It might be difficult to find a more challenging teenager than I was. Strong-willed, independent, and ready to try just about anything, I loved adventure and life and wanted to spend as much time having fun as I could. My single mom did the very best she could raising me, and I definitely didn’t make it easy on her. Only now as a mother of two teens can I even begin to understand the heartache and worry she must have felt as I was doing what many teens do. But gosh, today’s teens face so much more than I ever did.
Adolescence has never been easy or painless, and when I say today’s kids face a tougher time than previous generations, it’s not because I’m making excuses for them. According to the World Health Organization, suicide has become the fourth leading cause of death among 15-to-29-year-olds. And at any given time, one in seven tweens or teens is experiencing a mental health challenge. And as much as I’d like to blame technology, it isn’t due solely to social media, peer pressure, or any one specific cause for that matter. It’s all of those things and more, combined and layered. Kids’ lives these days are complex, and expectations are greater than they ever have been.
It’s challenging to be a parent of today’s adolescents. They’ve come of age in a very different world than we did — a world of danger and darkness and opportunity. How do we protect them from dangers while giving them room to make their own decisions? How can we encourage them to share our values when they’re confronted by so many ideas and beliefs that are different from how we were raised? It’s natural to want them to like us, so how do we draw the line between being their friend and being their parent? Put another way, what do kids want from us? Perhaps more importantly, what do kids needs from us?
I’ve studied brain development, child development and family dynamics, and I’ve counseled enough kids to have gained some insight about what kids want, need, and deserve from the adults in their world. I’ve now parented kids and as much as I wish I could sum it all up in a sentence or two, I wish even more that I could always get it right 100% of the time with my own kids.
But here’s the thing: we’re human. We’re learning. And we’ll make mistakes. As much as I love and have studied and lived parenting, it’s one sure thing in the life of teens. As parents, we’ll get it wrong at times. I just don’t think that’s what matters most though. More than anything, our kids aren’t asking for or expecting perfection from us. (Read that sentence again!) I actually think that more than almost anything, they need us to care about their lives and be curious about their world without instantly criticizing, lecturing, offering counsel, or even having an opinion – right or not. I can’t tell you how many teens have begged me to ask their parents to listen to them – and by listen I mean listen to them to hear and understand, rather than to respond. Our kids crave the security of having adults who cheer for them and provide guidance during moments of dread, drama, and darkness. They want to know if we accept them more than if we have wisdom and experience. And they are counting on us to empower them, connect with them, and yes, even correct them (eye rolls and all).
This newsletter is dedicated to our young people and the adults who have a responsibility in their lives. If you’re looking for ways to be a better parent or other caring adult, I encourage you to listen to our current podcast series, All About Teens. And, if you’re a reader, grab your coffee, and enjoy this newsletter. It’s for you, and for them. To the teens we see at Care to Change, we dedicate this newsletter to you, and hope we did you right by it. Let us know when we see you. And to the parents who might feel a bit of a sting by what is included, we’re cheering for you, too. Trust me, I’ve needed to write this as much as share it.
April Bordeau is the Director of Care to Change. A licensed clinical social worker, she has focused on helping children and families overcome challenges in their lives for over 25 years.