Look, I know you’re doing what comes naturally to you – spending hours SnapChatting your friends every night, cracking up over group texts and Face-Timing classmates to do homework. I know it feels imperative to you to have your bedroom door shut, to protect your privacy, and to be allowed to spend most of your free time at the mall or the movies or at a friend’s house.
[More on Trusting Your Teens Here]
And it’s not that I don’t trust you, to be honest. It’s that I don’t have any context for anything anymore because, in guarding your privacy and your newfound freedoms, you have shut the window and pulled the blinds. Now that you’re in high school, your teachers won’t tell me things unless it’s almost too late. Your peer group is brand new and I don’t know most of their parents, much less the kids, and my world is filled with stories of teens drinking and experimenting with drugs and sex and texting while driving. I know that’s not you. I think. I know.
When we’re in the car on the way to soccer or dance, you’re on your phone.
Sometimes, when we watch TV together, your phone buzzes every two seconds and I understand how hard it is to resist.
If I wait for a time when you aren’t looking at your phone to ask you a question, I’d never speak.
So here’s what I need to ground me again.
Every single day.
I need you to walk into the kitchen in the morning and look at me and greet me in whatever way feels okay to you. (I know one of you is decidedly not a morning person, so an eyebrow raise and acknowledgment of my greeting is perfectly acceptable.) I need to know I’m more important than the furniture.
I need you to put down your phone when you get in the car in the afternoon and give me five minutes. Tell me something funny that happened at school. Tell me something outrageous that happened at school. Rant about a particularly challenging assignment with a quick turnaround. Give me a window into your world. And then ask about mine and pay attention to the answer. Or, if you’re completely peopled-out, ask if we can talk a little bit later – over dinner or afterward.
When most of the interactions we have are characterized by you half-paying attention while simultaneously watching Netflix on your computer or SnapChatting friends, it makes me feel like I am not important. And, it makes me feel as though there is something incredibly important and compelling on your phone, but if you won’t tell me about your life, I feel like I need to get that information elsewhere, and that’s when that little mom-voice in my head tells me to stalk you.
The balance of power in our relationship is shifting, as it should. As a teenager, you deserve more responsibility and more power, but I am also still your mom, which means that I care deeply for you and am truly interested in your life. I want to feel like I know what is important to you, what challenges you, and what makes you happy. I don’t need to know every little detail, but you are one of the most important people in my life and suddenly feeling as though I don’t know you very well is disconcerting. And, in order to support you in the best way and help you learn to handle power and responsibility, I need to have some insight in to how you spend your days and nights.
I also need to feel like I’m more than a chauffeur, maid, chef, and landlord (minus the rent payments) to you. I understand that you are widening and deepening your connections with other people, but our relationship has to evolve, too. When you were little, our roles were pretty obvious – I was in charge and it was your job to listen to me and follow the rules while I supported you. As you got older and showed that you were more capable, it was okay for you to question some things and even challenge my ideas at times and it was my job to give you space to explore and express yourself while supporting you a little less.
Now that you’re in high school, it might seem as though you don’t need my support or input at all, but the truth is, it’s just a different kind of support. While you may not need me for logistical things as much – I appreciate your ability to do your own laundry and make yourself a snack and even take the bus to the movies sometimes – I will never stop feeling responsible for you to some degree and I remain one of the only people in your life who loves you and will support you no matter what happens.
A little input will go a long way toward helping me feel included in your life. I don’t need to read your text messages any more than my parents needed to listen in on my phone conversations with friends when I was in high school. But if I feel like you’re hiding something from me, the stories start to spin in my head. You may be hiding parts of your life simply because you want some privacy and that’s okay, but spending just a little bit of time with me every day will help me to remember that you’re still that kid I know and love and it will probably buy you a little more freedom.
Kari O’Driscoll is a writer with a background in biology and medical ethics and has worked in medical and mental health settings. She is the parent of two teenage daughters. Her work has appeared in anthologies on parenting and reproductive rights as well as multiple online sites, covering topics such as social justice, parenting, food politics, and mindfulness. She is the founder of The SELF Project, a company dedicated to enhancing the social-emotional health of adolescents and building stronger communities.