Teenagers are hard

By Allison Chrien

There’s something that’s been on my mind a lot lately, and that something is quite simply this: Teenagers are hard.

Don’t get me wrong, things are all good with ours right now. We’ve had no more than the usual vacillation between laughter, tears and nagging. In fact, I’d say there’s been significantly less for the past year what with having only one teenager in the house as opposed to two, since our oldest is officially out on his own.

Perhaps that thought’s been on my mind because having a relatively calmer household has granted me the opportunity to reflect. I’ve also had the chance to catch up with a couple of friends lately that I’d not had the chance to talk to for years. Plus, I’m now struck by a desire to consider potential parenthood-related topics that I could write about every so often. Then there’s the news with suicides and car accidents and wars and pandemics…

Regardless of why it’s been on my mind, the thought’s a big one and bears repeating, so I’ll say it again (just maybe a little louder for those in the back): TEENAGERS ARE HARD.

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There’s this sense that you’re still 100% responsible for their well-being and culpable for their actions but your control over either of those things is waning fast. There are friends and countless other outside forces that have an increasing impact on these increasingly independent creatures that you’ve spent the past decade+ nurturing. 

And you were a teenager once, yourself, so you’re well aware that they can’t be trusted. As I’ve told my boys repeatedly, “Oh, I trust you personally, sure, it’s the teenage brain I don’t trust! Even smart kids do stupid things.”

Teenage brains think they’re invincible and are still developing impulse control. They’re capable of rational and intelligent conversation, and they’re much more astute than adults tend to give them credit for, but they’re still processing the intangible concepts and big questions and boundaries of life. And they’re doing so in much the same way babies process a new tangible object – examining them from every angle, comparing them to others, poking and pulling and pushing at them as hard as they can just to see what will happen. Through it all, they’re working to figure out who they are, what they want, where they stand, and what direction they want to go in the world.

And they can be sneaky.

Oh, I hear tell of kids who talk to their parents about everything. But, as one friend recently pointed out, there are those who tell you just enough to make you think they talk to you about everything. And then there are those who pretend there’s just not anything worth talking about at all.

I suspect I have one of each of those types.

So personally, I’ve found parenting a teenager to be a weird dichotomy between feeling confident in my skills after so many years of practice and feeling paranoid that they’re hiding something important from me.

I’ve worried about their school, their physical health, their mental health, their worldliness and their social intelligence. Are they prepared for life? For their future? Are they doing something stupid now, maybe experimenting with drugs or alcohol, that could be dangerous and end that life and that future? Are they struggling with a problem that makes them feel like their world is caving in and they can’t go on and they’re afraid to talk to anyone about it? Are there signs of any of this that I’m missing now that would be devastatingly obvious in hindsight?

Monitoring for signs from people who don’t want to talk and are super sneaky can be a full-time job and arguably one of the hardest ones around.

And despite my recent ode to the cell phone gods, I’m really quite terrified of what my boys may have been up to online over the years. We were never even close to being as strict about those things as we meant to be. We would like to say that was out of respect for their privacy but to be honest, it was insanely overwhelming and exhausting to keep up. I’m just tech-savvy enough to make things work but unlike us, our boys have grown up in a tech-filled world. We knew they were running circles around us. 

Eventually, we cut ourselves some slack. We resigned ourselves to the fact that we could only do so much and settled for monitoring what we could and having frequent conversations about how to avoid and/or handle potential dangers.

Teenagers do so love conversations like that. [Insert eye roll here.] 

And as hard as teenagers are, as big and as complex as their related problems can be, it can feel like you’re all alone and winging it. Life has probably pulled your playdate support group of friends (if you were lucky enough to have them) in other directions so who knows if they’re dealing with something similar? And who has the time to call and chat long enough to find out? Could you even coordinate your schedules for privacy? Because code words and cryptic speaking are certainly no longer an option.

You could turn to Google. You might get lucky and find that one article in 190,000,000 that nails your situation and offers the help you need the way an article about how to clip your baby’s nails did. Or you might get lucky and find an article that simply factors in the one main variable of “teenagers” and makes you feel seen the way I hope this one does for someone somewhere.

All this to say that I’m grateful for the opportunity to write about what I’ve experienced while parenting teenagers. I feel like the world needs more of that, especially right now. Because being a teenager is stressful, and the world is stressful, and parents of teenagers everywhere need to keep remembering what they were told so often in the decade+ before – that they may be winging it as parents, yes, but they’re not alone.

It is a truth universally acknowledged and patently undeniable.

Teenagers. Are. Hard.

Allison Chrien writes for Hell Raisers, runs loopincopley.com, and is not sure what to think about the fact that she’s on the verge of being the parent of just one teenager because the other is about to turn 20.