Baltimore Sun

Celebrate your teens, they’re still kids

- By Sabrina Fu

The transition for our first child through her teenage years was really tough — for me, for my husband and for her.

“You were never really a teen-ager,” she said to me. I reflected on those words, and it took me a while, but I realized that I had chosen not to remember my own teen-age years (yes, they were that bad).

I was determined to be a better mother for my second child, to spend more time observing and listening. So, for my children’s sake, I took the time to remember, and more importantl­y, to reflect upon what I could do to help them grow positively.

I remembered the pressure to be cool, the pressure to be part of a group, the pressure to use drugs, and the racist comments, both direct and underlying. Those things, unfortunat­ely, have not changed. Added to all that, today there are more messages and more choices to find your “cool” and your group. Can’t find a group to belong to in your neighborho­od? Join a group online: from starving oneself to get the thin, model look to fighting for ISIS.

In an age where there are so many choices, so many messages and so many global crises, we should not be surprised when teen-agers are often confused and stressed, giving us looks and actions that parents typically view as being disrespect­ful. Let’s face it — parents are also busy and stressed. Given our present global crisis — increasing war zones, drug wars, infectious diseases, rising sea levels, climate change, displaced refugees — I began to see that I would often walk around in a state that was a combinatio­n of annoyance, stress and confusion.

Two stressed people rarely communicat­e well — particular­ly when they are a parent and teen-ager. We must find ways to de-stress together.

During the past few years, we have tried to hit the “slow down to savor the world” button by celebratin­g events in our teenager’s life, such as her half-birthday. I saw the surprise on my husband’s face when I first suggested this. I could imagine his thoughts about how we were already concerned that we might be spoiling her. But he understood once I explained the half-birthday celebratio­n plan: We would have a nice dinner with her favorite foods and cake (with “Happy Half-Birthday” written on it) and a box of her favorite sweets or book as a little “half-birthday” present. Nothing fancy. Just some family time together to slow down and celebrate the growth of our child.

I am not saying that half-birthday celebratio­ns are the cure-all for difficult teen-age years. These celebratio­ns are part of a different outlook on the teen-age years, with a message that, they, as teen-agers, are still precious to us.

A few years back, during one of our walks in the neighborho­od, I was telling my oldest daughter about some neighbors who had given up their dogs because they become problemati­c. We lamented that so many people give up dogs after the puppy years. She then told me puppies are like babies in that everyone thinks they are adorable and precious. And then the puppies and babies grow into their awkward and unwanted years.

This statement haunted me. Do we really treat teen-agers like unwanted dogs? I re-examined how I treat teen-agers in my own community — way too often, awkwardly. We have all seen events where teen-agers have been treated like much less than precious children. When teenagers get treated like menaces we need to yell at, restrain, and even beat, it’s hard to image that we once thought of them as precious.

Half-birthday celebratio­ns during the teen-age years are part of the larger signal that our children are still important to us — in a way even more precious than when they were babies. This does not mean we should treat them like babies. It does mean we know our time with them is limited, and valued, and we want to spend that time with them, celebratin­g their growth into adulthood.

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