My teenage years were hard. I entered them with little to no resources for taking care of myself emotionally, for recognizing and protecting myself from people who would use me, manipulate me, disrespect my personal boundaries and treat me horribly. I sought out attention from my peers, however I could obtain it, and was desperate for anything that resembled affection. I was also in a lot of pain, felt isolated and worthless, and sought to numb all of those feelings with substances.
It's a wonder I survived those years.
I came out of it rather early, and somewhat painfully, around fifteen. I had a life-altering moment in which I realized, in a crystallizing epiphany, that the person who would ultimately live the consequences of all of my choices was not any of the people who were telling me what to do or that they knew better than I did what was best for me. It was me. I alone would have to live out the effects of these decisions. And therefore no one - No. One. - had the authority to tell me how I should live my life.
This was the beginning of a long road of learning what it meant to be a successful, happy human. A road I'm still discovering and building.
There's something important that I want my kids to hear, so I've started to say it to them, because the older one is eight, and soon things will start to show up in his life that carry more consequences, more traps, more risks for screwing up. I want them to hear that their stepdad and I are on their side. I said it to them the other day. No matter what they had done, no matter how upset it might make me to hear about it, we're always here to help them. They can count on us. We will comfort them. We will protect them. We will be on their side. Always.
One of my biggest fears as they grow older is the emergence of a space between us where I become on the outside of their lives, of what's happening to them, inside of them, and that I'm not even aware of how large this space has become. I know that there will be some space. It's a necessary part of becoming an adult. But I want to be sure that if something happens to them that really scares them, no matter how ashamed they feel about it or how badly they think they screwed up, that they will come to us, because they will know that they don't have to carry it alone. So I've started telling them now, and trying to practice good empathetic listening, and staying calm and non-judging when little things go wrong, so that when big things go wrong later, they'll still come to us.
When I was a teenager, people already talked about how different and more dangerous the world was for my generation - AIDS, cocaine, gangs, and the explosion of pornography with cable tv and VHS recording all preyed upon the future of youth. And that was before the internet. Before this insane proliferation of guns in homes and purses and car glove compartments. Before Mexican cartels moved into our neighborhoods. Before human traficking and forced prostitution warranted their own budgets and departments in local crime enforcement. Before organizations dedicated solely to protecting and advocating for child victims of sexual abuse even existed.
So besides keeping the computers in the family room, talking with them about how to choose their friends, teaching them bit by bit that there are dangers out there that they need to watch out for and avoid, I also want to add in, and if (when) you screw up, come to us. Whatever pain you are in, we are your parents, we are strong, let us carry it with you and help you through it. We will listen. We care. We will always be on your side.
I hope and pray that by the time they become teenagers, the bridge we have built will be strong and familiar enough that they will meet us on it, by habit, no matter how large the spaces between us have become.