I had a full-circle moment last week when I attended an online discussion about parenting teens that featured the woman I grew up watching when I was a teen. Molly Ringwald, who needs no introduction, is just a few months older than I am. In fact, I even rewrote a version of Sixteen Candles the year we both turned 50.
Now, Molly is the mother to three teenagers, and I’m the mother to just one because my oldest son is about to be 21. I learned a lot from Molly’s conversation with Dr. Ken Ginsburg, MD, MSEd, Founding Director of The Center for Parents and Teens (CPTC) and Professor of Pediatrics at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and I’ll share a bit of it here.
The main takeaway from the discussion is this: parents of teens need to be patient and know that this too shall pass. It’s crucial that we grant our kids permission to be their complete selves -- even if we don’t fully understand it. That isn’t always easy when you hit the door slamming years, but it matters. Per Dr. Ken, the teen years are when kids ask themselves life’s most important question: “Who am I?” Along with “Am I normal? Do I fit in?”
Those questions were all present in Molly’s The Breakfast Club, a movie she says is still a great one to watch with your kids to connect with them. But when kids are grappling with their identity and getting input from their peers and the media, it’s a parent’s essential role to become their North Star. Here’s why: Parents know their child in all of their complexity and goodness. We love them completely. So even when it’s tough and they're being jerks, we need to remain the person they can look back at and say, “The person that knows me best, loves me the best.” We want them to launch into adulthood knowing they’re worth loving. Doesn’t seem so hard when you look at it like that.
This doesn’t mean we treat them like they’re our best friends when they’re teens. In fact, Molly says, “I’m their mom, I don’t have to be their best friend. But in these push and pull years, it’s still important to find ways to connect with them as their mother.” Let me repeat that sentiment: It’s not our job to be their friends; it’s our job to be their guides.
Dr. Ken explains that this pushing and pulling is a normal part of human development. We raise our children in our fluffy little nests, and it’s normal for them to start to see the nest as prickly and uninhabitable in adolescence. If they didn’t, they’d never fly and become the adults we want them to be. Parents should remember, "It’s not me being rejected, it’s dependence being rejected.” And when we honor their growing independence and the stretching of their wings, they’ll come back to us happy and fulfilled.
Molly and Dr. Ken also talked about the importance of words. Instead of using terms like “bratty” and “self-centered” about our teens, reframe it. Call them “outspoken” and “brave.” Not always easy when they’re acting like an asshole, but this focus on words help us not back off precisely when we should be drawing nearer. Molly says that if your kid says that they “hate” something, prompt them to talk about why. Are they frustrated or angry? Why do they feel like that. Give them the tools to know that words matter.
Molly's main takeaway on how support your teens is this: “Listen to what they’re telling you. Go towards them when everything is telling you to run away. We get frustrated and want to shut down, but take a deep breath and try to diffuse things.”
Dr. Ken echoes her words and says, “Stay present and see the young person as they deserve to be seen. If you stay calm when they’re erupting, you’re not ignoring the problem; you’re strategically trying to figure out how to deal with it.” If you meet their condescension and anger and eye rolling with calmness and say, "I'm here," kids can think rationally and thoughtfully. And then when they're ready to fly out of the nest, they'll be ready for whatever life brings. #MollyRingwaldTeenYears
Thank you to the CPTC for inviting me to this discussion. The CPTC is an invaluable resource to any of you still in the “omg what happened to my sweet 8-year-old child?” adolescent years. I highly recommend checking out their website and following them on social here: