Sonja Holzman is a SAHM with 2 teenagers, one of each species, who has been married for 20 years. She loves to read, write, be outside, go to boxing classes and still attends rock concerts as often as possible. She would never be caught dead helping one of the kids with math homework or attempting to cook something that requires more than 5 ingredients but she loves to eat anything her husband cooks and will happily watch him help the kids with their math homework.
When your children are young, there are many magazines and articles dedicated
to how to raise them. It is possible to go to a magazine rack, bookstore or
Google and find a plethora of information on how to get your child to sleep, how
to find a good preschool, how much television is too much, what you should be
feeding your child and so on.
Then your child becomes a “tween”. Things become a little more complicated.
Boys and girls mature at different rates. Puberty comes to some and not to
others. Girls begin to worry about their looks and weight more (for better or
worse); boys begin to be more moody and private, less affectionate and very,
very hungry. But just as all these changes are taking place, the amount of advice
available becomes more scarce. Suddenly, you find yourself desperate to find
answers to questions you never thought you would have and there are few to be
And then one day you wake up and realize that you have a full-fledged teenager.
In my experience, some sort of switch flips when a child reaches the age of about
14 and everything changes again. Some of it is the onset of high school and
the independence that that brings. Some of it is the raging hormones that can
send a child from happy to horrible in seconds flat. Again, a parent might look for
answers from “experts” but here, in my opinion, is where it really gets interesting.
Most articles to be found about teenagers assume that all teens are cranky,
disrespectful, lazy, sassy, ticking time bombs. They assume that girls will be
concerned mainly with popularity and boys, make-up and clothes. They assume
that boys will be obsessed with sports or addicted to video games to the extent
they never go outside. They assume that alcohol and drugs or risky sexual
behavior will tempt all teens. So when, as a parent, you are reading ahead of
your child’s age, say your child is 10 and you are wondering what to expect, how
could you not be terrified of what your child is going to become? How can you
not want to lock them in their room until they are at least 21 and you can send
them out into the world with at least a little more confidence that they will not do
I am here to tell you that despite what the media tells you and despite what TV
shows depict, it is possible to have children who do not automatically fall into any
of these supposedly “normal” behaviors. It is possible to raise a thinking, caring,
mostly respectful child who thinks for him or herself.
How does one do this? It’s quite simple – forget about all of those articles, TV
shows, news reports, etc. Pay attention to your child. Listen to him. Let him feel
comfortable coming to you with his problems or concerns without fear of being
judged or punished. Try not to make assumptions based on what you have read
or what you have heard from other parents. Tune out all the outside noise and
really listen to your child. Support him in his decisions about what friends to
spend time with, what activities he enjoys. You have known this person since the
day he was born. Nobody knows your child better than you.
I am not saying that there is not good information to be found and that you
should live under a rock not knowing what the rest of your child’s friends and
peers might be doing. There is much to be learned if you keep your eyes and
ears open. But use this information not to decide that you need to live in fear,
but as guideposts along the way, as talking points with your children. The best
thing, I have found, is to be as honest as humanly possible. There is nothing to
be gained from shielding your child from reality or from sugarcoating the truth.
Eventually, she will be exposed to more things than you could ever have even
dreamed up. Being prepared is the best defense. She needs to know that she
can come to you and tell you anything and know that she will be heard. You
may want to scream or cry or call her school and ask what in the world is going
on over there, but don’t let her see that. Remain calm and help her work it out
without judgment but with respectful guidance.
I am not advocating being your child’s best friend or sole confidant. It is equally
important for your child to have friends that they can share things with that they
may never tell you. What I am suggesting is simply to be there. Be a parent, a
disciplinarian, and a pain in her backside. But be there.