Dying Daily #66: Raising a Teenager

Someone asked me to write about raising a teenager.

I am not a parenting expert, and I am probably a marginal parent much of the time, but I’ll do it anyway because I can.

Here’s what I can tell you about raising a teenager: it’s freaking easy, because Tyler is a really good kid. He is smart, compassionate, funny, and actually likes spending time with his family. He thinks his little brother hung the moon, and Max thinks the same about him.

Tyler takes after me in more ways than I would like, but he is already much smarter than me about how he is dealing with it.

He actually listens to what people tell him, and understands that getting what he wants is not the end-all be-all of existence. He knows how to laugh at himself, and he doesn’t think he is the center of the universe. I really believe that part of what has made him a good kid is being taught that his opinion does not matter on many things.

He has definitely made some mistakes. I feel like it isn’t fair for me to lay those out here, but they really have been minor compared to much of what I see other parents having to deal with.

I think the most important thing for me was realizing very early on that he did not “belong” to me and that he was not an extension of me.

He is a real human being with his own hopes and wants and desires, and I do not have the right to live out my failed dreams through him, or to try and impose my perception of how things are on him. I guide him, and we have hard and fast rules that he is expected to live within, but ultimately this life is his. It’s my job to prepare him to live it well.

I didn’t let him dominate every conversation or situation.

I explained to him that a vast majority of what kids find interesting is not, and that adults only feign interest to be nice. On a car trip one time I told him that if he didn’t give me 5 minutes of uninterrupted silence I was going to leave him at the next rest stop.  He watched the clock and the second it hit 5 minutes he started up talking again like nothing had changed. To this day he notices when I am at my limit of people time and asks if I need him to be quiet, and then actually is.

He is not allowed to look at his phone when there is another human being in the room.

He is not allowed to text me in text speak, and I expect complete sentences. Things like “WYD” and ‘ur” and “k” make me want to strangle people. Because of this, Tyler communicates well. He is not intimidated when talking to adults, he looks them in the eye and listens when they talk. He has a good handshake.

I have always laughed at him, and he is allowed to laugh at me.

Some of the best burns I’ve heard have come from him. He knows I am writing this blog about him and seems slightly mortified. I will probably post a link to this on Instagram and tag his friends. They will make fun of him, this is the balance of the universe. All that being said, he understands there are times for this kind of stuff and times that are serious and he needs to listen.

He and I have always had honest conversations, and there aren’t questions that are out of bounds or unacceptable to ask.

It is our job to help kids learn how to live on this planet, we cannot let ourselves fail them because something makes us uncomfortable.

If we don’t teach them, their peers will, and they will do a really bad job.

Family is important.

I have been very fortunate to have a great relationship with his mom, and to never have to worry about things because she is a great mom. Barbara is a great stepmom. My parents, his mom’s mom, and Barbara’s parents have contributed tremendously to raising him as well, and this has been a huge benefit to him. I know everyone doesn’t have the privilege of a family like I do, so I encourage them to seek out healthy community instead.

So, once again, I am not a great parent. Sometimes I am not even a good one.

There are things I wish I’d done better every single day. But somehow, I’ve got a teenager I don’t just love because he’s my son, but who I like as a person, and this makes it easy.

It doesn’t have much to do with me.