There’s no doubt that within our parenting culture, the thing all parents seem to dread the most are “the teenage years.” It’s not hard to understand why. The hormones are raging at top speed, the mood swings can induce whiplash, and parents worry about sex, drugs, and iPhones.
But what about these creatures who are so feared among us? Have we all forgotten what it was like to be a teenager? Have we forgotten what it’s like to get up two hours before school to desperately try and cover up pimples with concealer or wear the latest trend in outfits so we don’t get teased? Have we forgotten what it’s like to have our heart broken for the first time, or to feel so overwhelmed by emotions that it feels as though you might burst?
Even though many parents feel like they barely survived the baby and toddler years, we still lament and idolize that time in our children’s lives. But I rarely hear parents lamenting about the teenage years. Parents usually commiserate about how they’re barely coping with their teenage kids at home.
I get it, and I’m also guilty. I have a teenage stepson now and I’ve made all the usual sarcastic comments about him becoming a teenager. I’ve also joked about how horrific the teen years are probably going to be with my daughter. We all do it.
But I want to take a minute and really look at how we view teenagers. Are they really nothing more than hormonal monsters who will inevitably hate us until they’re 30?
No, they’re not. They’re young people who are growing up in a confusing world filled with chaos and uncertainty. They’re watching the adults in their own lives as well as on the nightly news behave in a multitude of distasteful ways.
Maybe if we stopped talking so much about how we all miss the days when they were little and focus on who they are now, we could add a little more compassion and understanding into the life of a teenager we know and love. Maybe if we stopped demonizing teenagers so much they might be more willing to open up or hear us out.
I could be wrong, and I’ve definitely been wrong before, but I feel like it’s almost a self-fulfilling prophecy to constantly have a running rhetoric around our children that they’re going to turn into monsters once they hit puberty. It almost makes it okay for them to start slamming doors and ignoring rules because — isn’t this what we expected from them all along?
Perhaps we should be celebrating the role of puberty in our children’s lives rather than treating it as some sort of impending doom. I, for one, have a bittersweet hope for the next generation of young adults growing up in our current climate. I’ve met some incredibly bright, compassionate, and undeniably sharp teens who give me that sense of hope for the future. I admire them and we should be proud that they’re on the planet.
Hitting puberty and being a young adult is terrifying enough without the adults in your life freaking out about it —especially before it’s even happened. And I’m not saying that all parents do this. But many of us do or have — myself included.
I’m committed to making more of an effort as far as how I view my teenage family, neighbors and fellow citizens. Every time I see a teenager doing or saying something worthy of an eye roll, I think back to my past. I remember how self-absorbed I was, how insecure I was, and how I said and did things that annoyed the adults around me. And I also recall those adults in my life who treated me like a person — not a freak.
If it’s empathy many of us may feel teenagers are lacking, perhaps we as adults who made it through the teenage years should step up and give them a good example of what empathy looks like. After all, a teenager is still that small child inside we once knew, held, and loved. And we were all there once too.