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What Teens Wish Parents Knew

Find out what teens are really thinking.

First, a few facts: I am pushing 40. My son is pushing 15. When I was pushing 15, I thought my parents were nuts. I swore I'd never be like them when I had kids of my own. Today, my son thinks I'm nuts. He swears he'll never be like me when he has kids of his own.

It appears that the universal life cycle is repeating itself only this time with me in the starring role of nutsy-weirdedout-totallyuncool-mother. Just what I needed. As if laundry and mopping weren't enough to drag down my day.

Even though I work with lots of teenagers who seem to like me just fine, the one in my house isn't so sure. That's why I set out on a mission to find out what is it about teenagers that makes them think we're out to get them. I wanted to know what goes on inside their heads and how to navigate their ever-changing moods. I wanted to know what teenagers need from us as parents so I went straight to the source.

Tim, Lisa, Zach, Brette, Andrew, and Emily are all pushing 15. Since none of these teenagers is mine, the odds are good that we can have an actual conversation made up of complete sentences. Between the six of them, the one of me, a super-sized bucket of deep-fried chicken parts, eight king-size orders of fries, and seven 44 oz. bottles of pop, we have only two goals in sight: to eat the bountiful feast set before us, and to clarify what they wish parents (nutsy-weirdedout-totallyuncool and otherwise) knew about junior highers.

What I Wish You Knew. ? About School

It's like a soap opera. It's horrid. And great. And awful. And fun.

Do you know how hard it is to be myself? Just because I might be feeling okay about who I am doesn't mean life is easy. I still feel like I need to always watch what I say, how I dress, and who I talk to. If I do something wrong, everyone might laugh at me, or think I'm an idiot, or make fun of me.

If you could see how bad some of the kids get teased, you wouldn't believe it. Sometimes I actually feel sick to my stomach when I hear what people get called. With the guys, there's this whole "tough" routine. With the girls, there's this whole who-are-my-friends-going-to-be-today gossip thing. One day, things are great. The next day, you're just a nobody. Was it like that for you? It's like that for me. Some days, it's all I think about.

Teachers aren't always nice, right, or fair.

You've got to believe me on this?my teachers are not always the same at school as they are at parent-teacher conferences. They're not always friendly and smiley and chatty and encouraging to me, like they are to you. Some of my teachers are cool. They seem to really love teaching, and they seem to care about students. But some of the others, well, I don't even know why they're there. They obviously hate it. Do you know what it's like to spend half of my day with adults who treat me like a number instead of a person?

It's tough to be a Christian at school.

Remember what I said about kids getting picked on? As a Christian, I know I should do something about it. But what do you want from me?

Am I supposed to tell the bullies they should stop? Right. There goes any hope of getting through junior high in one piece.

Am I supposed to make friends with the person getting picked on? If so, what if my other friends dump me because of it?

I want you to know that I honestly try to think about being a Christian at school. I try to say "hi" to kids who usually get ignored. I try to avoid conversations that aren't healthy. A few times in class, I've tried to say what I think about issues like sex (yes, sometimes we talk about it in class), certain movies, and other stuff. So far I haven't been rejected by the other kids. But it scares me to think about them calling me names or talking about me behind my back. If that happens, what am I supposed to do?

What I Wish You Knew. ? About Yourself

You give The Look a lot.

Both of you hate it when the other one gives you The Look. You know, Dad, the face Mom makes when you forget to take out the garbage for the 18th time. You know, Mom, the face Dad makes when he finds out that you spent a ton of money on an ugly piece of furniture.

Well, guess what? I hate it when you give me The Look, too, even if I've messed up and I deserve it. School, grades, friends, the way my room looks, the music I listen to, the things I say. It seems like they all earn The Look.

Do you know how The Look makes me feel? Guilty. Small. Stupid. It's like you think I'm too dumb to understand the English language, so instead, you just look at me to tell me how you feel.

I wish you'd just say whatever it is you want to say, even if it might be hard for me to hear. At least then I don't have to guess what The Look means.

Sometimes you act like I'm not here.

Sometimes when you and Dad talk to each other, or when one of you is talking to another adult, you talk about me-while I'm standing there and can hear what you're saying. Sometimes the things you say about me are complimentary and loving. Sometimes they're not. Either way, when you ignore me like that, I feel like I don't even exist. I don't want you to say negative things about me to other people, especially since some of them aren't true. And the things that are true, well, I wish they could be more private. Just between you and me. Not between you and me, and everyone you know.

You have bad timing.

I know I'm not supposed to hate anyone or anything (believe it or not, I do pay attention in Sunday School) but I do hate this one thing: I hate it when I just start to do something for myself, like watch TV, listen to a CD, read a book, send e-mail to my friends, do homework, practice basketball, whatever, and then you ask me (or tell me) to mow the lawn, feed the dog, clean the cat litter, pick up my room, or do something else around the house.

You don't like it when I try to talk to you while you're reading the paper. You don't like it when I call and ask for a ride home from school while you're making supper. You don't like it when I want to watch a movie while you're watching the news.

You probably don't mean to do it, but it feels like you watch for the very moment I'm finally relaxed or busy and then, Wham! "Honey, didn't I ask you to put the papers out in the recycling bin?" I remember what I'm supposed to do (most of the time), but I don't always feel like doing things the minute you ask me to do them.

What I Wish You Knew. ? About Me

I need to be alone.

I know you like to do things as a family. I do, too. I'm glad that we eat dinner together. A lot of my friends don't do that. I'm glad that we go on vacation together. I'm even glad we go to church together. I might not go otherwise.

But I'm getting older and I don't want to do everything together anymore. You probably think it's because I want to be with my friends all the time. Yes, I like being with my friends, but I also like being alone. When I'm alone, I can think, and believe me, I've got a lot to think about. I can write in my journal. I can try to work through confusing feelings. I can blow off steam after a rotten day at school. I can just be.

I used to hate being alone. Not anymore. In some ways, it seems like the only time I can be really free and truly me is when I'm by myself. When I go to my room and shut the door, it doesn't necessarily mean I'm mad, or that I don't want to be with you, or that there's some major problem. It just means I need some solitude.

I'm not always wrong.

Yeah, yeah, I'm not always right, either. But come on. There are times when I'm right. I guess it's not a good idea for me to correct you in front of other people because I don't like it when you do that to me. But is it okay for me to correct you when we're alone? If you say, "I've asked you 20 times to clean your room," can I say, "No, you've only asked me once," or does that make you mad? I'm not trying to be disrespectful or snotty. Honest. I just don't want you to exaggerate my mistakes.

When I make mistakes, it's a huge deal. When you make mistakes, I'm supposed to drop it. Why? "Just because"? I don't get it. I know you're the parents and I'm the kid, but it doesn't always seem fair. If you've got a good reason for doing or saying something, can you at least tell me what it is?

I'm not a baby anymore.

I feel stuck. I'm not old enough to drive. I'm not old enough to quit school. I'm not old enough to get married. I'm not old enough to live on my own.

But I'm not a baby, either.

One minute, I really need you to tell me you love me. The next minute, I really need you to leave me alone and respect my privacy. Some days you get it exactly right. Other days, you get it all wrong. I wish it were easier for us to understand each other. I wish there were a way for us to really know what to do and say. I didn't know it was going to be so hard to be a teenager.

By the way, I love you. I probably don't say it enough. Maybe if I can get some of this other stuff off my chest?you know, clear the air?then it'll be easier for me to say, "I love you, too."

Crystal Kirgiss is the mother of three and a leader with Young Life. She and her family live in Minnesota, where people drink pop.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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