Thursday, April 17, 2003

Happy birthday to her

Pray for me: Today, I am the parent of a teenager. My daughter's 13, and plans to remind me of that fact every darn morning for a year. So now that I'm the mother of a teen with attitude, I thought I'd take a bit of a surf around the Web to see what advice is out there for parenting past the tweens.

I started by calling up the Google directory listing for "parenting teenagers." Interestingly, the top category was "Treatment Options"; who knew that being a teenager was a treatable condition? I clicked on the link for the teen parenting pages of, but one look at that site's menu -- the "Teen Health Hub" featured acne, braces, masturbation, puberty, STDs and teen sexuality, and the top ad was for "A Parent's Guide to Boarding Schools" -- made me feel not quite mature enough to deal with any of that stuff. I moved on to a site called Parenting Adolescents, but made the mistake of starting with a look at the site's advice column. My question would be something like, "How can I get my 13-year-old to wear a dress to her 5th-grade graduation"; but the first question here was "I am a mother of a 14 year old daughter. She had been having sex with her boyfriend....," and the number of the national suicide hotline was prominently displayed. Yikes to that. I liked the approach of the Teens Are Not a Disease site, but there was an advice column there, too, and frankly, I was afraid to go near it.

By that time, I was hoping that the reason all these teen parenting sites seemed to be so far over my head was that my daughter was just such a brand-spanking-new teen, with no time yet to have become immersed in big-time teen issues. So I did a Google search on "thirteen year olds." And instantly regretted it when I saw some of the site titles and information that came up: "Thirteen year olds are having sex." "Most thirteen year olds desperately want to be able to talk with their parents, but they do not know how to start the conversation." "Thirteen-year-olds accused of armed robbery." My daughter often doesn't know how to start a conversation, it's true, but it's more a matter of language delays than emotional reservations. As for the other two -- I've only been the parent of a teen for less than 24 hours. Don't make me go there.

You can almost always make me go to the bookstore, because my collection of parenting books requires constant additions to stay up-to-date. But books on parenting teenagers sure don't look like real fun reads. Lots of stuff about communicating with your kids, helping girls keep a good body image and survive bad peer behavior, and helping teens pass through "the turbulent passage to adulthood." Amongst the top choices are a book on teens and alcohol, a book on teens and sex, a book on teens and jobs, a book on teens and violence ... but no books on teens who are happy and well-adjusted and give their parents no trouble at all and require no special handling whatsoever. Where do I buy that book?

Ah, well. The years ahead are sure to hold challenges I can't even imagine now -- and with luck, they won't be the ones all these teen-minded doomsayers are imagining, either. My mother was a strong believer in the theory that if you worry about all the bad things that could possibly happen, they won't; and maybe it works, because my own teen years were relatively uneventful. Now that I'm a mom, though -- I'll tell you, I'm thinking a lot about the decision my husband and I made, when we adopted our girl at age 4.5, not to adjust her age backward to make it more in keeping with her delayed development. I thought at the time that, whatever benefits might be found in that sort of birthdate fiddling, it was dishonest and dangerous to essentially lie about a child's age. But now -- I don't know, today I'm kind of wondering if it's too late to reconsider. Do you think she'd mind being 11 again?

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