What teens don’t know (and how it’s pretty much our fault)

A couple of days ago, I spent no less than an hour, off and on, texting back and forth with my son. He is a college student, quite smart, extremely motivated, and lining up interviews for summer internships. This particular string of texts had to do with the fact that he didn’t have a suit for an upcoming interview.

That’s my bad. Let’s just say that he grew at least 6″ during high school and it was everything I could do to keep him in jeans and shoes. He learned at an early age that rolling up your sleeves was hip (even though I encouraged him to do it just to squeeze another year out of a shirt with too-short sleeves). And the one time that he needed a suit, let’s just say that I “encouraged” him to borrow one from his well-dressed friend.

So now here he is, 20 years old, 500 miles away, and buying a suit for the first time. An important suit. One that will hopefully land him an internship that will land him a job. His questions – what fabric, how much should it cost, can I just get away with a sports jacket, what color – made me realize that there is so much we assume our kids know that they really don’t.

I still remember having a long discussion with my daughter, also away at college, about the difference between a debit and a credit card. Did I really never teach her this? I thought. Am I really that bad of a parent. Here I was so busy talking about sex and drugs and drinking and driving and every other weighty, life-or-death topic, that I forgot all about the daily life things that are pretty dang important as well.

Just for fun (translation: just to make me feel better), feel free to share something that you were shocked to discover your kids didn’t know. Or teens other than yours didn’t know. If you’re a teen, what do you wish your parents would teach you, but they’re too busy trying to fit you into your 7th grade shirt?

The teenage body – do you ever remember looking like that?

Last night I was at the gym and literally a 7-foot man walked by. Another woman and I exchanged a look and commented on how tall he was. This somehow segued into a conversation in which she revealed that she is a middle school teacher who has students who tower over her. We went on to talk about how quickly kids seem to be developing and how much older they look than they really are. Although she was much younger than I – probably about 30 – she still felt that teenagers look much older now than they did when she was a teenager. I’m 46 and I’m here to tell you that one glance back into my high school yearbook confirms that we were all a bunch of pipsqueaks with big hair and too much makeup. Our prom dresses were taffeta and covered everything on our bodies, including our legs. And it’s a good thing, because we really didn’t have any legs to speak of.

Flash forward to today. Ninth grade boys with full beards. Middle school girls with curvy bodies and no need for training bras. Oo-la-la prom dresses with cut outs that strategically reveal, well, almost everything.

The fact is that designers wouldn’t make these dresses if girls didn’t have the bodies to pull it off. No doubt about it, teen bodies have changed. After reading Omnivore’s Dilemma, Fast Food Nation, and every article I can get my hands on that deals with chemicals and modifications in our food, I’m pretty convinced we are seeing the results of genetically modified foods combined with a culture of fast food and ridiculously large portions. It only makes sense that if you add hormones to a cow’s diet then drink the milk the cow has produced, those hormones will pass right into your diet and voila! breasts at age 10. *Note: Sparks Notes version of scientific evidence.

Go back and look at your yearbook, then take a look at the teenagers around you. It’s cray-cray, as they would say.


How amazing teens get that way

In my last post, I was asked how we can raise children that turn into the amazing teenagers I discussed. If I had the answer, I’d be a millionaire. But I can tell you some common attributes of amazing teenagers who I’m completely confident will go on to become adults you’d want to know.

1. They’ve been taught to take responsibility for their actions. They’re not victims and they’ve not been allowed to blame others when things don’t go their way.

2. They’ve been raised to look adults in the eye, shake hands, listen and respond appropriately. They have NOT been taught that adults have to earn their respect. Instead, they are raised to believe that adults (as well as ALL people) are worthy of their respect unless or until they prove otherwise.

3. They are able to laugh at themselves. They see the humor in their mistakes and recognize their weaknesses.

4. They know where to draw the line between joking with others and crossing over into disrespect.These kids always know who they’re talking to and dealing with and understand how to be appropriate. This doesn’t come naturally – it’s something that is demonstrated and taught by parents.

5. They see the world beyond themselves.They have not been led to believe that they are more important than other people or that their needs always come first. Community service does wonders in teaching kids about the world around them.

6. They find other kids like themselves and foster close relationships with their friends. It doesn’t matter if it’s one friend or 20, they know who they are and who is important to them.

7. They know what their bottom line is – what they absolutely will not do. This usually comes from years of parental influence, whether they admit it or not.

8. They have religious beliefs or a strong sense of ethics, again, usually introduced and practiced by parents. They can be church-going or praying or just believe that the bigger world around them needs for them to be kind, generous, and thoughtful. Levels and degrees will vary but an ethical foundation is crucial.

9. They have been taught to value themselves. This will preclude them from devaluing themselves through unhealthy relationships, activities that hurt their bodies, or bullies who tell them that they’re not worth anything. They will know better.

10. They have been raised with a delicate balance of love and discipline. Their parents aren’t their friends, but they will be when they’re older. Instead, they know they’re loved, but there is a very clear sense of boundaries and behavioral expectations.

What do you think is important to raising teenagers who are amazing? What have you done or seen done that was truly successful?

Teenagers who astound us (in a good way!)

Great kids

They’re out there. They’re actually great in number but they never seem to get the recognition they deserve. Good teenagers – the ones who make you smile and warm your heart and give you all kinds of hope for the future – they’re everywhere if you’re willing to see them.

Some of them make it easy. A couple of days ago, I was summoned to a meeting with a teenager and his father. At age 12, this teenager had started his own non-profit organization to help kids his age find focus and choose paths that would help them to achieve their dreams. Let me repeat that: He started his own non-profit at age 12. He has a website, business cards, a completely full online calendar – this kid could give Kid President a run for his money.

I just sat there listening while he very eloquently articulated his mission statement, his accomplishments, his wishes and desires for other teens. He wanted to form a partnership with my organization so that we could work together to serve the kids who need it. He looked me in the eyes, called me by name, listened when I spoke, and showed an incredible and beautiful mixture of enthusiasm and grace. Quite frankly, he impressed me as an outstanding human being. How often do you meet anyone – let alone a teenager – who does that?

What amazing teenagers have you met and why did they impress you? Why don’t we hear more about these teens?

Is ADHD an excuse?

Just the title of this post will raise people’s ire, I’m sure. I heard it over and over again as a teacher, I heard it as a parent, and I’m reading about it in newspapers and magazines.

Yesterday’s New York Times posted an article that began, “Nearly one in five high school age boys in the United States and 11 percent of school-age children over all have received a medical diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to new data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

One in five. One in five???

Full disclosure: My son was diagnosed with ADD years ago (he is now a college student). He exhibits all the signs that my husband – an adult who has been diagnosed ADD – exhibits. It’s blatantly obvious with my husband, not so much with my son, but the signs are there, and I don’t dispute them. There is no doubt that both focus better, are more organized, and more on-task when they take prescribed medication,but my husband never takes his and my son only takes his when he has a huge study session or test ahead of him. My husband chooses to deal with the extra struggle without any help. My son accepts help from medication sparingly. Both probably do so because they don’t like the stigma of having to take medication to concentrate.

But according to the NY Times, there should be no stigma, since so many kids (boys) are diagnosed. What do you make of this? Is this a real, legitimate problem treatable with meds, or have we lost patience with children and become unwilling to deal with those who don’t fit into the traditional mold?