Keeping The Door Open On The Wonder Years

Teenagers. I gotta admit, I’m not a fan of them. I didn’t always care for them when I was a teenager and now that I’m grown, I find the ones in my neighborhood annoying. They clog my Panera and Starbucks, fester in my mall, and let’s not forget the string of stupid comments they spew during the movies.

Sheesh, I’m getting old and cranky.

My niece and nephew

But I’ve got a niece and nephew who are very, very close to me. My niece is the one we visited as she’s a freshman at the University of Missouri (M-I-Z!!!) and my nephew is 16 going on 17. Sure they have the same teenage traits as the other teens I don’t like, but to me, in them, it’s endearing. Maybe it’s because I love them so fiercely.

Each year we try to plan a trip for them to visit us in Chicago, now that they’re older, they’ve started to come separately and last weekend was my nephew’s first trip solo to Chi-city. I admit I was anxious because I really wanted him to have a fun time and it was important to me that we connect and have honest conversations because I always want them to know that they can come to me for whatever and I’ll be there for them.

But how do you reach out to a teen? Get them to trust you? For me, I’ve just tried to be there, which is hard hundreds of miles away. I talk about my frustrations, my hopes, my fears, my mistakes, thinking that in sharing more of myself with them, they will in turn do the same with me. Is that the right thing? I don’t know, but it’s what I’ve tried to do. And it’s so much easier just being me than trying to show that I’m “perfect.”

Besides, I can only imagine what it’s like being a teenager these days, the hypersexuality of everything, the constant cliques, which can only be exacerbated by Facebook and texting, the normalizing of drug and alcohol use, not to mention just general pressures of life. No way would I want to be a teen now.

One of my mommyfriends loves teenagers, finds their still-evolving minds interesting and their viewpoints of the world refreshing. Before my nephew came, I decided to try to see the world through teen-colored goggles.

While he was here, we had a blast. He spent a half a day at Shedd Aquarium’s Trainer for A Day program, where he worked with dolphins, sea otters, penguins and beluga whales. The worst part? He said it was handling the dead squid for the mammal’s lunch. Best part? Petting the dolphins. He also spent the day with Hubby at Northwestern’s homecoming, where at the alumni tailgating party he said it was interesting to hear all the guys talk about life at their jobs. We also took him out to Indian food, where he thought the food tasted good but the music was weird. 🙂

And for me the best part of the whole visit was that he opened up. We did talk like I had hoped and I felt so lucky to be let in. I’m already looking forward to next year’s trip.

12 responses to “Keeping The Door Open On The Wonder Years

  1. First of all, “Teenagers. I gotta admit, I’m not a fan of them.” this cracked me up. I’ve always said that I’m not a fan of small children (especially ill-behaved ones), so I can relate in a way.
    On the other hand we’re complete opposites because I love teenagers. Well, maybe not “love” them, but I definitely relate to them for whatever reason. I’ve been called the Pied Piper of Teenagers by those who know me. They just love me and I don’t know why.
    I love that you’re making it a point to have a relationship with your niece and nephew. My daughter is 15 months and my nephew is 5 months and I wonder what kind of relationship my sister and I will have with each other’s children.
    I’ve spent years dealing with teenagers (mostly girls) so I might be able to be of some help. I think maybe I’ll try to prepare a post on relating to teenagers because there’s way too much to say in a comment. In the meantime if you need anything specific…feel free to ask me!

    • Hey CoolMama! I think that people are either teen people or small children people. I’m more of a small child person, so much that when I pick up Logan from daycare it’s not really me picking him up, it’s more that I sit down and play with him and the other kids for a bit before we pack up and head home. Thanks for the opened door, I will keep that invitation in mind and use it mercilessly. Who knows, maybe we’ll still be talking in a decade when Logan and I enter those years. *gasp!* With my niece and nephew, because of the family dynamic, we have a different relationship in that they feel more like my little brother and sister than a traditional aunt-nephew-niece relationship. Right now my focus with them is communication and supporting them to and through college, and of course, just enjoying them. 🙂

  2. I’m never sure what to talk to teenagers about anymore. I’m a generation removed and I have no idea what is “cool” anymore or where their interest lies.

  3. visiting SITS – and I definitely think you are doing the right thing by sharing as much of yourself as possible with them. I applaud you for reaching out as you have with your niece and nephew, truly. It will impact them more than you realize. My husband and I have volunteered with jr. high and high school age teens for the last 5 years, wow, what an experience…I treasured the opportunity to make an impact on these amazing kids, I came across some nationwide statistics the other day, and let’s just say it is BEYOND troubling.
    This is the largest generation of youth that has ever been….33 million teenagers in America today….larger than any other generations before them, and they are struggling, big time.
    1,500 of them kill themselves each year.
    1 out of 5 have thoughts of suicide. That’s staggering.
    1,000,000 of them are pregnant.
    750,000 of them had abortions last year.
    ½ of them are no longer virgins.
    9 out of 10 have viewed porn online. That is a lot.
    8,000 of them get an STD EVERY SINGLE DAY – that blows my mind.
    The most common STD is gonorrhea of the throat (because teens today don’t think that oral sex is really sex)
    This generation views 16 to 17 hours of television each week and sees on average 14,000 sexual scenes and references each year. That’s more than 38 references every day.
    This generation spends 3 hours a day online and is the first to grow up with the point and click pornography. 90% of them say that they have viewed porn online while doing homework (there is estimated to be at least 300,000 adult websites)
    Teenage girls wear “sex beads” that tells boys depending on the color of beads they are wearing what they will do with them in the bathrooms at break.
    Is anyone else troubled by this? Is anyone else noticing a serious moral decay of a generation? I am. And that’s why I believe everyone has the power to make a difference but just reaching out, one touch at a time….

    These kids are struggling with depression, lonliness, acceptance, purpose and meaning in life….and many many other things….
    We must try and capture their hearts before it’s too late……
    please forgive the length of this comment, but I am touched by your willingness to make a footprint on their lives, and every effort made to connect will not return void! Have a glorious day sweet bella….

    • WOW! And the winner for the most thought-out comment ever goes to … you! Thanks for all of your input! My hats off to you and your husband for volunteering at the local schools, that’s really wonderful. I shouldn’t be as judgmental about these kids when I see them out and about. I’m glad you’re making a difference in so many lives, keep up the good work! Thanks again for stopping by and commenting!

  4. Teens are a mystery to me–and I feel like that old, cranky lady sometimes too! It’s usually when we’re in public and they swear in front of my kids or budge ahead of me in line. I know they’re not all like that, but it’s still annoying when it happens. When my kids are teens (DONT want to think about that yet!) It’ll probably be easier to be more patient with them. 🙂

    • Jen-
      I feel you on the budging ahead of you in line, you’re like um, OK. Though I have to say when Hubby and I were on a road trip we stopped at a McDonald’s in a small town and turns out it was down the street from the local high school. The place flooded with teens and they were SOOO polite. They opened the door for, saw my preggo belly and told me to go ahead of them in line. It was surreal. They were still a giggly, goofy gob, but they were polite, and nice and just seemingly good. I was so impressed.

  5. Yes, there are a lot of sad stats out there. But this generation is also doing a lot of good stuff — and stats actually show that they’re less likely (overall) to engage in risky behavior. Smoking rates are down; some drugs, too. Teen pregnancy has dropped in the last decade or so, though is leveling out.

    It’s not all bad news, though of course, we need to address the serious issues — suicide and violence included.

    Another big concern: the entitlement factor. I see it in some of my own family members — a lack of hunger and motivation, an expectation that they will be provided for.

    Not that adults can’t be self-centered and entitled. We do model that behavior for them well sometimes, don’t we?

    But as a parent, I have to remind myself not to do, do, do for my kids all the time.

    As the experts say, it’ll help their self esteem, too, because they know they can do things. And they know we trust them.

    I’m rambling a bit … but I think there’s good and bad in every generation.

    I applaud your (and anyone’s) willingness to connect and invest! I’m sure your niece and nephew do, too.

    • Mama M! Yet again with your wise, balanced and fair information. Thanks for your comment. I remember hearing that entitlement thing when I was a teen, my generation was told that we expected everything to just come to us. I remember not understanding what that really meant.

      I don’t feel that my niece and nephew are that way, in fact they’re just the opposite. I do see it a lot in my neighborhood, where many of the kids have nicer cars than me. You also raise an excellent point about as a parent we want to make life easier for our kids, but that doesn’t mean we should do, do, do for them.

      We should give them responsibilities, make them work for it, etc. I can see that I too do, do, do too much for Logan so this is a good reminder to check myself.

  6. I am absolutely terrified of my children becoming Teens and my oldest is very close at almost 11. I too am always annoyed by their self-centered often rude behavior. And of course their dress often shocks me too. I just keep thinking that just a few years ago this was someone’s adorable 4 year old who could charm the pants off of anyone.
    So nice that your niece and nephew have you to talk to.

  7. I hear you, teens are hard!! I was a difficult teenager and I hope that means I know all the tricks and can do a better job with my girls than my mom did with me, but the thought is terrifying!!

    I have 2 cousins (boy and girl) who are 22 and 18 and I’ve always tried to stay close to them, for exactly the same reasons you described. They’ve been special to me since they were born and their home life hasn’t always been the best, so I spent time with them whenever I could. The girl used to spend 3 days a week with me in the summer when she was in high school. She thought I needed her help with my girls, but really I just worried about how vulnerable she seemed and I didn’t want her home alone all that time. That’s when girls get into trouble!! I like to think that being around me and my family was a positive influence and that somehow I helped her feel needed and special. We bonded over Twilight and I make an effort to text her here and there, but I still see that teenage angst in her eyes and it’s gotten harder and harder to reach her as she’s gotten older. I do hope that somewhere in there she knows how much I love her and that I’m always here if she needs me. We’ll see.

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