The challenges of raising teens
As a parent of a teen and a tween, I crave a respite from drama. And I don’t just mean the day–to-day conflicts that plague any family — arguments about an untidy room, endless requests for more time on the computer, etc. It is more the drama that comes from watching my kids struggle to make sense of who they are, experimenting with new opinions, clothes, friends and ideas.
As they start moving into a bigger world, I must also confront my worries, fears and expectations. They are reaching an age where actions, such as failing to work hard at school or experimenting with drugs, have serious consequences. And they tend to listen to their peers instead of hearing what I have to say. It’s no wonder that parents of teens often have a deer-in-the-headlights look; we feel off-kilter, wondering if we’re doing right by our kids.
Enter Wendy Mogel, a psychologist and author of The Blessings of a B Minus. While the title suggests the book focuses on the struggle to get our kids to succeed at school, it is actually about the challenges of raising teens. And don’t let the word “blessings” turn you off. I wasn’t keen to read any saccharine advice about parenting teens. It’s tough work.
Luckily, in the very first pages, Mogel comes clean about her own parenting ineptitudes and errors she has made with her two daughters.
Having written a best-selling book (Blessings of a Skinned Knee) about applying Jewish teachings to raise healthy, confident children, Mogel thought she would have a smooth ride through the adolescent years. But her wry description of failing to get her kids to stay for Shabbat supper and spend quality time with their parents demonstrates that even a highly-trained psychologist can struggle to understand and connect with teenagers. The girls wanted to go out with friends and Mogel was left with a deep sense of sadness that things weren’t going as she hoped.
As in her previous book, Mogel turned to Jewish teachings for guidance. Unfortunately, what she learned was in many ways of little comfort. “Raising teenagers has always been hard,” she writes, because young people are on a journey to adulthood and their road includes mistakes, detours, arguments and situations where they make bad judgments.
So where are all the “blessings” referred to in the title? Mogel says they come from parents shifting their attitudes and perspectives about some common teenage behaviours, such as rudeness, self-centeredness, procrastination and breaking rules.
She explores the up side of these behaviours in various chapters. In one, she says parents can firmly but gently get their teen to take responsibility for schoolwork, by taking away the drama (“what! You didn’t finish that assignment!”) and not rushing to fix the situation by offering solutions. Instead, Mogel says teens need to muddle through, often learning that procrastination and sloppy work results in poor grades (hence the book’s title). Of course, she is assuming that most teens care enough about their grades, which may or may not be true.
Mogel’s writing has the warmth and wit of a conversation with a good friend who has “been there and done that” and isn’t afraid to admit her mistakes. She weaves in terminology from Jewish teachings, like a child’s yetzer hara or aggressive impulses, but the book can be appreciated by people of a different faith or non-believers.
Perhaps most importantly, Mogel encourages parents to care for themselves during this drama-filled time. She’s not talking about spa days or jetting off to Europe (although I doubt she would disapprove!). She says raising teens can also be a time for parents to work on their own shortcomings, because it is guaranteed your teen will go for your weakest spot. Are you an impatient soul, always striving to get things done with maximum efficiency? Then don’t be surprised when your kid suddenly slows to a turtle’s pace and maybe even drops the word “dude” in reference to you. That young person is offering a valid alternative to living life and maybe, just maybe, you can learn something from him or her.