This last weekend I read an article that had been written by a journalist who had interviewed some parents that were in despair about their teenagers. These teenagers were not turning out as the parents had hoped or predicted. I think we need to give our teenagers a break.
Robin Williams once put it very well when he described the moment you first hold your child and you have two visions: ‘The first is your child as an adult saying , “I want to thank the Nobel committee for this award.” The other is, “You want fries with that?” We all know which one we hoped for and the one that most of us got.
However hope is just wishful thinking and predictions are like betting on the Grand National, lots of runners with many hurdles to overcome. It needs a lot of stamina and a hefty dose of good luck to make it to the end in one piece.
We all know that teenagers are tricky to handle and as a mother of four I have probably experienced all ‘four seasons of teenagehood’ if there is such an expression. Each of my children were different depending on their gender and the position in the family. However one thing was for sure they needed to be handled with kid gloves during their teenage years. They would probably have said the same about me as I was probably in the grips of the menopause during those years!
The article that I read continued on with how the mothers were despairing that their teenagers had a lack of focus with no interest in politics or the arts. They seemed to hole up in their bedrooms watching trash TV on their laptops. They were “indifferent to a career” and were more interested in being an internet star.
I say, do not despair – as with most things they learn to do as they grow up (like walking, talking, potty training), it does happen, but at different ages.
My four are now in their 20s and 30s and honestly I am so impressed at their engagement with the world. I have just forwarded my 23 year old son’s copy of The Economist to him. He subscribed to and paid for this himself (the last part being the most impressive!). My younger daughter reads The Week and took voting in the last election really seriously, weighing up which party could do the most for her i.e. not just voting the way her parents do. My elder daughter often calls me to discuss some world crisis. She worked in an African orphanage after she left school and asked anyone considering giving her a 21st birthday present to donate money to the orphanage. My eldest son is totally immersed in the financial and business world. All of them love culture but maybe time and finances restrict them being able to fully indulge these interests.
Overall they are far more focused and engaged than I was at their age. As teenagers they were just like all the teenagers I read about in this article – Love Island, Friends, Big Brother, trashy magazines, they loved them all. Getting them to do their homework was more difficult with one of two of them than the others. Two of them liked cooking and the other two could just manage to pour themselves a bowl of cereal! Two enjoyed reading but now they all read. But they all grew up into engaged, caring and happy individuals who have managed to live independently with few mishaps.
The pressures on them as schoolchildren were far higher than when we were their age. I don’t think anyone was very interested in my O Level results whereas, when my kids were doing their GCSEs, many of my friends asked for their results – even ones without children. I seem to remember getting a selection of grades but now our kids are expected to get A*s or As with a few Bs. In my day nurses had to have A levels plus a real vocation to be a nurse but now they have to have a degree. Recently my son was told a degree was not enough – he had to have a Masters. Neither OH or I even made it to university.
As for knowing what they want to do as a career – I don’t think I ever knew what I wanted to be and even in my 20s I was still finding out. I did not have a passion but fell into the fashion business and loved it. However my parents never nagged me but I did know I had to start to earn my own living. Teenagers that know exactly what they want to do with their lives are very lucky but are few and far between.
What did I spend my free time doing when I was a teenager? Firstly there were only three TV channels (my kids cannot believe that), and only one television in the house so we watched mostly what my parents suggested. We also ate more meals as a family but then my father was home by 6pm. Every weekend we saw my maternal grandparents but when my children were growing up there were so many weekend activities, visiting the grandparents had to be scheduled into their busy diaries. Nowadays I guess teenagers are Skyping their grandparents which is a wonderful advance in technology and enjoyed by so many grandparents.
When my children were teenagers I quite enjoyed watching their choice of TV programme with them. I still do but now their choice is nearer my own. I remember doing the ironing on a Sunday evening, getting ready for school the next day, and becoming quite hooked on some of their TV programmes. Big Brother used to rule their summer holidays, spent in Cornwall, but it was my saviour when the weather made them house prisoners. I can’t believe that watching someone asleep was quite so addictive but it was. Now with the internet, mobile phones, laptops etc there are so many more distractions for them. One thing I do know is that when teenagers don’t know something they Google it, whereas when we were the same age what we didn’t know remained unknown.
So to conclude on why I recommend that we give teenagers a break. Teenagers now are far more interesting than we ever were at their age. They do contribute to conversations if you take the time to listen to them. I think they get a tough time about being grumpy, lazy, disinterested human beings when the reality is that they are hormonal, growing up, and trying to find their way. We all need downtime but we don’t all do the same things when we are relaxing. My idea of leisure time is a good box set, however other friends prefer a gym session. Whatever works I say. But don’t trash talk teenagers and enjoy them now as you will miss them when they are gone.
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