Teaching is a microcosm of parenting. There is a satisfying beginning, middle and end to our formal relationships with students. No matter how complicated the actual process, teachers get report cards. We have many measures to tell us how we did--and enough data to make us cross-eyed. Even when we fail, students move on and we roll up our sleeves and figure out how to do better next year. Students move on. We say goodbye when they graduate, and almost always, we feel pretty darned satisfied at the end of a school year.
Part of our joy at graduation is the relief of realizing they are not, at the end of the day, our actual responsibility. If we've done our best and taught them something and maybe even made a tiny difference, we greet summer vacation with happy hearts.
Parenting itself--as we well know--has no such tidy resolution. Parents are also denied the teacher's perennial vision, the revolving high-school door which offers a close-up view of the human pageant.
Teachers see kids grow up. Gangly, awkward freshmen become polite and beautiful seniors before our eyes. Year after year, we receive apologies and thanks from students with whom we locked horns for many moons. A teacher of surly seniors knows, in the depths of the hidden heart, a tearful hug on graduation day will make it all worthwhile.
"Will They Be Okay?" Parents of 13- and 14-year-old people are often wild-eyed and falling apart at their seams. They tend to ask questions like, "What happened to my kid?" and, "Will he get through this?" and, "Will she be okay??" Teachers--also parents of adult children, who are a vital resource for all of us--can give desperate parents enough hope to carry on.
They WILL Grow Up. They will get through this. They WILL mature and develop an appropriate sense of humor. Soon enough, our ungainly teens will be graceful, legal adults, a phase which bears its own host of drama and dangers. Their twenties will continue to challenge them--and us--as they navigate new temptations and responsibilities and wickedly grown-up decisions.
But they DO mature. They DO get over their acne, reticence, and inappropriate outbursts. Seniors fall out of their chairs far, far less often than freshmen. Almost never, in fact. (Please see Ten Things You Cannot Expect from a Teenager.) They DO gain more control of their bodies, their thoughts, and their emotions. They gain some perspective. Once they leave the nest for the Real World, they generally start to cultivate an appreciation for Home and Family and Dear Old Mom and Dad.
Will parenting ever feel easy? Oh, no, probably not. Will their young-adult years be less stressful for us? Rather doubtful, in fact (although empty-nesting has its own peaceful rewards). It's a struggle, this annual trip around the sun. But the answer to the immediate query concerning gawky adolescents is a resounding YES. They WILL get through the horrors of this stage. They WILL resemble again the people we remember. They WILL be nicer and more considerate to us.
The Two Most Important Things to Do When You Are Terrorized by Teens:
1. Remember the Toddler Years. Frustrated parents of late-blooming toddlers remind themselves (and each other): "She will walk (or be potty-trained, or give up his pacifier) before Kindergarten."
It's a similar mantra for parents of teenagers. "She will know better than to wear that t-shirt to her college interview." Or, perhaps, "Surely he will not fart at the dinner table when he is proposing to the love of his life." And even, "Soon, we will ALL cherish the importance of personal hygiene." (For more on how similar the teen years are to the terrible twos, please read Handle with Care, Cutting the Apron Strings and Soldier: Role Models Who Protect.)
2. Seek the Counsel and Comfort of Experts. Ask an adult with perspective to talk you out of your tree: a teacher, a pediatrician, a neighbor who has suffered the slings and arrows of adolescence before you. Your very own mother or father may shed light on your current situation. Seek the advice of those who know our kids will (probably) be all right. Listen to them scoff at our petty concerns. When they say, "Awww, don't worry about it. This too, shall pass," take a deep breath and heed them well.