Bittersweet 16: Parenting teens makes baby-rearing seem like a cakewalk

Currently, my eldest son is 20 and his younger brothers are just 16, which means I've been parenting teenagers for nearly a decade. Like most things in life, I'm getting smarter at it.

Hold fast and keep your backbone no matter how much pushback you get, Jo Davies advises

Bomb disposal would be less nerve-racking than talking to teenage kids some days, Jo Davies says. (Shutterstock)

I heard something recently about raising teenagers that I thought was particularly apt.

It was a video featuring a parenting expert (now there's an oxymoron if I've ever heard one) called Josh Shipp. He likened the process of raising teens to the moment when a rider tests the lap bar on a rollercoaster. 

Who hasn't done it? The worker locks the bar across our lap and the first thing we do is push on it to see if it holds fast.

In Shipp's analogy, the lap bar represents the rules and expectations parents have of their teens. The rider pushing on the lap bar is the teenager testing their limits.

The point, Shipp says, is not that we as riders want the bar to give way. We want and need it to keep us safe.

Whether they know it or not, teens need us to stay consistent. They're trying to figure out who they are and what they value, and it's crucial to their wellbeing that we as parents don't choose this time to fold like a cheap suit.

Tough to be the meanie

My dad always made it crystal clear that he was my parent, not my buddy.

He said I could go and find all the friends I wanted, but I would only ever have one father, and his job was to raise me to be a responsible adult.

It was obvious that he had nothing but contempt for parents who took the easy route, allowing their kids to do whatever they wanted, afraid to parent them for fear of being disliked or unpopular.

I'll admit that in the thick of raising teenagers, that "go with the flow" approach can be appealing. Who doesn't want to avoid unpleasant arguments about staying out past curfew or hanging out with others who may be doing things we don't deem acceptable or safe?

It's tough to be the meanie who lays down the law, but it needs to be done.

Currently, my eldest son is 20 and his younger brothers are just 16, which means I've been parenting teenagers for nearly a decade. Like most things in life, I'm getting smarter at it, but my experience is the result of some challenging situations. 


Trust me: I know about tough times. When the twins were born back in August 2003, there was a massive blackout across a huge swath of the American northeast, Midwest and much of southern Ontario that left approximately 55 million people in the dark. A heat wave had hit, making it a deadly time to be without air conditioning. 

I was home recuperating from the boys' birth via C-section. Exhausted, in pain and scared that our elderly AC would go out, too, I watched the news anxiously while my newborns slept in their double-wide stroller, their four-year-old brother playing nearby.

The twins woke up every two hours, on the dot, at which point I would feed them (which took an hour, including diaper changes) and try to go back to sleep.

Hanging over it all was the spectre of my last bout of post-partum depression, for which I'd been hospitalized for a week.

It was a hellish hard time, but it was a cakewalk compared to raising teenagers. 

When my eldest son turned into a moody, uncommunicative 13-year-old who snapped at his family members with virtually no provocation, the boys promised me they'd never turn into teenagers, never take their bad moods out on me.

I laughed, knowing how easy it is to make promises and how difficult it is to keep them.

Inevitably, hormones kicked in and puberty took over. My once smiling, happy twins seem at times to have permanent scowls, communicating in grunts, disgusted sighs and eye-rolls.

It's hard to know sometimes what to say to them on a daily basis, never mind when I manage to suss out that they are having problems. Bomb disposal would be less nerve-racking.

I've had to figure out when to intervene and when to stay quiet, and I'm still working on that.

For example, when bullying reared its ugly head in junior high, I was hard-pressed not to go to their school and sort things out with these other kids myself. The boys were insistent that I keep out of it, for fear of making things worse.

Attending a Trump rally would have been less painful than watching them struggle, but I tried my best to keep my mouth shut. 

Yes, it's tough parenting teens, but I haven't given up on getting it right. Luckily I laid the foundations for all of my boys to become humane, responsible people back when they were tiny and far more open to listening to me.

I have to trust that what I taught them will serve them well as they go forward. 

Yes, I'm fairly confident I'll have this whole thing nailed by the time the boys turn 20. 

Piece of cake.

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About the Author

Jo Davies is a freelance writer and office assistant who is never at a loss for an opinion. She is currently writing her first novel, set in Jamaica.


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