This morning clinical psychologist and TODAY contributor Ruth Peters was on the show talking about age appropriate behavior for teenagers. Matt led the segment with her going through different scenarios and discussing what she felt were fair and safe activities for teens of different ages.
I popped upstairs to Meredith's dressing room to talk to her about this segment, since she has three teenagers under her roof at the moment. Her son Ben is eighteen, Gabe is fifteen (and is appearing on the Martha Stewart show today) and Lily is fourteen. Here's a little bit from what we talked about.
What are some of the milestones that you faced with your kids as they hit the teen years?
I think the biggest thing for Ben was, because we live outside of the city, when was he allowed to go into the city by himself, take the train home and take the subway with his friends. When he was in ninth grade we let him start doing this, but never completely alone. Our kids had cell phones in sixth grade as safety precautions, but only for emergency calls. I also believe that you do have to be sensitive to what other kids have, because it can be a big deal to your kids and you don't want them to feel singled out necessarily.
One thing I've had to face with my mom, as I got older, was that if I were upset about something, she would want to fix it. I finally said to her, "Mom, I don't want you to fix it. I just want you to listen." Have you experienced anything like that?
Yes, definitely. Lily actually said something remarkably similar to me recently. She had wanted to go away with a friend to Florida, and for a few reasons Richard and I were not comfortable with her missing school and going, so we said no. She was understandably upset, and I said, "Lily, let me explain a few reasons why -" and she interrupted me and said, "Mom, I need to be upset right now. I'm going to go to my room because I just need to be upset for a little while." It was so amazing to hear her say such a direct statement about her reaction. I think it's important to take those cues seriously.
Do you feel like you've faced different obstacles with your kids because of your job and being in the spotlight of the media?
Not really, no. I think my kids have a really healthy understanding that this is my job, not a definition of who I am. I've known all of their friends since they were little, so they really see me as Mrs. Cohen. I think my kids appreciate the opportunities that come with my job, but I never want them to feel entitled.
How are the teen years overall?
There are elements of stress, I mean, every day is life-threatening. I think driving is the scariest thing - and I feel like Ben is a very good driver, but I still worry. I do believe you have to let kids go to let them figure out who they are. I think it's important to do this before they leave for college, so that they're not overwhelmed by the freedom, or take it to the other extreme and go crazy at college.
My mom started saying as I got older that she enjoyed talking with my friends more than talking with her own friends - do you enjoy getting to know your kids as young adults?
I used to think I was a baby person - you know, they're so cute and little, and I just wanted my kids to stay that way. But now that they are growing up, I love seeing them in this stage. I love having adult conversations with them and their friends - they all have great peer groups around them. I am so excited for Ben to go off to college - I know I might cry at goodbye, but there is no doubt in my mind that he's ready and I am looking forward to him to taking on this next adventure. I think one really important thing that my kids have had growing up is that we have a great group of adult friends, some are parents and some aren't, who have always been around. If my kids ever needed to talk to an adult other than one of their parents, they have these great mentors to turn to. It was really Richard who fostered that, and it's been so important.
Gabe was so comfortable in the Martha Stewart clip on today's show - it's fun to see how much personality he has.
All of my kids really know who they are. I think that's one of the trickiest parts of being a parent - learning who your kids are and supporting them without putting your own opinions or views on them. When Gabe started baking I remember thinking, "Oh no, the kitchen is going to explode." But in the end, it's a gift to have three young adults who know themselves so well.