8 of the Best Things We Learned This Year About Raising Teens
6 - 7 minutes
Best of LifehackerBest of LifehackerWhether we’ve made a complicated recipe absurdly simple, illustrated how to survive a natural disaster, or explained a political crisis in terms even your great-grandma would understand, these are some of our favorite stories from the past year.
Parenting kids through different ages and stages doesn’t really get easier or harder; it just gets different. There are challenges to each age our kids enter, and often those challenges are vastly different from the age that came before it—but there’s something special about parenting a teenager. We remember our own teenage years better than most of our childhood, and we may remember it as a time fraught with peer pressure, dysfunctional romantic relationships, and frequent clashes with our own parents. And we didn’t have to do all that during a pandemic.
This year, we offered up a wide variety of tips and advice for raising teenagers both in general and, more specifically, during these times. To kick us off, let’s go straight to the source, shall we?
Meghan is Lifehacker's Parenting Editor. She is a former newspaper journalist and author of the Foster Parent Diary Series for the New York Times.
Teenagers can be hard to figure out, but they can also be pretty damn earnest, too. One such earnest teen took to Reddit to ask parents: “What do you not understand about us teenagers?” Thousands of things, if the comments are any indication.
This was all blissfully pre-pandemic, so the questions are simplistic and timeless. Why do you act cool around your parents? Why won’t you shower? How does one yeet? Why do you always do that thing where you smack the doorframe every time you enter a room?
Some teenagers, at certain points during this pandemic, may have wanted to say screw it and head to Matt’s house for that big party despite all the conversations you’d had with them about how COVID spreads and why we need to take precautions to keep Granny safe. It’s hard to blame them. We’ve all had irrational moments of wanting to do what we want to do, and we’ve all had confusing moments in which we’re genuinely not sure if a thing is safe or not.
But for parents who’d already spent hours debating why going to work was okay but going to a lake house with eight of their closest friends is not, we had some advice for how to get your teenager to finally take all of this seriously.
Of course, the teenagers who are taking this pandemic seriously are struggling, too.
Like adults, many teenagers have found themselves battling heightened anxiety throughout the pandemic. They may need us more at the exact moment when we’re spread thinner than we’ve ever been. We may struggle to get them the help they need; and we may struggle to keep our own heads above water.
One parent wrote in to ask us: “I feel guilty for the times I can’t focus on her, worried sick about her, and absolutely exhausted. I worry that there’s more we could be doing for A, but now I’m also realizing that I need help. I can’t, however, pay for more therapy. What can I do to feel better?”
And then there are the teens who withdraw from us completely.
The angry, sullen teenager who locks herself in her room for hours on end to emerge only when absolutely necessary (and who is not happy to see you when she does) might feel like a cliche. But for one dad, that cliche has come to life in his own home and he’s at a loss for how to react when she purposely baits him with questions like, “Can I get a piercing?” or “Can I become a satanist?”
He writes in to ask for help, and we give him help. (Spoiler: An expert tells me this girl is very clearly angry with him.)
Or, what if, while they’ve been locked away in isolation, they’ve actually gone viral, amassing tens (or hundreds!) of thousands of followers?
The fun thing (“fun thing”) about raising a teenager right now is, well, everything related to social media. We have to help them navigate a medium that didn’t exist when we were their age, keep them from posting anything their 30-year-old self will regret, and stay safe from potential predators—even though they know way more about this stuff than we do.
Which is why, as this mom discovered, you may one day wake up to discover that for as much as you’ve tried to pay attention, you must have missed something because suddenly your teenager is a famous TikToker with fans around the world.
However, while one teen may be seeking fame, another may be feeling totally self-conscious about their ever-changing body.
We know our children are beautiful exactly as they are, but sometimes society, or social media, or their own insecurity tells them otherwise. Especially as kids hit puberty and their bodies start to change at a rapid pace, they can become self-conscious and begin to focus too much on body image.
In this piece, we talk about how to parent a child who is feeling that self-consciousness or has indicated they actively want to lose weight—including the red flags to watch for and the proactive, well-rounded approach you can take with food and exercise as a family.
Now, I don’t want to get all political on you, but...let’s talk politics.
The apple doesn’t usually fall far from the tree, but maybe your tree is on a hill and that apple rolled a bit—and now you find yourself at political odds with your own child. You’ve seen how being at political odds is a thing that has ended many friendships and caused countless rifts among loved ones in recent years, and you don’t want your ideological differences to cause a strain in your relationship with your teenager.
Easier said than done, but we’ve got some tips here for how to accept their need to develop their own opinions and how to set boundaries and negotiate a truce.
And finally, we ended the year with our best—and simplest—advice.
Teenagers are not aliens; they are human beings who need the most basic of emotional needs met. They need to be told they’re doing a good job once in a while (because they are). And every now and then—or more often—they need a hug.
It doesn’t need to be some long, drawn-out, awkward moment. Just give them a little squeeze. Maybe that’s all they need; or maybe they’ll collapse into your arms.
Either way, a hug is a nice little reminder that they’re loved and they’re not in this alone.