I heard an eye-opening anecdote today that reveals how difficult it is to be a parent of a teen.
Melissa*, my friend, relayed the narrative of her challenging morning. “You’re going to school today? With me?? On the bus???,” said Ally*, her 13-year-old daughter. Melissa was attending a talk at Ally’s school, so it made sense for her to just hop on the school bus. But it did not make sense to Ally.
Melissa positioned herself at a window seat leaving space for Ally, who just rolled her eyes and moved past her mom, choosing to sit separately, across the aisle. So, like most kids on the bus, Melissa pulled out her phone to pass the time. Thirty minutes later, she glanced up, and the motion of the bus had insidiously crept in. She was sweating. And dizzy. And nauseous.
Oh no, Melissa thought, as she tried to fight the sick feeling, mortified that she might actually vomit on the bus. “I realized that if I got sick, I had to consider: was it going to be into my bag or my coat?? And then I saw Ally glance at me.”
“Did she try to help you? Did she know that you were feeling sick?” I asked.
“I know it must have been apparent how sick I felt. My forehead was seriously sweating and I was probably green. I swear I saw Ally shoot me a disgusted look. Finally, we arrived at school and thank goodness, I started to feel a little better. As we stood up, Ally hissed across the aisle, ‘Are you going to get sick?’”
“I think I’m okay, but if I had, would you have helped me?” Melissa said Ally ignored the question, responding instead with snark— “‘Serves you right for coming on the bus.’”
Oh boy. This is teenager-ing in all its glory.
I personally remember it well. I recall an incident that is still cringe-worthy to me. I was in high school, old enough to drive. It was customary then that my boyfriend, friends and I would all meet up at the local diner for cheese-fries after a movie on a weekend night. And there I was with half of my grade in that diner at 11pm on a Friday night when my parents casually strolled in, feigning surprise that I was there. I remember feeling my face turn fire-engine red hot and raging at them, “WHAT. ARE. YOU. DOING. HERE??????”
Decades have passed since this parental embarrassment, so obviously it is a scene etched in my psyche.
Of course, I’m not making excuses for Ally’s behavior, or mine either. But there are stresses teens face daily that we may not even recall. Was it really such a big deal that my parents showed up at a diner? No. Did Ally really lose all sense of empathy towards her mother? Not likely. Teen hormones and emotions probably drove both of us to react to ordinary situations way out of proportion. Teens worry about what they say, who their friends are, who their friends are not, how they are perceived…. with all that pressure, any little thing may seem like a big deal.
Being a parent to a teenager is not easy. But, being a teen today is not so easy either. Here’s a question: What if both parents and teens just took a moment to imagine the other’s feelings? Hmm…I bet that is a question that spans generations of parents and teens, past, present and future.
* Names have been changed