I know. I make it sound active, as if I were actually DOING something. In fact, parenting teenagers is more about letting go and hoping that things won’t go too wrong.
Teenagers need to exert their independence, and they need to make mistakes.
You just hope they are mistakes that have consequences you dole out, and not the law.
Back when I was a teenager, a group of kids a year older than me got caught joy riding. That was what we called it in the 80s. They walked around town looking for the idiots that left their car keys, unlocked, in their cars. (This was 1980, before keyless entry, and well before internet and cell phones and OnStar!) They went joy riding in many cars before getting caught, but they all got a stern talking-to and a slap on the hand. Today those boys would be looking at felony charges.
So as parents of teenagers, you wish for them and hope for them that the necessary rebellious phase does not actually make it onto their “permanent record”.
And then there are the moments of teenage tantrums. We have seen several of them from teens-who-shall-remain-nameless. Imagine standing in a vacation home on a lake, with jet skis, a boat, a dinghy, kayaks, fishing gear… and a teenager yelling at you “You are ruining my life by making me stay here!!!”
Some years back a friend remarked that teenagers are basically toddlers in really big [adult-sized] bodies. I think the remark was spot on.
Parents of teenagers also learn very quickly to filter. If I tell you what my child has done, you may not allow your [seemingly well-mannered and well-adjusted] teenager to hang out [rub off on] mine. Oh no! But I need your kid to be a good influence on mine! So we all start to filter, and then you never know who your kid is really hanging out with.
Finally, there are blessed moments of intimate confession. This is when you think you are entirely alone in the world of teenage turmoil, and friends give you a brief, but oh, so needed glimpse, into what is happening in their home.
“I go to sleep at night with the phone not muted, so I can hear it if the cops call.”
“We had more than one call from the hospital to pick up our extremely intoxicated kid.”
“She had a party at our house, invited kids over, there was drinking, and she didn’t even stay! She left them there! In my house!”
“Bong in my back seat. No further comment.”
The empty-nesting parents that we know assure us that things eventually come around. Parenting is the equivalent of worrying, and teens provide ample opportunity for worry to multiply and divide and then subdivide and square itself. The parents of grown children assure me on Facebook that I will miss this phase of life.