The Hardest Part of Parenting a Teen Is All the Not Knowing

Hardest part

Driving home from freshman orientation, my teenage son says nothing. Sprawled out in the passenger seat, bangs covering his eyes, he fidgets with the automatic window.

“So, high school … it seems pretty cool, right?” I insist.

“I guess,” he shrugs, as he stares out the open window.

“High school’s going to be a lot different than junior high, but in a good way. I think you’re going to like it.”

“I guess.”

Sigh. If I had to guess, I’d say he has a lot on his mind … not that he’s sharing it with me.

Not so long ago he told me everything, from who got their name on the board and why to the temperature inside his classroom. Now at 13, all I know is what he chooses to tell me. Combined with what I see, I can’t help but feel I’m missing something. His good grades tell part of his story. His mixed mood tells another.

It’s not enough to know he loves video games, hates cheese, and prefers Moco De Gorila hair gel. I want to know more. I want to know the important stuff.

Is he happy?

Is “fine” really fine?

Is he heartbroken?

Is he nervous about high school?

I’ve asked these questions many times in many different ways; I just wish I was sold on his one-word answers.

He can tell me things. Does he know that? He can tell me complicated stuff, embarrassing stuff, even personal stuff. Does he know how cool I am? What a great listener I can be? That I’ve been there, too? He might think Mom can’t possibly understand the complexities of his GenZ mind, but I can … or at least try to.

I make it a point to be present. I encourage daily communication. Even still, you can lead a teen to your open mind, but you can’t make them talk. I’ve tried.

My husband assures me, “He knows you’re here. He knows you care.” He tells me to relax, take two steps back, watch and wait.

I do. I am. I try. All with the best of intentions. All perhaps the wrong way?

In my two steps back, I may be confusing a loosened grip with letting go.

In my watching, I have a tendency to fixate on details instead of the bigger picture.

In my waiting, I require frequent reminders that our greatest connections happen when I least expect them.

It’s possible we’ve reached a bend in our parent-child journey where the answers are becoming his to keep. As a once teen, I understand the necessity of this place. As a parent, the climate and customs concern me. But the good news is that we just got here, and at 13 years old, we’ve still got a long way to go.

I may not know what my son’s future holds, but if I think about it, I never have. But if I can trust history to repeat itself, I can have confidence in knowing that we’ll make it through this next adventure with as much heart as we ever have.

So maybe right now the answers are overrated. Maybe they ruin the surprise. Or maybe faith is the only answer I need.


  1. The most common problem parents face while parenting a teen. I really miss having conversation with my daughter. It’s so annoying when her answer are just two or three words and suddenly initiate a conversation when she needs something. I guess I have try the idea of taking their electronic away. Let’s be patient.

  2. Right there with you. My 14 yr old daughter was grounded this weekend and was banned from all electronics and guess what? SHE TALKED! Without being prompted! It was great, and probably short lived. Sigh. Best of luck to you with yours.

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