If every parent of cherubic toddlers had a nickel for every time some well-meaning person chuckled and said, "Just wait until they're teenagers!," those parents would still be annoyed, but they'd also be filthy rich. For whatever reason, there is nothing more-seasoned parents love to do to new(ish) parents than warn them that someday, their beautiful babies will be teens -- and the implication is that this is a fate worse than death.
Our culture perpetuates this, both explicitly and tacitly. Children are adorable! But teenagers are difficult. "Little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems!" And of course there's the oft-repeated moan, "I am not looking forward to the teen years."
I'm just going to say it -- right here, right now, in front of God and everyone -- I love teenagers. Teenagers are fantastic and fascinating. My whole life, I've been the person who loves babies; I still love babies, and I will still swoop right down on you and commence with the babytalk and steal your infant from your arms because I need a cuddle, but I have come to adore the creature that is the modern teenager now that I have two of them. Don't believe the hype that teenagers are terrible and parenting teens is so much harder than younger kids. Teenagers are not terrible and every phase of parenting has its challenges. But if you're tired of tongue-clucking admonitions about the horror that supposedly lies ahead, sit down with me for a minute.
Teenagers sleep. And then they sleep some more. My daughter never went to bed without first screaming for at least twenty minutes for the first two years of her life. My son had colic for his first four months and screamed pretty much non-stop. Babies are cute and all, but they're not a recipe for a good night's sleep. And both of my children spent their first decade of life springing out of bed at o'dark thirty and coming to stand over me and demand ridiculous things (like that I get up immediately and feed them). Teens, on the other hand, love to sleep. They may agitate to stay up a little later at night, sure, but once they're down, they're out. I can't yet lay claim to a perfect night's sleep every single night, but I can tell you that the last time I awoke to "Mom! Mom! Mom! MOOOOOOOOM!!!!" was a long time ago.
Teenagers can cook for themselves. Oh, sure, this doesn't mean the whine of, "I'm huuuungry, what's for dinner?" doesn't still happen -- it does! -- but a hungry teenager can actually forage, and a motivated one can learn how to cook and then actually do it. We went so far as to assign dinner nights when the kids would cook for the whole family -- something that used to be an expected part of life back in the "olden days" but has somehow gotten away from a lot of us. It's nice for us grown-ups to have a break from meal prep, and it's great practice and a dose of autonomy/service for them.
When teenagers help, it's actually helpful. Remember back when you were advised to let your kids help whenever they wanted to, because "soon enough they won't want to" and this was about forming good habits? I sure do. I also remember going back over the half-dusted room, rearranging the dishes in the dishwasher so that they'd get clean, and waiting until the kids were in bed to scrub the bathroom that had been proudly coated in Windex and left to harden. Sometimes little kids can accomplish household tasks, but more often, they're practicing and their "help" makes twice as much work for the adults. Now, I'll freely admit that teenagers may grumble a bit when you request their assistance, but more likely than not, once they do what you've asked, it's done. Not only that, but if you play your cards right, they often take care of stuff without you even asking.
Teenagers are hilarious, both intentionally and not. Remember that phase when every other sentence out of your kid's mouth was "Knock knock!"? And then the jokes didn't even make any sense, because the punchline was always "Poop!" or some other "forbidden" thing? Yeah, you don't have to deal with that with teens. Their jokes make sense, and their developing understanding of the world makes for excellent jokes and humor in places you'd never expect it. (Don't believe me? The next time your teen quips, "That's what she said!" furrow your brow and say, "I don't get it. Can you explain to me why that's funny?" The ensuing blushing and shuffling of feet will be even funnier than the initial joke.) Most teenagers I know are just plain entertaining.
Teenagers have big emotions and big compassion. The number one complaint I hear about teens is that they bring excessive drama to everything. This is a fair observation -- hormones and increasingly complex peer and school circumstances do tend to make emotions run high. This can be wearing on those of us with older, cooler heads. But the gem in the midst of the ZOMG ALL THE FEELS emotion-storm is that they're only this way because they truly care about all sorts of things, in a way that society has yet to beat out of them. It may sometimes seem like they only care about themselves, but that's probably not the case. Ever seen a teen run with a cause that mattered to him? Ever seen a teen display startling empathy for a friend in crisis? It happens. It's pretty incredible to observe.
Little kids love you just because. Teenagers love you a whole new way. I'm not going to lie; it's true that teens are more likely to hurl the dreaded, "I hate you!" as a dagger, in the heat of the moment. But they don't really hate you (not for long, anyway), and as they grow and evolve, so does your relationship with them. For the first time, maybe, they start glimpsing their parents as people. The first time you see your teen truly appreciate you is fantastic. And it never gets old, seeing them just a little surprised to realize that you're kind of okay to hang around with, and stuff.
Teenagers are in the process of becoming, and you get to bear witness. There's a reason that we find watching a caterpillar transform into a butterfly captivating. It's biology, sure, but it's also just a little bit magic. You never really know what happens in that cocoon, not really. With teenagers, the cocoon is the skull, and the processes in their brains aren't quite as linear, but nevertheless, I'll take watching a teen find her footing over a baby's first wobbly steps any day of the week. Babies work to grasp objects, to move, to understand object permanence, to form words. Teenagers work to understand their place in the world, who they really are, and what matters to them most. If you get caught up in the Sturm und Drang of rules and curfews and limit-testing you might forget that all of that is merely the window-dressing to the transformation of a dependent child into an independent adult. Don't let the annoyances convince you that they're the process; they're not. Yes, set the limits, hold firm to reasonable boundaries, and don't stop the hard work of parenting... but don't forget to watch them fly. Because they do.
Let's stop talking about teenagers like they're flesh-eating zombies. I adore teens! Who's with me?
BlogHer Contributing Editor Mir Kamin believes that parenting teens is the toughest job she's ever loved. She blogs near-daily about issues parental and otherwise at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, and all day long about the joys of mindful retail therapy at Want Not.
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