Tweenhood and the teenage years are often made out to be the worst stage of child development. There are many new challenges in the teenage years as your son or daughter begins the journey towards adulthood. There will be conflicts. There will be arguments and doors slammed. But there are also many glorious firsts that come along with the double digit years. First period. First kiss. First crush. First teen birthday. First day of high school. First girlfriend or boyfriend. Driving lessons. First part time job. First car. Remember how each of those made you feel?
I am the Mom of two girls, now aged 11 and 13. There are many days I cannot believe we are here firmly entrenched in tweenhood and teenager years too. There are fights and mood swings and angry words sometimes, but that’s to be expected of course. When puberty hits and your job is growing, going to school and preparing to leave your home and strike out on your own, there are bound to be explosions along the way. But there are also so many great opportunities to have impactful conversations that keep building your relationship as parent and child.
My children have always been verbal, and throughout the years, they have given me more than enough openings to seize the thread of a conversation and build a discussion together than cements our bonds. They know there are no topics I won’t discuss with them if they ask. Recently my youngest daughter asked me about transgendered people and a big dialogue opened up about gender and identity and tolerance and compassion.
I know many parents dread the idea of the teenage years but the teenage years are also a great opportunity to grow together. So how do you handle the hard stuff? The talk about periods? The talk about boyfriends, same sex partners, birth control, career goals, drugs, alcohol, smoking, responsible use of social media and life in general? I have a few thoughts about that.
How To Answer the Hard Questions from Your Teen or Tween:
- Start a dialogue early: the conversation and real dialogue starts at birth, or adoption. You begin talking to your baby as you are breastfeeding or diapering or reading. When our daughters were tiny I would, in a matter of fact tone, while diapering them or bathing them or rocking and cuddling them say: I’m so glad we adopted you. You are my best thing ever. The early discussion of their adoption helped in several ways: it let them know we were comfortable talking about their adoption and it also gave us both the practice using the right words. If you start early and continue to talk often they will come to you with the hard questions.
- Don’t forget books: We are huge fans of social issues books. When the kids were babies I had shelves of books about kids with differences. I loaded up on Todd Parr and read these ones often. Todd Parr includes discussions about topics like my family is different, adoption, differences in Moms and Dads and even hair. I am paraphrasing but his books often go like this – Some families have two moms; some have two dads. Every family is unique and lovable and all families are great at giving hugs. Love: Todd. Now, the library has changed and we are happy to also see school take charge of shaping young minds too with brilliant young adult books by authors and journalists like Deborah Ellis. Ellis tackles war, drug use and abuse, medicinal drug use, post-traumatic stress disorder, and contemporary social issues like poverty and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. I can’t tell you how happy that makes me. I often pick up my teenage daughter’s school novels and sometimes in the course of reading over her homework we chat about: do you think the author got that experience right? Did you enjoy that book? What do you think about that? Books can provide a brilliant jump off point for discussion that matters and helps shape their attitude towards complex moral issues.
- Always answer the hard stuff. I always answer. I don’t care how hard the question is – if they are asking it of me, they genuinely want to know. Sometimes my husband rolls his eyes in exhaustion at all the questions they come up with. Occasionally we disagree (he thinks they do it to avoid getting to school.) But one, or both of us, always answers. I have been known to say just hold that thought for five minutes and I will pull over when driving down the busy highway and then we will give the topic the discussion it truly deserves. One time I think one of them asked – could my birth Mom have kept me if she really wanted to? That’s a PULL OFF The Road and Do It Right conversation.
- Never take it personally. It’s hard not to get upset sometimes at some of the questions that they ask, especially if it feels counter to your belief system. Just remember it’s not about you. Take a deep breath. Count to five or whatever you need to do and then answer. I have a mantra I still use sometimes: I am the adult here. Other times, it’s this is not about me; it’s about her.
- Don’t be afraid to say I don’t know the answer to that question but I will help you find it. Google is pretty magnificent that way.
- Try to present the facts and answer without fear, speculation or bias. My kids have both asked as tweens – What if I were gay? What if I committed a bank robbery? What if I went to jail? All they really want to know when they ask those questions is that you love them unconditionally. I often ask myself what are they really asking – usually it’s some variation of will you still love me if I am not who you think I am. That’s an easy answer.
- If at first you don’t succeed try, try again. It’s okay to make mistakes. We all do. You are probably doing your best. But sometimes you will get a do over. And if not then just say: Hey you know what I got that wrong. I was tired. I totally need to tell you that I don’t approve of stealing or doing drugs but I am your Mom and while I hope you will make good choices, I love you always and forever.
- And when none of that works use humor. I once had one of my daughters have a full tantrum in a change room at the Y when getting ready for swimming lessons. Her bathing suit was clearly upsetting her because she didn’t look like all of the other girls in hers. She felt self conscious, and she said so with big giant tears. We hugged it out, but she was really upset and it was interfering with her doing something that she had always loved. I honestly can’t remember exactly how I solved that one but I recall loudly joking about well at least your bathing suit covers your VAGINA. And the word Vagina loudly at that moment made us both collapse in hysterics. Tears were gone and swimming resumed. My husband is excellent at helping the girls start laughing when they are having a self esteem crisis brought on by puberty. Sometimes that’s the best tool in your parenting toolkit.
The teenage years can be heartbreaking as they pull away from you a bit, but they can also be truly rewarding as you watch your little person become a really great young adult with a massive heart and you see glimpses of the person they are becoming.
Paula Schuck is a Mom, community manager, digital strategist and blogger atwww.thriftymommastips.com. She lives in London, Ontario with her family and she recently learned to ski.