The Thing About Raising Teenagers That No One Says Out Loud

by Kerri Jackson Case
Originally Published: 

During the past few of years, I’ve noticed a trend. As more of my friends’ children are becoming teenagers, the parents begin to feel more isolated. It’s a concerning situation.

It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with location. Friends from every part of the country are expressing this. It doesn’t seem to have to do with gender. Parents of boys and girls feel the same. It doesn’t seem to have to do with religion. Those of every faith and no faith at all say similar things.

It seems that when you have young children, you get to confess openly your mistakes, your struggles, your fears, all of it. When you search your toddler’s pockets for contraband, that’s funny. Everyone giggles about the odd things sticky fingers managed to pick up and squirrel away when no one was looking. You get support. You get reassurance. You get the magical words, “Me too.”

When you search your teen’s room for contraband, people may or may not judge you as a parent, or more importantly, think your kid has some sort of moral failing. No one is laughing. No is reassuring you. Everyone one is uncomfortable and averting their eyes.

I don’t know if there is any objective evidence on this, but it feels like the stakes for teenagers are much, much higher than when I was younger. Some say the record social media leaves creates a longer memory for what would have been otherwise forgotten moments. Maybe there’s some validity to that. Others think we are in a time and culture with very little grace. I think that’s definitely a piece of it.

I don’t know about you, but I am not even close to the same person I was at 17. Thank God for that. But I didn’t feel like adults around me thought I was fully formed. I got the message that there was still a lot of time in front of me to grow up. Today, I’m not sure that’s true. I hear the sentiment a lot that teenagers are “old enough to know better.” And yes, they are. But they may not always be grown up enough to choose better.

No matter what you think about the age of accountability, we trade in a judgment economy. We’re practically required to have an opinion on everything and everyone. And that creates a culture of silence among teen parents.

No one wants to raise their hands and say, “I tossed my kid’s room looking for drugs because he was acting strange,” or “My kid bought prescription drugs from another kid at school so he could stay awake to study,” or “My kid was out till 2 a.m. I’m pretty sure I believe the perfectly innocent story she told, but I just don’t know.” Because if you tell another parent at the PTA that you’re not sure if you’re making that right choices or if the values you taught your kid are sticking, exactly how long do you think it’s going to take for your child to get labeled in a way they don’t come back from?

But this silence breeds paranoia. Everyone else seems to be doing just fine, even though absolutely no one is doing OK. Everyone is second-guessing and worried and holding on as tight as possible to survive. And I don’t care what you believe about God, everyone is praying to some kind of higher power to just get their kid to adulthood without needing more therapy than insurance will cover.

Since I’m not into any of this yet, I’ve become the “safe” friend to tell these stories to. Parents of teens don’t seem to really talk to each other much, and they have to talk to someone. So I’m breaking the confessional seal to tell you all this much: This is happening to everyone. Yes, even that “good family” you’re thinking about right now. Everyone feels scared and unsure and worried. No one is confident. Everybody is just doing the best that they can.

What I hope more than anything for the next few years is more grace for our kids. I feel bad for high school students right now. This is really hard. It always has been. But the expectations today seem unattainable, and there is just no room for error.

As I recall, that’s when I made a lot of mistakes. That’s when I was supposed to make mistakes. I was shown grace for those screwups because people seemed to understand that. I hope to see that understanding, that so important mercy, return.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep rumor-mongering, like a good high school girl would. My big piece of juicy gossip: You are not alone.

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