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It’s time to remember being 13 …

See that girl below? That’s me. I’m 13 in that first photo and it’s 1985. Sixteen in the other photo (so 1988).

I look at those photos and I go straight back. I can remember my teen years like they were yesterday. I remember feeling hopeful, unsure, awkward, vulnerable, excited, fragile and bold.

I remember being in love with boys who never knew I existed. I remember laughing so hard during lunchtime with my friends Lynne and Robin that tears came down my face. I remember hating everything about how I looked. I remember feeling jealous and being unkind when my friend Lynne tried to bring a new girl into our friendship group in grade 9. I remember moments of humiliation. And moments of real joy.

Here’s another memory.

From the age of 15 I worked in a popular department store every Christmas holidays. I always worked in the ‘handbag’ department dutifully dusting the wallets and bags. Anyway, one Saturday morning when I was 16 and at work, my beautiful mum came in to visit me while she was shopping. Now my mum and I are (and were) very close. Let me also say we look nothing alike. We are completely different builds. She’s much smaller than me. Anyway, in she comes to see me. And once she leaves my manager Andrew* comes over to me and says, “So was that your mum?” I say yes. And then he said to me, “Oh so is your dad fat?”

I knew exactly what he was saying. I went home devastated.

And when I got home i was in a FOUL mood. I was rude and grumpy to my parents – even though we were close. And I didn’t tell them a word of what had happened that day. I kept it to myself. But I was gutted.

Thirty-one years later and I still remember that moment and how much it hurt.

So what’s my point? My point is that so often as parents we take our tween and teenager’s grumpy, cranky, cantankerous behaviour personally. I get emails from parents (or we do a bit of group therapy in the Lighthouse Plan closed group) questioning why their kids are in such foul moods when they get home from school. Why they grunt or mumble at them.

We must think back to what those years were like. Our teens are fragile and vulnerable about who they are. And the world (and sometimes their manager 😐) is telling them who they are and how they look is not okay. And then there’s school which can be joyful but also brutal. Sometimes the thought of saying out loud what has gone down during the day is just too humiliating or painful. Our kids are dealing with big feelings and emotions.

So sometimes when our tween or teen comes home in a foul mood — don’t push them for answers, instead leave a hot chocolate in their room. Maybe over dinner ask them to rate their day out of 10 (since sometimes trying to articulate how you are feeling is just way too hard and giving a score to snapshot how you are feeling is easier). Or write them a loving note in a journal “You don’t seem yourself. Are you okay? Can I help?” and leave it in their room to reply in writing. Sometimes making eye contact and talking in person is just too hard.

I’m sharing this tonight because parenting legend @MaggieDent is an ambassador for Embrace at Telethon Kids Institute, the first research centre in WA to focus on the mental health of young people birth to 25. Importantly, their research has a national focus so it’s not just WA based.

Maggie is asking all of us to post a photo from our teenage years with #supportembrace to show our support for young people who are traversing adolescence right now, so they can see we’ve all been through it. And we have. I encourage and invite you to post your own photo in support. Let’s help each other remember that being a teenager is hard and often lonely.

And if you’d like to donate to the campaign to help raise funds go tohttps://embrace.telethonkids.org.au

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About Bec

Over the past 25 years Rebecca Sparrow has earned a living as a travel writer, a television publicist, a marketing executive, a magazine editor, a TV scriptwriter, a radio producer, a newspaper columnist and as an author.

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