Teenagers Get a Bad Rap

10:57 AMHeather

I caught myself, even as I laughed with the joke.  I'd gotten caught up in a group conversation about the horrors of raising teenagers.  I quickly stopped myself and replied with the truth.

"I kid.  But really, I love having teenagers.  This is a good season. Hard--like all of them.  But it has its own rewards. Don't dread it," I said to the mothers of younger children.

I wasn't blowing smoke.  That is my sincerest feelings about this stage of mothering.  Yet, I find it so easy to get caught in the cultural phenomenon that is bashing teenagers these days.  A phenomenon that I think has happened for generations, actually.  Since the days my husband's grandmother showed her all out rebellion by throwing her leg over the side of her horse and refusing to ride side saddle, like her mama told her. (As soon as she got over the ridge, outside of her mama's line of vision.)

Listen, I know plenty of fellow parents who have and are facing some rough stuff with their teenagers.  I don't want to discount these battles.  Guiding the children you've raised to become mature and responsible and caring and independent and self-reliant and God honoring adults is no easy feat.  The teen years are indeed, crucial and hard and brutal and beautiful.  These years when you are reminded every single day that part of your heart is walking around, outside of your control, learning to make their own decisions and being faced with some big stuff. The battles of the playground become more life and death battles, with the temptations around teens and the responsibilities such as driving. 

The lows and fears are bigger.  With huge implications.  But the moments of victory are also bigger.  Sweeter.  When you get those glimpses of the people your children are becoming.  And you breath a little sigh and say a little prayer of thanksgiving because you see the light at the end of the tunnel.  You see your baby becoming a man...your girl becoming a young lady. And a rough sketch of all they may become begins to form, every so faintly, in your mind's eye.

It's all hard.  Mothering is all hard.  From the angst of how to make your baby sleep so you that you can to the angst of not falling asleep until your teenagers are tucked safely in their beds.  The longer I mother, the more convinced I am that I am sorta making it up as I go along -- never sure, rarely confident, and always praying.

Having two teenagers in my house now, I find myself developing a bit of frustration about how our culture treats teenagers.  Because I think they get a bad rap.  Sure, there are those who exemplify every stereotype of a smart mouthed, disrespectful, rebellious to authority teen/child.  Like most stereotypes, the minority somehow begins to shape opinions of the majority.  

And that's what I am frustrated about.  Because as I listen to my teens and their friends and I watch the world in which these kids have been raised, I think they deserve and are due some good press.  I see teenagers who are working hard to succeed.  Pushing themselves with an inner drive that I find admirable.  Working toward college scholarships and AP credits and considering the future they wish to pursue.  All while balancing and navigating the extremely competitive athletic and academic culture we live in, along with the distractions of technology that no other generation has endured.  

I see teenagers who care deeply.  For others.  Checking in on friends and taking their struggles seriously.  Notifying parents when they are worried about their friends... offering encouragement and support to press on. Not discounting these trials as petty and passing. But listening to the perspective that is their peer's reality.  And knowing that the threats of bullying, depression, suicide, alcohol, drugs and promiscuity are very real.   

I see teenagers with big dreams, such as the high school freshmen who is working on a patent or the 18-year-olds I know who are traveling the world to serve others before they plug into college.  I see teenagers with wisdom.  And a hunger for the Word of God and EAGER for someone to not talk down to them or spoon feed them or just be social.  But someone willing to dig deep and mentor and teach and invest in them. Someone willing to hear the hard questions and actually answer them.  Someone willing to value and respect them for who they are and their potential, rather than discounting them because "they are just a teenager."

I see teenagers who go to school, day after day.  Being disrespected by condescending adults who think they have it all figured out, forgetting what it is to be an impressionable teenager.  Forgetting that an arrogant or mocking tone or words cut deeply beneath the "I-don't-care" armor that many teenagers wear.  Forgetting that the tiniest effort to speak encouragement and show respect is a great way to earn respect.  Forgetting that it is hard to be a teenager, with one foot in childhood and one foot in adulthood.  Forgetting that teenagers are actually really fun to talk to and converse with, rather than seeing them as a captive audience who have nothing to offer besides listening.

Yes, raising teenagers means facing some real life scenarios and trying to tune out media stories bent on scaring the life out of every parent in America.  Not all teenagers are represented by those who make the national news as some punk or criminal.  

How easy it is to forget that teenagers are people. In fact, that is one of the things I am enjoying most about my teenagers.  Seeing the people they are becoming.  Seeing them thinking big thoughts and dreaming big dreams and caring big time for their peers.  Seeing them wanting the grace to remember that they don't have it all figured out.  But we can help them try.  We can equip them instead of condemn them.  

We have to look beyond the foolishness -- remembering that their pre-frontal cortex is not yet developed.  This does not excuse poor choices, but it would be helpful to remember that they need us talking WITH them more than talking TO them. Oh, that I could work to connect with the child inside who still needs me to guide and direct them...and for the love, don't disregard them.

The teen years are weird.  One foot in childhood, striving to enjoy every minute of the carefree days before adulthood hits.  One foot in adulthood, navigating some big things that are hard even for grown-ups.  Perpetuating some horrible stereotype of all teenagers does not help the cause.  I remember asking my cousin, years back, what it is she thought her parents did that lead to three such amazing adult children.  

She said, "They didn't sit around waiting for us to mess up.  They believed in us.  They believed we could make the right choices and choose the right things.  They didn't make us feel like they were just waiting for all the mistakes we were about to make."

I, by no means, have this all figured out.  I have my tough days when I feel overwhelmed.  I have my moments of panic, worrying for my kids, struggling to surrender them to God's plans for them.  

But, I try to remember my cousin's words.  I try to remember to connect with my kids.  To convey that I believe in them.  To be willing to have grace to catch them if they fall and help them learn their lessons and move forward.  To not treat all teenagers like one big screw-up.

And when the moments come, when my son sits next to me and shares his thoughts, I hope to tune out all else.  I hope that I can listen with respect and really hear him.  I try to picture them someday, as adults, saying, "My mom was my biggest cheerleader.  She was always in my corner.  She never let up on believing the best for me. She never made light of the things that were important to me."

Oh, that I might be that mom.  That I might be a safe place for my kids to fall.  Holding their feet to the fire to strive for all their potential.  But never mocking them or belittling them.  Trying to remember all the angsts of these teen years...and just melting to pieces every time I see my kids start to soar on their own.

The lows are low.  And the highs are high.

But, these kids are becoming more and more a marvel and a wonder.  Who am I that I should be entrusted with such precious responsibilities?

Steward this well, fellow parents.  Steward this well.  And let's ban together to believe the best for our teenagers.

What if we could turn "teenagers these days" into a resounding applause instead of a negative statement?

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