As a mom of teenagers, I’m in the same boat as every other parent: we have wisdom to impart and a perspective to share, and our kids want none of it.

My daughter is 12, and deep in the throes of what makes up the hell of seventh grade. Kids her age have so much more to deal with than we did: On top of the hormonal turmoil and confusion universal to generations of middle school kids, they also have social media, where betrayal is public and instantaneous. Not only that, their everyday reality includes lockdown drills where they have to pretend there’s an active shooter in the hallway. It’s not surprising that anxiety abounds.

The Struggle is Real

That said, many of the struggles they face may sound mighty familiar to you. Common problems run the gamut from politics among friends, queen bees, betrayals, confusion, the endless analysis of what someone REALLY meant when they said that, and constant self-doubt. My daughter makes a lot of choices that I find strange, and I used to try to talk to her about them, sharing my view of how I think she could contribute a little less to her own unhappiness.

She did not find that helpful.

This came to a head when she told me that her “friends” were writing nasty, judgmental comments on her video posts. When she’s feeling sad or hurt, she posts selfie videos about these dark feelings, usually around a song that expresses what she’s feeling. The posts seem very intimate to me, both vulnerable and risky. What I want to tell her, because I fear for her, is to keep this stuff private, that when I was her age (the eternal conversation-ender from one generation to the next), I would just write tormented poetry or diary entries or fan fiction and shove the pages under my bed to hide them from the world.

Questions, Not Answers

Instead, I tried something different. I sat next to her, put my phone away (yes, adults need to remember this too), and asked her some questions. I got some surprisingly thoughtful answers.

I found out that she views those videos as her diary. I still didn’t understand why she had to POST them. Instead of saying that, I asked her why. And she had reasons! Some made sense to me, some didn’t.  

I asked her why she continued to put them up, even after her so-called friends said the videos were annoying. Why would she want to subject herself to that?

She told me those friends were perfectly free to stop following her. Posts don’t sneak into someone’s feed… you have to be following a person to see them.

This stopped me in my tracks. She was right. Why are they following her if they find the videos annoying? Why are they commenting?

In her mind, their annoyance was their choice.

She was right. And my idea, that their bullying should drive her off the platform where she expresses herself, was wrong.

Try to Meet them Where They Are

Since then, I’ve been trying hard to listen more, and judge less.  I’ve stopped trying to apply what happens to her to MY sense of the world, and more time understanding what it’s like in hers.

I was just listening to Alan Alda’s podcast, where he was interviewing Tom Hanks, and they were talking about when their now-grown kids were teenagers. Tom said that what he had to learn to do, back then, was wait. He’d ask how his son’s day was and get the typical, “Fine.” And then, instead of asking more specific questions, he would wait. Just wait. In silence. And a few minutes later, his son would talk.

So maybe that’s all they want from us. In a world of social media where everyone has so much to say, this is our time to sit back and listen. And then, when you feel like you can really chime in, maybe they’ll listen too.

About Laurie Ulster

A transplanted Canadian living in New York, Laurie Ulster is a freelance writer and a TV producer who somehow survived her very confusing adolescence as the lone female Star Trek fan in middle school. She writes about pop culture, lifestyle topics, feminism, food, and other topics for print, digital, podcasts, and TV.

View all posts by Laurie Ulster

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