This month, with a daughter who turned 18 and a son who just got his driver’s license, I’ve been alternating between joy and blubbery, sentimental tears—and relief that they reached their milestones without a criminal record.
I think of those Union High School football players caught vandalizing just two weeks after a mass suspension that seemed a turning point in their lives.
Sadly, that suspension wasn’t enough to address deeper issues.
The night before I wrote this piece, my son who turned 16 had his friends over at a church building gym with a volleyball net, karaoke machine, and basketball hoop. In the final hour of the party, they played a game called signs that got more chaotic and hilarious as it progressed into the night. Nothing fancy. Just a group of resourceful kids and a bunch of folding chairs.
The kids laughed a lot. At themselves. At each other. They made everyone feel a part of something quite ordinary, and yet profoundly important.
Some kids in the group would probably get lost in the shuffle. Some probably don’t really like being in a crowd. And yet there they were, welcomed in a circle of friendship that will be their lifeline as they sail the rough seas of teenagehood.
Because we all know that being a teenager isn’t all that easy.
It’s not easy when you’re trying to be good while facing temptations at every corner. When you’re trying to fit in and social media makes it too easy to bully people. When you’re doing the best you can to juggle homework, a minimum wage job, clubs, sports and a million other demands of your time, and you come home and your mom yells at you for your messy room.
It’s like you can never win, so why even try?
So teens turn to friends. And that’s where a parent’s vigilance, as to their children’s choice of friends and activities, comes in. A much parodied ad says, “It’s 10 o’clock. Do you know where your children are?”
Well, parents, do you?
Do you know what they do with their friends, and where? Do you know what frustrates them during the day or what makes them happy? Do you note the good things they do? Do you make your home a safe place so that they feel like they can, for the time being, leave the world’s meanness outside its walls?
Make this a habit when they’re little and you won’t be scrambling when they’re older. You won’t have to hope that a suspension will get their head on straight.
As parents, we also need to act like their choices of friends have consequences.
That means we give them room to grow and make decisions, but we don’t let them party without rules and expectations. We ask questions about their day, who did what and how they felt. Then we mostly listen for clues. Not with our ears, but with our heart. If their cyber bullying on social media surprises us, we aren’t paying enough attention.
Good friends can make a world of a difference in a teen’s life. I can tell you, as a mom, my greatest joy has been to watch my kids reach their milestones surrounded by friends who are kind, helpful and welcoming to others.
Jewel Punzalan Allen is a memoir writing coach and award-winning journalist who lives in Grantsville. Visit her at www.TreasuredStories.net.