| REAL LIFE: AMBRA REDRICK |

Living the Teen Life

FIRST PRINTED IN THE MARCH/APRIL ISSUE

Growing up, Ambra Redrick always planned on being a mom to 10. Reality, though, gave her two biological children 17 years apart, two bonus babies ages 15 and 17, a grandchild – and 35,000 (and counting) surrogate teens to love on.

By Tamara L. O’Shaughnessy • PHOTOS BY LAUREN JEZIORSKI

As CEO and co-founder of Teen HYPE, a Detroit nonprofit focused on empowering teens and raising them up as leaders for today and beyond, Redrick is living her life’s work to reverse a generation’s belief that children should be seen, not heard. “I’m really passionate that young people have a voice, that we give them agency and space and share our power and we share seats at the table for them so they have this capacity to grow and learn and demonstrate their value in this world,” Redrick says.

She says she’s proud that Teen HYPE, which turns 18 this year, has found a way to create a safe space for young people, physically and emotionally, in a city full of places that would rather not welcome them. 

It’s a big role.

Like any parent, Redrick says she gets exhausted and struggles. She even jokes that she is not perfect-parent material deserving to be profiled in a parenting magazine, but then gets real. “I think that we should really be honest about the challenges and the difficulties. Sometimes I don’t remember self care. Sometimes my daughter is late for school and sometimes I do mess up and it’s not perfect at all. You do the best you can.”

Her biggest challenge as a parent has been getting a diagnosis for her daughter, who has Expressive and Receptive Communication Disorder, then finding how to best support her. “She’s still this absolutely brilliant extraordinary young person. She’s just a little different.”

Since Redrick is living a teen life both in her home and at work, we picked her brain about this age group that often gets such a bad rap.

What have you learned about teens:

“One of the interesting things about young people, they are just trying to figure out themselves, ‘whatever’s going on with me, is it normal?’ As parents, I think we forget to normalize things. We make a big deal out of things that aren’t a big deal, but for some reason we get nervous and don’t know how to talk about things like puberty, sexual health. They just want to know.”

It doesn’t have to be a big deal or even The Talk. Try low-pressure questions during a movie – even Hallmark movies are great conversation starters – or while making a pizza, she suggests. “The more intentional we are in building critical thinking, I think it helps young people figure out themselves and navigate the world themselves. What do you think about that, what you would have done differently. Make it open ended.”

FAST TALK

YOUR GUILTY PLEASURE

“Pralines and cream ice cream.”

Favorite thing to do on a Saturday night:

“These days, I have fallen in love with Audible. Sometimes I just enjoy sitting back and listening.”

Favorite Food:

“I’m a simple girl. I could eat pizza three times a week.”

Your Parenting Motto:

“Trust the process, it will be OK. I think as parents sometimes we can be perfectionists and we want to get it all right. Sometimes it can be scary. In the end, it really is OK.”

What you hope your kids say about  you:

“She did her best and that was enough. … I just want them to know I did my best and that I really, really believe in them.”

What are some ways parents can help teens:

“Not all parents know how to say I made a mistake. I think honestly all parents fail their kids because we’re trying to figure it out too and there’s just no perfect book. Sometimes we trip and stumble. I think the best way to role model that for young people is to be honest about our own mistakes. I think when parents don’t do that, as young people get older, once they are starting to notice that and be able to put words to that, they become resentful because they are angry and they don’t understand.”

Help them determine what’s real and not real, especially as social media paints perfect lives, she says.

Also, tell them the truth and keep talking with them.

“There will be days you don’t recognize them and then one day you’ll realize they heard what you said, they’ll do something that they actually absorbed the value you were trying to teach them. Young people just need to know what our values are. What do you believe and what do you want me to do? I think we start off by demonstrating those values when they are really young and I think, young people, by the time they are teenagers, they are trying to uphold those values as much as they can. Sometimes they question them, but I think for the most part, they really want to make their parents proud, they really want to do the right thing, and they’re really just trying to figure it out just like us.”

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