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Teenagers during a pandemic

This child is my first pancake. They are amazing, brilliant, mature, and thoughtful. They are nearing 14. They started babysitting for siblings and cousins for short periods when they were 12. They were majorly helpful to her father when I had to go back to working retail last year. They kept up on their own schoolwork, helped their then 4-yr-old sister with school, improved in violin and art, and even maintained and grew virtual relationships with their friends.

Sounds lovely, right? Sure. Its great. But under this rough exterior, there is a struggling child burgeoning into personhood. They are learning who they are and what they want from life.

They have many opportunities available to them because of their intelligence and musical ability. They could begin college this fall and earn their Associates degree before 16. However, they're choosing to wait a year to let Covid cool down more and get a bit more of an authentic college experience than will be allowed during a Pandemic. As their age now allows them to enter high school locally, they are trying out for the orchestra. We attempted a few years ago to enroll them for middle school orchestra, but they wouldn't place them above their age grade or bump them to high school level should they have been too good for the middle school groups. Now that they can try out for high school level orchestra, they will be able to play with those who will challenge them.

As confident and poised as they is, this tryout is throwing them into a tizzy. they are unsure and nervous. We have to record them playing and send it to the director, and each time they know they're being recorded, they makes mistakes even when they previously played the piece well. The music they're playing is not simple. They are using complex pieces that showcase their range, but they feels they need to be perfect.

Music combined with evolving friendships and an upcoming birthday have them in a really interesting place. Rory is learning what they wants from long term relationships and working at building those now even though they can't be with others in person. With their birthday upcoming, they have reached out to friends she wants to see to ask that they pseudo-quarantine to protect her younger, fragile siblings. Some met them with acceptance and nods that they were already still doing so. Others brushed off the need.

Yesterday, in the midst of birthday talks and performance anxiety, they broke down. Rory has been strong and trying to keep it all together (they might be my kid). I stopped what I was doing and immediately addressed their concerns. They felt that driving back and forth to different places was going to be too much. I assured them the issue was with the public, likely crowded ice cream place, not the driving. We are willing to do the driving...just not the public places. They was relieved. I suggested another friend whom I knew was being safe as someone they could include in birthday festivities too. And a plan that involved outdoor interaction along with time for teens without little siblings in the way.

Then, this morning, in the hurry of getting out the door, they was stressing about the music again. Rory needed the calm that music provides, but couldn't find their ear buds. I helped solve the immediate problem so we could leave. Then in the car, I talked about being proud of them no matter what. And that they'd be on par with whatever group they was placed in. That they are good enough for high school orchestra. They relaxed.

Rory knew they were upset at situations (aren't we all) not at us, their parents. But the stress they were feeling came out as frustration toward me. I was the one telling them the guidelines. Their father and I had arrived at them together, but I was the information disseminater.

So many teens have been displaced by the pandemic. Parents all over the world are trying to help their teens manage this upheaval in their already tormented lives. Body changes, friendship struggles, career and life goals are hard enough to navigate. Throw in being unceremoniously torn from school and all things normal and forced to interact only with your annoying parents and siblings and teens got a really short stick in the last 15 months.

We need to be hyper aware of what our teens are experiencing and why. We need to be ok with cuddling up in their beds (Rory LOVES when I do this) and letting them dump on us without judgement. We need to be the sounding board. The gentle breeze. The encouragement that talks to what our teens are experiencing. We can say, "I understand", all we want (Lord knows I say it). But "I hear you" is more powerful a phrase. When we say, "I hear you" we acknowledge their words are important and impactful. We let them know they are heard and valued. Then our actions. When Rory rails on Leigh and I, we don't reprimand them. We listen until the storm passes, then hug them. They are letting go of massive feelings they've been holding on to. They know how to speak respectfully. We don't need to remind them. We need to let them free those feelings from their body and soul and move past them.

Then, we listen. Really listen. And find the root of the problem just like with Will. Then we work together toward a solution. A public ice cream place, while important, isn't as important as being with friends (and even family) for thier birthday. They're not nervous about performing, but about being focused on without distraction. About being picked apart and judged. Some things we cannot eliminate for them. Some things they just needs to move past and go through. We can help them do so with gentle guidance, encouragement, and patience.

I'm here for when you need to learn how to delicately talk to and with your incendiary device we lovingly call a teenager.

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