What your growing child needs from you, right now.
My kids (or your kids) and I have been talking a lot lately about growing up, life experiences, and how we change, sometimes on a daily basis. I am working through several transitions of my own, and it’s hard, sometimes, to be the best person for them when I know I am still working on being the best person for me. Here are some ways to identify with, support, and love your teenager:
1Support and encourage your child’s desire to take on more responsibility. An admirable work ethic has become so rare; if your student has it, encourage it.
2Be present. Be interested, ask them meaningful questions, and figure out what they enjoy. Being a teenager is actually really hard (it was for me, and the things my kids go through are far more insane), and nothing is worse than being told “you just wait until you’re a real grown up,” or “stop whining, you’ve got it so easy.” Yes, of course they do, compared to being a true adult, with bills to pay and a job to go to every day and societal expectations to answer to. But they aren’t there yet. Which leads to my next point:
3Be empathetic. Experiences are relative. Your daughter’s drama with her ridiculous “best friend” is silly, yes, but to her, it’s the end of the world. They are going through huge changes, and the world is, too. I struggle to keep up with them, and I’ve only got six or seven years on my seniors. Try to relate. Be a good listener. Don’t judge.
4Remind them of what it is to be professional. The truth is, first impressions are everything. Encourage your student or child to dress well, be confident, and speak clearly and assertively. They are seen for more than what they wear. They should know what they want, but they should not expect to be given it. Entitlement has become a very unattractive and unfortunately prominent trait among our youth.
5 Help them with real world stuff. Sadly, the common sense necessities such as a resume, writing a check, and creating a budget have become a lost art. I know three of my students own a checkbook, even fewer that can change the oil on their car. Prepare them.
6 Be aware of major deadlines, time frames, and procrastination in their lives. Job offers don’t sit for very long; college applications don’t open back up because you forgot the deadline; scholarships and grants often work on a first come, first serve basis. Offer gentle reminders to your student, or research these things with them. Left to their own devices, something as simple as hunting down a freshman application on a college website can be totally overwhelming; it was for me.
7 Encourage your child to have their own life. Teenagers, particularly this generation, are wilder and freer than they have maybe ever been. They are constantly stimulated and influenced by the thousands of virtual interactions they have on a daily basis. Ask them about their hobbies, encourage them to join sports or clubs, wish for them to feel independent and self-aware. Insecure students end up becoming malleable, gullible and easily influenced students. Remind your child of what a gift they are, how much you love them, and all the beautiful talents or ideas they have. The world is theirs and they should feel worthy of taking it and running.
8Reinforce self-respect. The things that come out of some of my students’ mouths shock me, and occasionally break my heart. Privacy is a lost idea, extinct in the face of social media and virtual interactions. Teach your children to love themselves, because trust me, their friends, their peers, their role models may not.
9As an educator, this is probably an awful thing to come out of my mouth, but as an artist, a creator and a citizen of our world, it is imperative nonetheless: teach your child to question everything. Being a critical thinker is more than being analytical. Our youth need to be able to think and process for themselves, particularly in a world that is telling them and talking at them more and more. Do not let your student be a yes man: encourage them to research, to inquire, to create. Their thoughts are just as valid and important as anyone else’s.
Love them. This would seem like a given, but you may be surprised. Your child will go through a million phases, a million lives, from the day they are born until the day they die. They will be stupid, reckless, careless, foolish, wrapped up in things that matter so little. Love them anyway. They will disappoint you, they will break your heart, they will lie and deceive and manipulate. Love them anyway. They are figuring this life out, too, and I am firm believer that we learn more from our negative experiences than our positive ones. In the same breath, loving them and enabling them are two different things. Be firm, be strong, be their parent. They need your structure, your wisdom and your words, not your friendship. It will take them much longer to figure it out (thank you, Momma).
Kaitlynn Mockett is a first-year art instructor at Alcovy High School. She graduated from UGA in 2014. She can be reached at email@example.com