Full disclosure: I was a “typical” teen. I never got in any real trouble, but I pushed boundaries and took risks. I was an angsty, know-it-all. I argued with my family, and my teachers often said I wasn’t working up to my potential.
Like I said, I was “normal.” Which means I was challenging.
What saved me from myself? Role models who met me where I was at and guided me forward.
To pay forward what these people gave to me, I became a middle school teacher. I really “got” my students and earned the title of teen whisperer early in my career.
Then I became a parent. I thought I’d be a natural. Much to my surprise, the transition to motherhood was harder than I could have imagined.
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The reality of parenthood overwhelmed me. Compared to other moms who seemed together and calm, I felt like a failure. And I was supposed to be good at this!
Books weren’t helping and the internet made it worse. So I hired a parenting coach, an expert who offered solutions without judgement.
Within a few months, my behavior and perspective shifted. I became calmer and more in control. I learned tactics that minimized the daily struggles without sacrificing a loving relationship. Most importantly, I developed confidence and calm.
Simultaneously, I was working with teens. I was seeing a lot of parallels between my “threenager” and my teenage students. I adapted the parenting tactics for my students. Over time, I honed my approach and saw consistent results both at home and at work.
When I shared my method with the parents I worked for and they applied it, they saw big improvements across the board.
I discovered I had a super-power. Not only do I really get teens, but I’m a translator between them and their parents. I developed a simple system that had two goals: staying connected to teens and empowering them to become adults. When used consistently, this system created big changes for parents who had “tried everything.”
All this reinforced what I already believed: It takes a village to raise a child. But that village needs to have new tools to reach today’s child.
This process of learning while teaching is what inspired me to create Tame the Teen. In the age of interconnectivity, no one has to struggle alone. I benefited from the mentorship I received, and the parents I worked with benefited from my perspective.
I also happen to LOVE teens. I love their awkwardness and beauty. Their keenness and cluelessness. They are full of what I like to call “becoming energy”–not quite formed but so gorgeously alive!
It’s clear that today’s children are growing up in a new world. As parents, we are unsure of what that means for the hows: How do we help teens engage with real life, not just screen life? How do we communicate clearly, face-to-face? How do we teach teens to problem solve and think for themselves? How do we nurture independence and accountability?
How do we raise people with enough grit to thrive in a complicated world?
Now that I am a parent, I understand the importance of tackling these questions. It is on us to be the change we want to see in our kids. My goal is to create a community of parents and caregivers who are aware and grounded, so that our kids can thrive in a demanding world.
Helaina Altabef began her career in 2001 as a middle school English teacher in Brooklyn, New York. Her teaching career is diverse, and she has worked in both public and private schools in New York, Oregon, and New Jersey.
In 2010, Helaina earned a coaching certification from the International Coaching Academy to complement her skills as an educator. This training helps Helaina partner with parents who struggle to relate to their teens.
In 2011, Helaina started Pique Learning, a program that prepared students with the necessary tools to thrive in an increasingly competitive world. She incorporated reading, critical thinking, communication, organizational and problem-solving skills. Though clients were initially drawn to Helaina’s promise to help with their child’s writing skills, this whole-child approach led to improved performance across the board.
Helaina received a Bachelor’s degree with honors in English from the State University of New York of Fredonia, and a Master’s degree in Education from Pace University. She lives in New Jersey with her husband Morry, their two children, Leela and Sophie, and their dog Harry.