Beyond Sleep, Food and Funding

Most Saturdays I wrestle with whether to wake up my teenage son or let him sleep as long as his body demands. Looming homework, chores and his work schedule compete for priority with catching up on much-needed sleep. One weekend morning I sat on the edge of his bed and gently asked if he wanted to eat a late breakfast with his dad and me or keep sleeping. This seemingly simple question posed more of a dilemma than I expected. “I want to do both,” he said. “Can’t you feed me here?” He was almost serious. I had to laugh.

His answer reveals much of what it means to be around a teenage boy. It also is an example of the unexpected delight of parenting a teen, beyond meeting the basic needs of food, clothing and money. When Collin was about 14, I was surprised by the sudden high demand for a seemingly constant supply of food. I also was unprepared for how funny teens can be, and insightful in unexpected ways. The trick is getting them to share it with you.

Communicating the way teens do, through texting, Facebook and, as a last resort, calls on a cell phone, can help you keep up with your kids. Whether you are their “friend” on Facebook or you send short text messages, we share ideas about how and when to use technology to communicate and connect with your kids(see p. 24).

Texts and Facebook posts are useful and can be fun, but they don’t necessarily help you know what’s really going on. Eating together provides an opportunity to slow down and check in. And since there’s food, it’s a natural draw. As Michele Ranard includes in her ideas for ways to bond with teens (p. 27), shared mealtime doesn’t have to always be dinner. It can be brunch or lunch on the weekends.

Sometimes kids can feel grilled around the table, though, and mindless activities or shared interests encourage a more relaxed atmosphere for conversation that moves beyond last-minute reminders (OK, nagging). In our family, Harry Potter has been one shared interest that has continued as our son has grown. The popular book series provides a common reference for family jokes, off-the-wall comments, and even discussions about world affairs. As with the release of the new novels and movies, we anticipated the opening of theWizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Florida and a time when we could visit. (See p. 60 for a review.)

Our trip to Florida was a good reminder that to stay grounded, and sane, we need to take time to connect with each other and have fun. This is especially true as Collin moves into the serious and stressful business of considering colleges, taking entrance exams and, soon, filling out applications.

As he has started looking, we recognize how fortunate we are to have such excellent post-secondary options in North Carolina. Carolina Parenting makes it easy for parents and students to find out about the possibilities statewide with the annual publication A Parent’s Guide to N.C. Colleges, inside this issue and updated for 2011 with descriptions, data and info about 118 colleges and community colleges. Complete with helpful articles, the guide helps families explore what’s available and start thinking about paths and preparation.

It will be a huge adjustment – for me – when Collin goes to college. He knows it, too, and is already playing it up to get what he wants: yes, food. When he asked me to make him something to eat one night after dinner, I told him he was welcome to make whatever he wanted. His response was that he’s only home for another year and a half, and after he’s gone I will wish I could cook for him. Straight to the heart his comment went. But I stood my ground. Knowing how to make his own food will be even more important after he’s gone. He also needs more practice waking up to an alarm.