I learned some of the rules for raising teenagers growing up in a home of 11 kids. There were moments of kindness that were as tender as Itzhak Perlman playing the violin theme of Shindler’s List in the back ground – and just as often, moments of harshness that were as loud and course as a toddler banging on a set of drums. For the most part, it was both of these happening at the very same time. However, the first of the rules for raising teens came when I became a mother. A rule you already know, love your kids intensely and excessively. There is no quota on the times a day your teen needs to know they are loved.
- Teach them to respect and be kind to all humans. Whether, special needs, a different race, religion or gender, all humans deserve to be treated with charity and kindness. As if our very existence depends on it.
- Enjoy the same silly games and activities you always have, especially when eating lunch at the mall or while sitting at a picnic table at the park: “I spy with my little eye, something white that is flying right at your face.” just as a straw paper wrapper shoots across the table and narrowly misses your eye.
- Be perpetually kind. They may not notice or seem to care, but they do. Offer them a smile, the benefit of the doubt, a compliment, or your last candy bar. When they sit down on the couch to be close to you, it’s ok to sit in silence and feel that your cup is overflowing.
- When you are angry at them because they stormed through the kitchen across the carpet you just had cleaned, use the THINK method before a response. Is it True? Is it Helpful? Is it Inspiring? Is it Necessary? Is it Kind? If the answer is ‘No” to any of those questions. Don’t say it.
- Be prepared for snarky remarks coming from the open refrigerator like, “Don’t we have any more milk?” or “Who ate all of the spaghetti?” Remind them in your most pleasant voice that they are welcome to go and get some more milk from the store.
- Be patient and respectful. If they turn to you with something bad or difficult, the first message should be, “I’m so glad you told me.” The second message should be, “How can I help?”
- For everybody’s sake, knock before entering their room. In fact, maybe even, like, cough really loud, or heavily stomp your feet on the floor outside the door before you even get near enough to knock.
- Take a picture of the giant heap of a mess at the front door consisting of coats, backpacks, and shoes, because one day, that pile will be gone and you will tearfully reminisce.
- Teach them important life skills, like how to write, address, and stamp a thank you note, how to clean the bathroom, make their bed, do a load of laundry, how to walk into a busy kitchen and say, “What can I do to help?” and how to sit patiently when grandpa asks you the same question about your birthday plans 4 times in 5 minutes.
- Pick your battles. If the way they fold their towels, wear their hair, or vacuum the living room is not your favorite, then complain about it to a friend or spouse.
- Whenever they check out, physically or emotionally, know that they will come back to you. And when they do, go ahead and fling your loving arms around their bodies and squeeze.
- When you wake up in the middle of the night and scan for various dangers and general unhappiness, you will know that your teens are safe in their beds and that you can be oh so grateful, because someday you will buy them a car that parks behind you in the driveway when you are in a hurry to leave, and poof, they will be gone and leave a space of heartbreaking emptiness.
What would you add to this list?
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