A few weeks ago I ran into a mom that I had met a few times through a friend. We exchanged the usual chit-chat. She asked me about my daughter and I asked about hers. I told her Brianna was now a junior in high school and she quickly came at me with this."Wow, a junior! Junior and senior year were the hardest for me. Watch who she hangs out with. Beer, bongs, vodka and boys, they will check them all out". She then proceeded to tell me, "I'm glad she experienced all those things. She is now at college and within the first week there were three cases of alcohol poisonings at her school. So I'm glad she is experienced and isn't overdoing it."
Well, I'm not sure what you say to that but I had nothing to say. At least nothing that was the least bit appropriate. I've learned that unless people ask my opinion they aren't the least bit interested.
When Brianna was five I had a minor addiction to Pepsi One. Minor meaning every day first thing in the morning. I thought it helped me get through the day. Eventually Brianna started wanting Pepsi One and being the good parent that I am I told her that it wasn't good for her. Little kids shouldn't have soda. Every time she asked I would tell her scary information about why she shouldn't have it and what it would do to her if she drank it. It didn't seem to help much, she was obsessed with it. The more she asked for it the more reasons I came up with of why she shouldn't have it. I even went to the I'm an adult, I'm the mom and when you're the mom you can make those decisions. The thing about Brianna is she is very strong-willed. She wasn't giving this one up without a fight and fight she did. There were a few times I got so upset I forgot what the fight was over. Only the fact that I was the parent and I was right.
I realized that this strong-willed daughter of mine was going to test me and push me and I was going to need better answers than, "I'm the mom". I looked into the future and realized this was the beginning of tough questions and even tougher answers. I realized I was going to need to live the way I expected my daughter to live. If it wasn't good for her it certainly wasn't good for me.
Three things I've learned that teenagers need from us no matter how hard it is.
1-Our teenagers need the truth. Not the truth as we see it, or the truth we want them to hear. They need the power that comes with the honest truth. If we aren't giving our teenagers all the information they need to survive in this world they will get it somewhere else and will be at the mercy of the information provider. Hopefully they won't run into my friend with the beer, bongs, vodka and boys scenario.
Let me give you an example: I believe that teenagers should not have sex and that it should be saved for marriage. It is a religious belief of mine. Religion alone is not the only reason for my belief. I believe there are a lot of reasons why sex should be saved for marriage and my daughter needs to hear why I believe that. Not only do I share all of that with my daughter but I also share why girls might want to have sex before marriage and we talk about why she might want to. We talk about the risks and the consequences of those choices as well. We talk about people we know that have had sex before marriage and what that looks like as well as people we know that have waited and what that looks like. I tell the truth. We live in a big world and to raise our children thinking our way is the only way creates prejudice. I want my daughter to be able to be strong in her beliefs, yet be respectful and understanding of others beliefs as well.
As parents I think we sometimes forget the power we have for good in our teenagers. They want to be like us and make us proud. Who better for our teenagers to have these conversations with than us. Is it easy? Nope, but parenting in this day and age isn't easy nor is it for the faint of heart. The conversation isn't a one time thing and my daughter knows she can ask me anything. There have been times when it has been too hard for her to actually say it so she will go to another room and text it to me. These conversations give her courage and confidence in herself and in her beliefs.
If you think it's awkward talking openly about sex with your teenagers think how awkward it will be for your daughter having this conversation with a boy in the dark in a compromising situation. I'm going to guess that there have been more than a few girls religious or otherwise that found themselves in a sexual situation that they would like to have said no to, but were not armed with the information, confidence and support they needed to get out of it.
2-Make a decisions once. I have taught my daughter that she needs to make these big decisions only once and then when the situation arises she has her answer. No matter what situation she finds herself in the decision has already been made. Whether it's drinking, having sex, or doing drugs. You might be thinking, of course, my teen won't do those things because we don't do that in our family. Have you really sat with them and given them the information and allowed them to ask questions to make that decision for themselves? It's not enough for them just to go along with what you would expect or even what their religion expects.
Sometimes I have role played with Brianna and her friends. We practice what they can say and do in these situations. As teenage girls they need to be aware that some peers may not have their best interest at heart. Their friends or dates may say and do all the right things with the wrong intentions. I have been in many situations as a single woman where men profess their views from the pulpit and then don't follow through with their actions.
3-No matter what happens I am here and I will always love you. Now is the time, while our teenagers are living in our homes, that they have the opportunity to learn how to successfully navigate their way in this world. They need to know that no matter what we expect of them that they are free to call us at anytime, in any situation and we will be there to help them navigate through it.
Brianna knows that if she ever finds herself or her friends in a situation where they don't know what to do or where to turn for help they can always turn to me. We have to show up with the same love and understanding we have been preaching to them or they will not turn to us. Teenagers know when they have made a poor decision. If they are coming to you it is because they need support and help, not judgement. They already know how you feel about what they did, but what they don't know is, will you show up for them with unconditional love on your face and in your heart. It's easy to say I love you when they are making good choices. In the face of adversity and bad decisions our love shines the brightest.
One afternoon when I picked Brianna up from school she started asking me about pregnancy and pregnancy tests. She wanted to know if one would know if one was pregnant two days after having sex. I gave her the information she wanted. She then told me it was for a friend. She asked me if I would go with her and her friend to buy a pregnancy test if it was needed. I said yes and that was the end of it. If I started in on questioning and accusing and asking, "what kind of friends do you hang out with." Do you think she would ever come to me again? Just because I don't believe in sex before marriage doesn't mean I can't be there to help my daughter help a friend that is in that difficult situation.
Your teenagers need to feel safe in turning to you or they will turn somewhere else. Being there for my daughter and her friend shows them my love, compassion and mercy. Mercy is best delivered to those that are least deserving and sometimes that might be your own teenager.
Our teenagers need us now more than ever. They need our love and presence and guidance. I know we want to protect them from the world and keep them in a safe place. If we don't teach them how to live in the world while living with us in our homes they might not be able to handle it when they leave our home. The best protection we can give them is the ability to leave our homes armed with the knowledge and experience it takes to be successful in this world. They need to know that we will always be their soft place to fall when the world bears down on them.