moments when I am in a defiant mode, I am pulling away and reaching for the next room with fear and trepidation. But determination nonetheless. I know deep down that I  have to break away from the child relationship and begin to exert my power and choice making. You have the power to allow me or hold me down.

Trust me when I say it’s not easy, and I am going to continue to make mistakes. I’m a roller coaster of emotions and reactionary movements. This I unwillingly admit, but with your understanding and safety net, even though I balk at it, I know I can enjoy this gift called adolescence and become a responsible adult one day.

Please listen to these simple requests. They are a list of do’s and don’ts’ OK? Great. Here goes. The Do’s first.

  1. Keep in mind that I am in between. Sometimes I will say I am “only” and other times I will demand to be given more freedom.
  2. When you question me, do so with an eye toward letting me answer in my own way and let finish before being interrupted.
  3. If you are not happy with my behaviors, give me options – better yet, ask me to figure out some better ways of handling a situation.
  4. Remember that I have certain strengths and skills that while not fully developed, flow easily. And that I have some areas in life that don’t come easily. I may  not be as organized as you like, but look at my creativity or something else that I am excelling in and give me at least a little recognition.
  5. Validate my feelings and emotions. Don’t fix me. Let me work them through. My sadness is not yours and every joy you have I may not share in either. I will have ups and downs, lots of thoughts and feelings that will be difficult for you to handle, not because you want to dictate to me. I know it’s because you wish to protect me and I appreciate that. And if there are times when you don’t want to show me respect, at least tell me and let me know what is hard for you to understand and accept.
  6. Remind me that I am under your roof, your care, and your supervision and that even though peers will exert a greater influence over me, keep me posted that you are concerned with who and where I wish to hang out – don’t hesitate to question me on my whereabouts. Secretly, i am thrilled that you care enough to ask.
  7. Challenge me to speak and express myself and ask specific questions about my life. Simply asking me how my day was gets us nowhere. I’ll just say “fine” and we’ll keep drifting. Ask me for great moments, difficult situations, areas that pushed me, frightened me, helped ease my anxiety. I may appear to be interested only in texting, video games and internet probing. But like all kids my age, I am desperately wanting fit in and learn interpersonal skills.
  8. Focus on helping me become eager instead of anxious and when there is pain in my life, realize that I will have to find a way to deal with the pain myself and find a way out without drugs or other forms of self-medication.
  9. Let me find me, not you. Let me explore my sexuality and intellectual curiosities without your judgment. Teach me that there are consequences to my actions and that you wish nothing more than for me to become a great scientist of life – always putting choices with consequences and becoming more pro-active than reactive. Help me see that sexuality is a gift, not a power to be suppressed and that setting boundaries in the sexual realm is one of the best ways to learn the importance of boundaries in all areas of life. Teach me self-respect by treating me respectfully.
  10. Believe in me. Keep in mind that I am a blend of both nature and nurture and ultimately, I will find my own way. You have a limited responsibility, and even though ultimately the final word, I am also responsible. The more responsibility you give me, the better chances are that I will become a great citizen. This is a challenge to you because responsibilities mean more freedom and this freedom will decrease your control over me. I know this is frightening. But the greatest gift you can give me is your trust in me. And should I break that trust, remember, it took me a while to be able to ride a bike without training wheels. Please put me back on the bike.

And now the don’ts.

  1. When I do make a mistake or break your trust, don’t beat me up. I will just internalize your voice and the inner critic will grow.
  2. Don’t tell me not to experiment or search for pleasure through drugs or other substances, including sex;  instead, push me to explore and experiment by doing volunteer work, taking leadership roles in areas that I am competent in, making new friends, appreciating those who are different, treating each problem as an opportunity to show my resilience and talent for creative solutions and being an influence for good. Focus my explorations on life giving areas.
  3. Don’t preach at me, talk good about me but never to me, put me on a pedestal or make me feel ashamed of my body.
  4. Don’t patronize me or seek to make me feel better when I’m down. Don’t walk away from me. I just want you to sometimes sit with me and let me hurt. Ironically, feeling your presence gives me confidence in myself.
  5. Don’t tell what to do and then do the very opposite in your life. I hate that phrase, “do what I say, not what I do.” It’s a pathetic way of admitting that your’e not a good role model. If you are not the most important model, even as I am attempting to break away, who is?
  6. Don’t force me too much or too often. Give me options and give me consequences. Do whatever you can to give me the freedom to choose. This is quite different from punishment. Remind me that life has red lights and speed zones and there will always be consequences to breaking those simple laws. Help me make associations to every aspect of life.
  7. Whether you are single, poor,rich or smart, don’t bad mouth yourself or think less because you may not be “as good as”. And please, don’t just give me things to satisfy my hunger for pleasure. Help me instead realize that not all of life will be pleasurable.
  8. Don’t set my goals for me. Help me set them myself and help me keep them reachable.
  9. Don’t invade my privacy. If you want to know something, ask me. If you don’t trust me, at least give me reasons why. Even at my age, I have some privacy rights and don’t want to live believing someone is behind me watching my every move.
  10. Lastly, don’t give up on yourself. I need you to believe in you and in your ability to provide my needs, not my wants, to show me by your behaviors that you brought me into this world because you thought it was worth living and that your greatest joy is in knowing that the hardest job anyone can do is to parent.

I love you. I may not say it, show it or act on it, but remember the doorway and cut me some slack. You won’t regret it.

Your teenager.