I have one left at home and she is 13. She is also my stepdaughter and a typical teenage girl. Connecting with a teen is tricky because they have to act like they don’t like their adult caregivers and avoid having to listen to them. Remember, I said “adult caregivers.” That means they are very likely to listen to other adults. It’s just in the wiring of adolescence and we parents just have to deal with it. Because of this, I always welcome alone time with Olivia, especially on a drive in my truck somewhere. That’s just how you connect with a teen, by hanging out with them with not a whole lot to say. I remember letting my own daughter paint my toenails one afternoon after asking her permission to just hang out with her in her room for a bit.
This past Sunday, her mom was singing at church and had to leave early for the first service. That meant Olivia and I got to sleep in a bit and show up for second service. As the two of us got into my truck for the 30 minute ride to church, Olivia went to put in her ear buds as usual and to tune out my music and the rest of the world. Just as she was about to turn on her iPod, I offered her the audio jack wire hanging out of my truck stereo. It’s the wire you connect any portable device to so that it will play over the stereo. I asked Olivia, “Hey, wanna share your cool music with me?” A smile overcame her face and she took me up on the offer. For the next 30 minutes, she jumped from song to song, playing all of her favorites and telling me all of the most obscure things that she knew about each band and the song that was blaring over the truck speakers.
To be honest, it was excruciating! Every song was sung by 19 to 20-year-olds, crooning about a girl and being in love. I could have sworn it was the same song over and over, with the words switched around and a different tune. I hated every song but remembered I was once in her shoes, listening to all the music my mother hated. I reminded myself that all the music she listens to has been pre-approved by her mother and I before it was downloaded from iTunes. So if there were no obscenities, screaming, or disrespect toward women in the songs, why did I dislike the music so much? After much thought about this, I realized that It all comes down to a bit of jealousy. Watching her face brighten up as she talked about her favorite band singer left me feeling a little hurt over missing that little blond haired girl she once was, whose face I could make light up with horsey-back rides down the hall, tickles at bedtime tuck-ins, and surprises pulled from my pocket when I arrived home from work.
On the ride back home after the service she talked up a storm even more energized than on the ride there. As we pulled into the driveway at home, she unplugged my stereo wire from her iPod and plugged her ear buds back in. In her normal “less excited” tone she simply said, “Thanks,” and walked into the house and disappeared into her room. I reminded myself that I had just “hung out” with my teen and it was awesome. It is hard to watch our kids transform through the various stages of development, especially adolescence. We feel like we’ve lost our babies and it’s hard to let go. But in those small, brief encounters with our teens, just hanging out, being with them, listening to their music, or letting them paint your toenails, are the ways to let them know you love them and care.