Teenage Years: the New Frontier

In some ways, it seems like it was only yesterday that I was welcoming kids like Jackie and Lucy to the Children’s Village and into their new family.

I admit that when I look at them today at ages 18 and 20, I still see those cherubic faces full of mischief. Back then, being a parent meant getting Lucy to wear the towel rather than drag it on the floor on her way to the bath, and convincing Jackie that swinging from the rafters was not an acceptable naptime activity. I had no idea just how easy I had it! Today, with 46 teenagers in our family (yes, you read that right), parenting looks very different.

As I imagine many parents are doing right now, we are working to help our teens identify their interests and strengths before choosing a course of study that will guide their professional futures. Career counseling – it’s not for the faint of heart! For some of our teens, their next step is obvious. For others, their initial plans were not what one would call realistic, but I somehow managed to find my patience. Probably because it was during those moments that I heard my father laughing from heaven: let’s just say that at 18 years old, I was not terribly realistic either! At the end of the day, we succeeded in plotting a course to success for each of them, even if it was sometimes a compromise between their aspirations and their aptitudes.

Another parenting challenge that has taken a few years off of our lives is keeping our recent Form 4 grads occupied during their seven-month school break. All 13 of them are home at once, and as we all know, teenagers with time on their hands can be a dangerous combination! To keep them busy, we have them doing a variety of activities, from attending computer school to learning how to drive using my car. Despite these diversions, I’m not sure that we’re going to be able to avoid trouble. Just the other day, I overheard one of the boys telling a volunteer that “Mom says we need a learner’s permit so it won’t matter if we hit anything.” Holy smokes, this is the stuff that makes you yearn for the toddler years!

So it won’t come as a surprise that one of our top priorities for this year is refining, improving—and in some cases—revamping our approach to parenting during the “teenage years.” Our first initiative is hiring a new social worker, who will focus exclusively on our teens. This person will be the lead for mentoring, career counseling and developing age-appropriate activities for them when they are not in school. If you know of a brave soul who is ready to take on this adventure, please let us know!
In closing, I must say that despite the challenges of this new age group, it is exciting to be getting ever closer to seeing the result of all of our efforts, as more and more kids speed toward the end of their education and into their first real jobs. And I’m filled with an enormous sense of pride and hope as I watch them growing into thoughtful and mature young adults, who are well on their way to becoming productive citizens of Tanzania.

Many thanks to all of you who have stood by our kids since they were toddlers. With your continued support I know that each of them will achieve their very best.