We have several teenagers in our lives ranging in age from 13-18. I feel like I’ve learned a considerable amount recently by watching and being involved. Most importantly, I have learned enough to know that things never proceed as planned, no parent really ever has it all figured out, and no matter how many books you read, advice you seek, theories you adopt (tiger mom, peaceful parenting, positive discipline, etc.), no one can really tell you how to parent a teenager, especially once they are a teenager. My hope is that I’ll start now, as my boys are 3 and 6 and hope that the theories we are adopting will help mold the teen years.
Every parent cringes as their child nears the teenage years. Teenagers can make horrible, no-good, awful, self-destructive decisions at the same time that parents’ control is waning. Parenting a teen is hard, no matter what kind of parent you are and no matter what kind of teen you have. Since we are “adults” and have so much more life experience, we think we can guide them down a certain path, but deep down we know that the path has to be their own. So, as we watch them take their adult steps and we hold our breathes hoping that something we’ve done in the first 18 years of their lives will stick long and hard enough for them to not get too hurt, I’ve written a letter to my kids to be delivered on their respective 18th birthdays.
To my teen,
Now that you are becoming a young adult and moving towards your own independence, I will not and cannot control the decisions you make, no matter how much I wish I could. My hope is that the first 18 years of our time together, I have provided you with the tools to be a great young person and even better adult.
I am not telling you what to do (maybe just a little), but this is what I do expect from you:
Be you. Don’t be what your friends, a group of cool kids, anyone on the internet or anyone else tells you to be. Be you.
Be Safe. I will never feel at ease with you driving a car, so don’t argue with me about driving rules. But it’s because I know how horribly wrong things can go. No matter what you do, please always remember that you are still skin and bones, not metal and steel.
Never stop learning. You will have love/hate relationships with school from time to time. Some classes will be enjoyable, some classes will be tougher, even torturous. But keep exploring and trying, I want you to cherish the successes and learn from the failures. Find things you enjoy and keep figuring new ways to learn more. Even after school, there will never be an end to what you can learn, so don’t ever stop. Just don’t expect me to pay for multiple graduate schools if you want to be a professional student.
Respect. Respect. Respect. I know I’ve raised you to respect people. You do so when I’m looking over you, I believe that you will continue doing so when I’m not watching your every move. Respect women. Respect the law. Respect your teachers. Respect your boss but respect your secretary more. Respect the flight attendant on the airplane. Respect the ticket guy at the movies. Respect people.
Mind your body. Respect your own body. You have life, a precious human life. You were given a body that can do remarkable things. It is yours, no one else’s. Decisions regarding what you put into and onto your body and what you do with your body are yours and yours alone.
Be better. Along the same lines of always learning, I hope you always strive to “one up” yourself when you make a mistake, or just know that you could do better. Always remember that there are lessons to be learned and reflections to be made. You can always take something from the world around you and use it to be better.
Be confident yet humble. I hope that I’ve allowed you to find your own confidence. This confidence isn’t false confidence from me constantly telling you how great you are (of course you are great!) but from your own lessons about what kind of person you are and what you want to be.
Forgive. Forgive others, especially yourself. But don’t forget the lessons you’ve learned about you and other people in the process of forgiving.
Live judgment free. I hope that you have watched your moms enough (and that we’ve set the right example) so that you always appreciate that everyone is on a journey. Every person you meet has a story and a path. I hope you remember to always pause and think before passing judgment on anyone.
Ask for help. This has been and always will be hard for you. It’s hard for many of us. But from time to time, you may need to remember that asking for help is not admitting defeat or weakness. It’s acknowledging that your strengths lie elsewhere. We are not perfect. No one is. This may be one of the hardest lessons for you but it will be part of the process.
Help others. Part of being grateful is remembering that you can always find ways to help others. Whether it’s charity, volunteering or just helping someone with a heavy load, always look for ways that you can pay it forward.
Never give up. This comes right after the “you are not perfect” statement for a reason. Yes, this is cliché and you’ve heard it 1,000 times. But as I put it in writing to you today, actually allow yourself to read the words and let them settle in your mind. You do not like imperfection. But it will happen. When it happens, you need to take those lessons and move on. Don’t allow the defeat to crumble your ego, allow it to readjust it. Stay confident, just shift your focus. You will overcome many, many hurdles, but if one hurdle out of 50 trips you up, try to only remember the 49 you totally owned.
Pain and hurt suck. You may break bones. You may lose friends or family. You may have your heart broken or know the pain of a bad relationship. You may have setbacks on any level throughout your life. It sucks. But remember what your grandma always says, “it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you respond.” You will always be loved, no matter what. Even when you are too cool or too busy for time with your mommies or other family members, they will never leave you stranded. You will always be loved even when you feel immense pain. You will look to your family and yourself in these times and know that life will always go on.
You can’t fix everything. Not being able to solve a problem or fix a wrong is not failure. It is life. You cannot cure a friend’s cancer. You cannot make an evil person good. You cannot fix some things that are just out of your control. Again, those challenging times will force you to look deep into yourself and use your heart to guide you.
“You only live once” and “Life is short” – True, but this is not your reason to throw caution to the wind and live carelessly. It is your motto for trying to make the moments you have as full as possible.
Here and Now. Remember to live for the present, not panicking about past decisions or future ones. There’s so much you won’t be able to control, like the past and the future. Sometimes, just take a minute, hit the pause button and look at your life in that exact moment. Sometimes, you may need to remind yourself about the “here and now.”
Gratitude. I cannot make you live your life understanding what gratitude really is. This, you will have to learn yourself. But I can tell you, as I’ve told you for 18 years, always appreciate what you do have instead of worrying about what you don’t. I didn’t send you to private schools, expensive summer camps or spring breaks in Acapulco. But you know how to fish, how to camp, how to play a pickup game in just about any sport. We gave you what we could and that is what contributed to who you are, not what you didn’t have. When you do find yourself yearning for things that you cannot have, I’m just asking you to pause and remember all of the things you can and do have.
Resist envy or comparing yourself to others. You will encounter people every day that have something you don’t. Some will have trust funds. Some will have better teeth or better hair. Some will have that car you always wanted or girl you had the biggest crush on. Some may even have front row seats to the concert of the century when you are stuck in the parking lot. Don’t compare yourself to other people, you will always be you. Remember to be better for yourself. It’s okay to want, just remember when want turns into envy, it’s time to remember that whole gratitude thing.
Don’t forget to breathe (or color) Remember to take time for the things that bring you peace. When you were little, coloring and building Legos brought you serenity. You may need to find that peace from time to time throughout your life. Don’t be too cool to take a break and color, make pottery, paint something, build something, or just do something that doesn’t just make you happy but brings your mind to a place of serenity.
Have fun. Life is hard, but it’s all that you have. The duty and obligation to make it what you can is now on you.Surround yourself with good friends who have hearty laughs. Take the fun roads. Don’t ever take yourself too seriously. Smile and laugh and cheer loudly for your favorite teams (hopefully the Yankees and Patriots).
Now, as you go off into the world, remember that you are now living for you. You are not living your life to please me, your teachers, your partners, your grandparents, etc. You hopefully have taken all of this in and realize that you are making these decisions because you have hope and respect in yourself to make them for you. It may be cliché to say, “I just want you to be happy” but it’s true. I want YOU to feel complete and good about who you are and where you are heading. I want you to feel like the decisions you are making are healthy for you, not just because you’re worried about breaking a rule. Know that you may encounter uncertainty and fear along the way, but you should have enough tools in yourself to fix the problem.
I will always want you to be successful, but I will make a promise to you to support your successes, not the successes I’ve envisioned for you. However, I will also promise you that I will not just blindly accept the decisions that I don’t think are the right ones. I will be disappointed in you when I feel like you are not taking pride in your choices, not striving to live to your potential or not acting like the person I know you are.
However, above all, always remember that I love you infinity, infinity, infinity times a gazillion (c’mon, you that that was so cool when you were 6) and I always will.