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5 Unexpected Life Lessons For My Teens

5 Unexpected Life Lessons For My Teens

By Mir Kamin

The older my kids get, the more I tend to think that I’m an old hand at this parenting thing, and nothing will surprise me anymore. I am wrong all the time, though, and this is no exception. I expected to teach my children table manners and how to do their laundry and that life isn’t fair, sure. But some of the other lessons bring me right back to that same mental space I was in when I held a screaming infant and wondered what on earth made me think I could shepherd a human through this life unscathed. Life is hard and messy and ridiculous, and I hope my teens are learning that’s true, but also that it’s sometimes wonderful.

Here’s just a sampling of lessons I found myself wading through recently:

Life isn’t just unfair, sometimes it’s downright cruel about it. I knew—and was ready to field situations wherein—sometimes life just goes the wrong way for the wrong reasons and it hurts. You don’t always get what you want. Sometimes you work really, really hard and someone who didn’t work nearly as hard bests you. “Sure things” aren’t, not always, and both the loss and the surprise of the pain are nearly unbearable. That’s all the stuff of a full life, and it stinks, but we all go through it. I had my arsenal of comfort and advice ready: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger; you are learning a hard but important lesson here; sometimes the person you are in disappointment is more important than the one you are in triumph; karma is a funny and not always readily-apparent thing. And then one of the kids was passed over for something that was desperately wanted, and we worked through it (mostly while I ached for the disappointment and sadness my kid was feeling), but then the person who nabbed the spot my kid would’ve given anything to have began complaining about how they didn’t even want it. Ouch. Talk about salt in the wounds! After about the hundredth cry of “It’s just not fair!” I had to say, “You’re right. It’s not. It sucks. It’s awful. I wish it was different. But… it’s not. So how do you accept it and move forward? Because right now you’re just making yourself crazy. I get it, I do, but it’s enough. So what do you do now?”

Sometimes winning isn’t all that great. Conversely, the same kid had a situation where there was a pretty big-deal triumph, and initial excitement devolved pretty quickly into drama and angst as other kids who felt disappointed commenced being complete jerks about it. The first time I heard, “I wish I didn’t even get it” I felt a wave of rage and had to check myself before I began speaking. When I did open my mouth, it was to say that I didn’t ever want to hear that again—that to wish away success because other people want to tear you down is its own form of laziness and also disrespectful to the other people who wish they were where you are. “You earned this through working harder than you ever have before, and you should celebrate that success, while still being humble and pleasant and giving no reasonable person any justification to be angry with you. If you start wishing it away, they win,” I said. “You wanted this, you worked for it, you got it, you deserve it. Life is so often unfair; this is a situation where it wasn’t, so don’t you dare turn it into something bad. Hold your head up and keep working hard and being a team player. The ugly stuff will blow over. And if it doesn’t, it says nothing about you and everything about them.”

Unhappy people want to make you unhappy, and they smell weakness. While I never bought the standard “bullies are just jealous” line that was offered to me in my youth, with the benefit of years and experience I can see that bullies are just deeply unhappy. With my oft-picked-on kid, the mantra I never saw myself offering to my children is now a badge and a shield: Do no harm, but take no s***. They pick you because you’re basically happy but obviously imperfect, and that makes an unhappy person crazy. Don’t protect anyone being awful to you, but never, ever be awful in return. The meaner they are, the sweeter you are. Smile as you ask them why on earth they’d say such a thing. When you find yourself feeling angry and/or victimized, really think about what sort of person behaves this way. You don’t know their story, but you know enough to know that they are driven to cruelty, and that’s not something happy people do. Protect yourself. Call them out. But be kind. And then go to those who make you a happier person. Come home and complain to me about it, and/or report them at school, but don’t let them see they’re getting under your skin. Feel sorry for them. Don’t feel sorry enough to let them hurt you, but sorry enough to realize that this has absolutely nothing to do with you.

Phones are for calling and texting! We recently had a situation where one of the kids was out late and had a low battery, so said kid made the brilliant decision to put the phone in “airplane mode.” Um. Yeah, that meant that as it got later and later and we began calling and texting, the phone appeared to be dead and we didn’t know where the kid was or when they might be arriving home. Was there a very long lecture about how Clash of Clans and Instagram notifications are actually not as important as your parents being able to reach you? Yep. This phone is a communication device for which we pay a lot of money. Adjust your behavior accordingly, kid, because the next time you’re unreachable like that will be the end of both your phone and your adventures out of the house.

People are not psychic, no matter how much you wish they were. I don’t know why both of my teens seem to believe that people can read their minds, and then if their wishes are not adhered to, it must be a deliberate slap in the face. (Is this a feature of teenhood? I don’t remember being this way.) My daughter wanted my son to join an activity with her, and decided to communicate that via “You should do it, it’ll look good on your resume.” Well, my son doesn’t really care about that, and had several reasons why he didn’t feel like it, so he declined. She got mad at him, and he got mad at her, and it was a mess. It took a full week for me to suss out that she really wanted him to do it with her because it’s her last year of high school and she thought it would be fun for them to spend some more time together before she leaves for college. She never said that to him, but of course was angry that he’d “rejected” her. And once he was told that she was actually asking because she wanted him there, he changed his mind. Problem solved! It turns out that telling people what you want and why is sometimes effective!

Have you found yourself teaching some unexpected life lessons (otherwise known as “conspicuously absent from the parenting manual”) to your mostly-grown kids? (It’s sort of the teen version of “I never knew ‘we don’t lick walls‘ was something I’d have to say.”)

About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

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  • Liv

    September 1, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    My son is only 4 but I’m pinning all of your posts to read again in a few years. Your advice is so practical, I love it!

    • Mir Kamin

      September 1, 2015 at 3:21 pm

      You’re my favorite, Liv. 😉

  • The magic of growth | Woulda Coulda Shoulda

    September 1, 2015 at 3:43 pm

    […] 2-6 of focusing on what matters: I’ve got an assortment of unexpected life lessons I’ve had to teach my teens over at Alpha Mom today, because “practically raised” does not, oddly enough, mean […]

  • Tonya

    September 1, 2015 at 4:10 pm

    The psychic this is a teen thing. My 14 year old suffers from that need as well. It makes me crazy too. I put it under the communicate umbrella. Lack of communication is a big thing in our house right now.

  • Jess

    September 1, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    We had the airplane mode thing happen last month, and I was so annoyed. 

    • Mir Kamin

      September 1, 2015 at 4:27 pm

      Right?? Like, okay, you did that to save your battery… FOR WHAT?

  • Cindy

    September 1, 2015 at 4:39 pm

    Great post, very funny! I think the “don’t lick the walls” thing is human nature, not even specific to teenagers. I have fully grown, extremely intelligent, highly educated co-workers who find new ways to create IT problems. All. The. Time. You would think after 20 years in the same job, I would have reached the end of surprises. But yet I find myself saying “why would you even think about doing that?” on a disturbingly regular basis.

  • Melissa

    September 1, 2015 at 6:55 pm

    I’ve been reading you since you were In New England and I was childless. I have 3 girls (5, 2, and 1) now. You’re not just entertainment anymore, you’re research about my future! I love the first one and may start applying it ru my own life!

  • Zb

    September 1, 2015 at 11:58 pm

    i’m loving it that “it’ll look good on your cv” was totally insufficient motivation for said teen, but that you sister wants you there was enough.

  • Kim too

    September 2, 2015 at 12:24 am

    My mantra this week is “people mess up; that’s what they do.” I say it to my oldest, because her sister is having an extraordinarily hard time right now, and her impulse control is not the greatest to begin with.  I say it to my husband, because parenting two special needs kids is hard as hell, especially when they screw up something that was meant to be fun for them. I say it to my youngest, because she is trying, oh lordy, she is trying, only to fall short again and again.  And I say it to me, because I can be a really fantastic parent all day long, only to blow it spectacularly trying to get the two of them in bed.
    People mess up, that’s what they do.  Be kind.

    • Mir Kamin

      September 2, 2015 at 9:13 am

      I love this so much.

  • el-e-e

    September 2, 2015 at 7:53 am

    Kim too, I’m using that ^ — thank you!

  • Leanne

    September 2, 2015 at 11:42 am

    The psychic thing is also an Aspie thing. I am constantly reminding my 9 yo. that we can’t read his mind. He will say he’s hungry, to which my response is, ” What do you want?” My son’s most common response is, “You know.” Well not only do I not know but I wouldn’t ask if I did. Wouldn’t actually being psychic come in handy more often than not with these kiddos?

  • js

    September 2, 2015 at 12:02 pm

    I really appreciate this, especially the part about unhappy people wanting to make you unhappy. I think, even in my adult life, I know of people like this. This one hits close to home and I will be discussing this with my eldest girl.

    Our mantra has always been you can’t control other peoples behavior, only your own. It works to help understand and get through all kinds of situations.

    Lately, with a teenager and an infant, it seems they are the ones constantly teaching me. I can only hope I’m still open-minded enough to learn.

    • Mir Kamin

      September 3, 2015 at 9:09 am

      Yep, and the corollary to only being able to control your own behavior: You can’t control how you feel, but you can control how you act. That’s another biggie ’round here.

  • Lucinda

    September 2, 2015 at 9:37 pm

    Oh yes. Variations on many of the things you listed.  For example, just as others are not psychic, neither are you.   You can’t be held responsible for knowing your friend’s feelings are hurt if she doesn’t tell you. Accept people for who they are but also make sure people accept you for who you are as well.  You shouldn’t have to constantly edit yourself in a true friendship, no matter how sweet that other person may be. My daughter ran into this last Spring with a friend who was suddenly getting upset with everyone but not telling them.  I finally heard about it from friend’s mother (and the issue was really ridiculous). We had a talk about how yes, my daughter was expected to be kind but not a mind reader and she shouldn’t feel like that was her responsibility. Now she has found a friend where she doesn’t have to edit herself and she is so much happier.