Friday, November 25, 2011

It's been a long twelve months.... or keeping it real parenting teenagers.

Tonight it's Christmas in the Park, and annual event of Christmas songs and other entertainment where you take a picnic and sit in the sun enjoying the music. Last year we took Reuben and Annie-Rose. This means it's 12 months since parenting our teenagers got a bit more complicated. I've decided to share a bit of this story, in the interest of keeping it real, knowing we won't be the only parents going through this kind of thing.

 So on the day of Christmas in the Park last year, James wanted to go a bit early to meet his friends and we let him, agreeing to meet him later at the Park. We went to the park but he never turned up. Later we found out that a bunch of teenagers had met in the gardens and got up to hijinks.

James did communicate with me during the evening by text and I talked to him a couple of times on the phone, but I never guessed they were in trouble. I don't think he really realised the seriousness of it himself.
In the days after the event, more details emerged and we put together the pieces of the story.  Alcohol + teenagers = trouble. The thing that made me so cross was that they found it so easy to get the alcohol. It seems there is always someone happy to provide to underage kids.
In the last 12 months the lives of that bunch of kids who met that day to sit in the sun and hang out and drink, has changed so much that it is unrecognizable. We've got to know quite a few of them this year. They have all struggled actually. Lots of them have left school and gone to work, others have just left school with no education and no prospects. Others have struggled in other ways, with relationships, with eating disorders, with just life. They all went to school in town and so their lives got turned upside down on the 22nd. I don't mean to go on about it, but it has been a momentous and on-going event in our lives.
But though they have a long way to go, they have grown a lot this year. They have all been through a lot, at a time in their lives when they are so vulnerable.

I guess the thing I've learnt is not to be naive. Even if you trust your teenager, you don't know what his/her friends have planned. Teenagers will make mistakes, but you need to make sure they know how to keep themselves safe. We have always had those "what-if" conversations so that is good, you just have to pray they remember them. I suppose I imagined other parents/caregivers would be as keen as I was for the teenagers not to get into trouble. This is not true. The only safe house really is your house. Making it the cool place to come is the best plan, even if it does make you feel like you've been over-run with teens!

I have prayed so much this year, and I know others have too. It's been tough. It was always going to be tough, but the earthquakes made it that much tougher. In a way I'd like to go to Christmas in the Park again this year, to lay the gremlins of last years event and experience it again. We'll see how today goes!

I know that James has learnt a lot. He's still got a long way to go really, but he is 15... he's got time. He is working hard at a job with many unpleasant tasks. (the other night he had a shower and a bath and still smelt like poo) I think some teens are more happy to enjoy being a teenager with the advantages that has, but others are just ready to try out at becoming grown-ups.

As a parent it is an on-going challenge to keep them safe, but let them make some decisions for themselves. I think it is better to practice making your mistakes on things that are not life-threatening, than to suddenly get freedom the minute you leave school. By the time these kids are 18 they will have been making choices for quite a few years and hopefully will be making more and more good choices. 

It's impossible to know what the next year holds, I'm sure we will have more hard times, more conflict and more kicking of boundaries. The challenge is to make sure there are fun times, times where we connect as a family and time where we can laugh at our differences. This is what parenting is about isn't it, finding balance between fun and boundaries, between love and disapproval, between structure and freedom.

As I write this Annie-Rose is having an epic tantrum in the bathroom and it makes me sigh. Another 13 years and I'll have another 15 year old to deal with. It makes me smile too though, baby tantrums are really so funny and so easy to deal with.

Lets just roll with the day, I guess I have a few years to keep on practicing this parenting stuff.


  1. This is a brilliant post and what you say is so true about the hurdles of parenting teens.
    Did you know that the brain of a male does not reach full maturity until they are about 30? That is the part of the brain that is responsible for thinking things through, thinking about consequences of behaviour and decisions and not being impulsive. This answers many questions for me about the behaviour you see of many young men even into their 20s.
    There is a very fine balance between letting our teens enjoy some independence and keeping them safe. With independence comes responsibility and that is something younger teens are not always equipped to handle. Even the best behaved teen with values and principles can be influenced in a group of peers when they are being pressured. It is a time when they are vulnerable, wanting to be an adult one minute and needing the security and boundaries of a loving family the next, even though they may not recognise it.
    I have two girls now 21 and 18 who have been relatively easy, although I'm sure will give me some grief as they head out into a more independent life. The younger will be going to uni next year. However, I do have a nephew who is 19 and recently experienced pressure from peers and behaved in a way that is so not him. Fortunately he was able to talk to family about his experience and recognised how he was so easily influenced.
    Wishing you all the best as you continue parenting your teens and enjoy your day in the park. :)
    Anne xx

    P.S. Sorry for such a long comment.

  2. Deb thanks so much for this real post ! As a mother to two teens ,one of each , I hear you!

  3. Such an interesting post. We had a terrible incident here a few weeks ago, a group of teenagers pack attacked 2 tourists. It is horrifying to think that 'kids' could do such a brutal thing and I must admit it made me feel anxious of when my kids become teenagers and just how you deal with getting them through those years.

  4. I've been there and I appreciate your candor. You're not alone and your son can recover from this and be stronger for the knowledge he gained from this experience. Blogland can make it appear that everyone has a perfect life with no messy parts but, believe me, messy parts happen to everyone. Hang in there!

  5. It's hard being a teen and not indulging in what your group does, even if you know it doesn't feel right. I told my kids all the daft(and sometimes stupid) things I'd done so they didn't think they were rebelling as it was already common. How smoking dope made me tired and sick when the initial high wore off so I never tried it again and alcohol dulled my memory so I was always careful not to drink too much in case I couldn't recall what I'd done....which may be important later.
    I also told them that if I or their grandparents would be ashamed at what they were thinking of doing would it be the right thing to do. I credit them with having enough respect in their family's wisdom to always act in a decent manner.
    The 2 eldest are in their early 20's now and have arrived there without too many scrapes and without doing anything they'd be really ashamed or embarrassed about.
    One pre-teen to go and the older 2 already look out for her :).


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