There was really no way to prepare myself for this. No self-help book, YouTube video, blog post, or podcast could possibly have done the trick. Most days, I feel like I am Velma, blind as a bat and scrambling on all fours trying to find my glasses on the ground. This harsh reality is starting to sink in: I am now the parent of a teenager.
I can barely remember when I was a teenager at this point. While I am not yet in my 40’s, my teen years are distant memories. I can recall events, people, places. I remember games, parties, school trips. What I have a tough time remembering is what it was like to be a teenager. The awkwardness. The growth. The increased appetite. The hormones. The pimples. OK, I remember the pimples a little more…especially those I got between my upper lip and my nostril – OUCH!
I keep hearing people say that it’s so much tougher being a parent of a teenager today than it was when I was an adolescent. I know there’s the technology – internet, social media, camera phones, texting, and the like. I understand that teens today consider their phone an appendage. I get that. But, is it really tougher to be a parent today than 25 years ago? I’m not convinced it is.
Since the Garden of Eden, there have always been ways for people to get into trouble – both adults and kids alike. It’s called making poor choices. The “device” or snare may be different, but essentially it’s the same. The forbidden fruit of yesterday is a multitude of pleasures and vices today. Temptation has been around forever. But does more temptation mean you parent differently?
Sure, smart phones, Xbox 360, tablets, laptops, and of course HDTV have collectively given kids of all ages more ways to spend (waste) time than when I was a kid. Shoot, my summer break was spent watching reruns of The Jefferson’s and Gilligan’s Island all morning long, then playing the occasional game of Missile Command on my Atari. Because these were the only forms of media I had available, I spent a lot of time playing baseball, basketball, football, and riding bikes outside. You don’t see that as much from kids today. But, is that because moms and dads have a tougher time parenting?
If you ask me, it’s simple. Today’s kids are not tougher to parent. That isn’t the issue here. Technology hasn’t made it more difficult to be a parent of a teenager. It’s the exact opposite. Technology has made it easier for parents to become lazy. It’s opened the door for mom and dad to not have to be hands-on with their kids. Instead of coming up with ways to be engaged with their kids, parents use the TV, iPod, tablet, or phone to babysit. And, so far it is working. When parents allow this to happen, they are essentially being replaced. It’s sad.
You may be wondering, “Does your teenager have a phone? Does he have a nice gaming system? Does he text? Does he watch TV?” The answer to all of these questions is “yes.” But, here’s what I can tell you: the amount of time he watches TV is limited, as is the amount of time on the video game. The phone is never kept in his room, and his texts are not “private.” We do not have a “video game room” that our kids disappear into for hours on end. My wife and I watch them like hawks.
The best parenting advice I think I have received was from Nick Person, who used to serve as the Middle School Pastor at my church. As my son was about to enter sixth grade, I told Nick I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to handle being the parent of a teenager. He laughed and said, “Just keep loving him like you have been, and stay in his business. The kids who have the most trouble are the ones whose parents back off and don’t stay involved in what’s going on in their lives.”
So, that’s what I am doing. I do not want him to get swept up in the current that will likely toss some of his classmates out to sea. I know I will have to choose my battles, and will even have to allow him to fail and make unwise choices. But, I will be with him every step of the way, and I will love him so much that it might mean I am not as cool as everyone else’s parents in his eyes.
And, I am OK with that. I can handle the attitude. But could someone please help me with the B.O.?