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It Takes a Whole Village to Raise a Teen

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to wade through this motherhood thing with some pretty amazing friends. In the early years, the moms who commiserated with me over potty training battles and nap time dramas were my life line. As my kids hit the halls of elementary school, I was grateful for the moms and dads who showed me how to navigate the PTA, math struggles, and homework challenges.

Through it all, my kids were mostly under my supervision. If my kid misbehaved during a class party, I was either volunteering in the classroom or a teacher would email me about the situation.

But now that my teens are spending time with their friends unchaperoned in public places, I’m starting to realize that I need other parents on a whole different level.

Sure, I still need their help with carpools and advice on how to buy a prom dress that won’t break the bank, but I also need my friends to keep an eye on my teens when I can’t be there to do so.

When you start letting go of your teen, you realize that the moments where you can guide them through the intricacies of social interactions and physical safety are starting to dwindle. I can’t always be there when they’re behind the wheel of a car or at a party with underage drinking. I need other parents to be honest with me if they witness behavior they know I wouldn’t allow.

When my kids were small, if we saw someone being rude to a store employee, I could take the time to explain to them why the behavior was wrong. If I was sitting in traffic and a driver cut me off while giving me the finger, I could use that moment to remind my kids not to be a jerk when they learned to drive.

I try to trust that those teaching moments have taught my teens to make good choices when they’re away from their father and me. But raising teens truly takes a village—and we need all the help we can get.

Recently, I was sitting in the carpool line with my windows down as I waited for my son to get out of school. My reverie was broken when I heard three teenage boys walking on the sidewalk next to my car, using offensive language and crude references to talk about women. I knew one of the boys and, because his mother is a friend of mine, I knew she’d be mortified is she knew what he was saying.

My job in that moment was not to reprimand the boy and his friends.

As much as I wanted to stick my head out of the car window and shoot him a “Hey, Mrs. Burke can hear you” expression, I knew that it wasn’t my place. I didn’t hear the entire conversation and I didn’t know the context of the situation. But I did know that his mother would want to know. So I told her.

Not in a judgmental way, not in a way that would make her feel embarrassed or attacked. I simply found some time to chat with her later in the day about what I’d overheard. Her son had recently become friends with the boys he was with and she was concerned that his behavior had started to change.

When we hung up, she said, “Thank you so much. And, I promise, I’d do the same for you.”

I sure hope so.

I never want another parent to think that my teens are above reproach if they are misbehaving while away from our watch. In fact, if my kid is speeding like a madman down the neighborhood streets, I want someone to speak up so that my husband and I can put a stop to it. I can’t talk to my teen about his behavior if I don’t know that it’s happening so I want other parents to speak up.

I’ll listen.

Another mother talks about her village:

I’ll continue to speak up when a friend’s kid makes a bad choice or seems headed down the wrong path. And I’ll be sure to speak up when I see them doing something awesome in public, too. I know how hard we are all working to raise our kids, and I know how much I appreciate it when other parents help me raise mine. It’s a two-way street and the lines of communication between parents of teens should always be open.

Christine Burke started the popular parenting blog, Keeper of The Fruit Loops six years ago on a whim. Since then, her work has been featured on the Today Show, Scary Mommy, Grown and Flown and other parenting websites. In her spare time, she runs marathons, collects thrift shop finds and eats ice cream like it’s her job.

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