April 17, 2014 in Education
“Can I just say, I hate teenagers!”
It’s a direct quote from an email I received recently, but it’s also an echoing sentiment that hangs like a specter over happy childhoods. It’s been a drum I’ve heard beating in the background for the last few months, as friends and acquaintances, strangers and family have shared life, or articles on Facebook.
It makes me sad.
Can I just say, I love teenagers!
“Wow, I’ve never heard anyone say that before,” a new Dad friend of mine remarked. I was taken aback. That makes me sad too!
I have three now. From the newly minted to the almost gone. It’s not a stage that’s without it’s challenges, to be sure, but which one is? My kids aren’t perfect. I don’t have this parenting thing figured out. I would never presume to tell you how to raise yours. I don’t think we’re doing it “right.” In fact, I don’t think it’s even possible to do it “right.” What is “right” anyway?
I do think that much of the stereotypical “bad” behavior exhibited by some teens is created by our culture, by our mindset about youth, by the way we legislate against them and ham string them at the most creative and productive period of growth in their lives. I think we often invite rebellion by decreasing freedom at the very point at which we should be increasing it. I think we forget that to be 15 is to be ready to fly, and convinced of our own capability while prevented from proving ourselves. Of course those are generalizations, but if it’s fair to generalize about teens, then turn about should be fair play, right?
It’s easy to paint an age group with a wide brush and justify an overall dismissal. It becomes harder when we remember that a particular generation, with a particular characterization, are individuals, as unique as snowflakes. This is true of teenagers.
Instead of focusing on what’s wrong with teens and all of the reasons that they’re so hard, and scary and frustrating to parent, what would happen if we changed our focus and instead chose to focus on the blooming and the beauty and the wildness of the ride?
Can I tell you why I love teenagers?
I love teenagers because they have big, fat, brains. They are thinking about everything and if we’ll hush long enough, they’ll astound us with what they know, what they’re learning and what they think about everything.
I love teenagers because they’re demi-dults (half adults) and they are at a particularly beautiful moment in development where they can slide, effortlessly, between worlds, one moment almost grown ups, the next laughing children.
I love teenagers because they’re capable. They’re so very capable, and they LOVE to accomplish things. If they’re encouraged to, they can spin most of the plates that adults do and it’s so much fun to watch them!
I love teenagers because they are their own people. They are still “my children” but they’re also becoming many things that have nothing to do with me.
I love teenagers because they don’t need me. They can cook their own food, care for their own things, manage their own schooling, make their own money, and I can leave them in the house with no fear of it burning down whilst I’m away.
I love teenagers because they still need me. They need me to talk about their day, their triumphs and their trials, the things they’re worried about with friends, how to sort out online banking, and what I think about a new song they’ve learned. I no longer am needed to tie shoes or wipe noses, now I’m needed to share ideas and brainstorm solutions.
I love teenagers because they are hilarious. It is impossible not to bust a gut in the presence of two or more teens. Just shut up and listen to them for a while. You will laugh, I promise.
I love teenagers because they are mischievous. They prank one another (and sometimes me!) They sneak around and plan surprises for people. They outsmart me three times a day and they’re fun to try to outsmart right back.
I love teenagers because they are eternally optimistic. They still really believe that the world can be saved. They still believe in the goodness of humanity. They still believe in love. They still believe that anything is possible. They still believe that tomorrow will be better. They still believe that there are answers to the big questions. May they never outgrow that. May we all recapture it by association with them.
I love teenagers because they are passionate. It’s not always pretty, but I still love it. They love intensely. They hate intensely. They strive whole-heartedly. They dream relentlessly. I can learn from that.
I love teenagers because they question everything; even whether I know what I’m talking about. Especially whether I know what I’m talking about. They are worse than toddlers. They will chase a “why” right into it’s darkest corner and drag it out into the light of day to look it over carefully. They are thinkers, they are problem solvers. They want to know, to understand and to debate. I’m not afraid of that, even if they come to disagree with me.
I love teenagers because they are almost gone. When they were toddlers a rainy afternoon felt like three eternities. Now, a year passes before I’ve finished my morning tea. What’s not to love about light at the end of the tunnel and the sweetness of stopping to smell the last few flowers? I simultaneously want to save this moment and fast forward to the next chapter, which is sure to be even better than the last.
I love teenagers because they scare me. They’re at that moment in life where it’s entirely possible to make or break this whole precarious life with one moment’s hesitation or an ill calculated leap. Talk about an adrenaline rush. Put a kid on a plane alone. Send them off to work for months without you. Open the door of the cage and push. Scary stuff. Fabulous stuff. Roller-coaster stuff. Heart in my throat stuff. Cheering LOUD stuff. Good stuff.
Tomorrow Gabriel turns 16.
He was a fat, black haired baby with laughing eyes just a minute ago. Now, he picks me up right off of the floor at least once a day. He sees it as his personal responsibility to take care of things for me. He is my self appointed “drover” (Australian for a cattle driver, but he’s decided it applies to the truck too.) He shaves, but he plucks out the forest between his eyebrows only when I threaten to hold him down and do it in his sleep.
He is finishing up his school work two months early this year so that he can take that two months and intern at Good Life Farms, the largest hydroponic farm in the mid-west, and sail with his Gramps. He will be gone from the family at least four, maybe six, months of this year. He and his sister plan to rent their own place and live separately in the village we plan to winter in, in Guatemala, this year. He’ll start his university work by the new year. He’ll get his driver’s license next week. Next week.
You can say that you hate teenagers if you like. You can dread their inevitable presence in your family’s home. For me, I’d rather celebrate them. I’d rather love them, as loudly as I possibly can. I’d rather hold them with an open hand, pitch them wildly into the air and then cheer with all of the breath in my lungs as they open their wings in front of me, just like they opened their lungs for the first time, under my watchful eye, not so very long ago.
I love teenagers.