I remember it well. I was wrestling with my two active toddlers at church one Sunday, frazzled and probably wishing they would just sit still for one second. After a few minutes of observation, a middle-aged woman sitting nearby said, with a noticeable air of foreboding in her voice, “Just wait until they are teenagers.”
Her implication was clear: parenting toddlers is a walk in the park compared to what you will face when they are teens. As you can imagine, that did little to boost my morale. It mostly made me wonder what I had gotten myself into when I decided to have children. If it was only going to get more difficult when I was already stretched to maximum capacity and beyond, I was sunk.
I survived the toddler years (barely) and felt more at ease in the school age years. But as my older kids approached their teen years, I started to panic just a little. I had bought into the pervasive cultural mindset that teens are difficult, lazy, stubborn, disrespectful and rebellious, and that mentality had filled my heart with fear.
You can imagine my surprise (and delight) when my experience raising teens was nothing like I was expecting. Three of my five kids are now between 13 and 18 years old, and this is probably my favorite stage of parenting so far. I love watching them grow into respectable people. It warms my heart to see them creating their own lives with their growing independence.
Yes, they can be moody, irrational, and impulsive. Some are more high strung than others, and all of them cause me some amount stress and angst. There are definitely days when I wonder if we speak the same language.
But, by and large, my experience has convinced me that teenagers are awesome! Despite the challenges they sometimes create for their parents, they are funny and engaging. They are smart and observant. They make interesting conversationalists. They are eager to please (on their terms). They want to make good choices, even though they sometimes make mistakes. They have goals, dreams, and plans for their lives that they are working to accomplish.
And I am not just talking about my kids. Their friends and other youth whom I have worked with over the years are right there with them. They yearn for trust and independence and don’t always get things right, but they are trying.
I do understand that there are definitely teens who make choices that lead them down dead-end paths. Too many fall into the hands of addictions that limit their ability to choose wisely. There are those who have not learned how to be respectful and, therefore, treat others with contempt and unkindness. There are undoubtedly those who choose to rebel.
Cases involving such challenges are inevitably gut-wrenching for the parents and families who must work through them. If you fall into that category, my heart goes out to you.
But I don’t think most teenagers deserve the bad rap that they often get simply because of their age. I believe it is past time to stop expecting them, as a group, to be horrible and start appreciating their goodness. They just might rise (or fall) to meet the expectations we have of them, so let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.
I am confident that our future is safe in the hands of the rising generation of teens. Perhaps now is a good time for us, as their parents and teachers and leaders, to let them know that we believe in them.