Parenting Teens
Teens act like young adults instead of big kids… most of the time.

Last night we had a party for our church youth group at our house. It was not just any party—no, this was the annual parent versus youth “capture the flag” party. Whoever wins has bragging rights for the year. I take these rights very seriously since I’m with the youth every week and much prefer a year of being the gloater rather than the gloatee.

I’ll end the suspense now—the parents won! I won’t say that we dominated since it was a long drawn out battle. And yes, we brought in three ringers for our side (former youth group members now in college). But it was a victory nonetheless. Our secret weapons were the younger siblings who had to play with the parents since they weren’t in middle or high school. We used them to infiltrate behind enemy lines and set our prisoners free.

After the party, Peter and I were relaxing with a bottle of ibuprofen on the front porch. One by one our kids came out to join us. We replayed the game and regaled each other with our daring dashes into enemy territory, every juke (is that even a word?) and fake-out that saved us from certain capture, and the agony of getting caught. Actually, I didn’t have any daring feats to report since I was told at the beginning of the game by my college aged son that my highest and best use was behind the lines—as far behind as possible. We trash talked about what we would do to the opposition next year. The laughing and comparing notes of who did what lasted over an hour, and they would have stayed longer if we hadn’t shooed them to bed since two had exams the next day.

I know most of you are at the very beginning of your parenting journeys and probably dread the teen years. Our society and media focus on the negatives of adolescence giving them an undeserved bad reputation. I’ve been working with youth for over ten years at church, and I am now the mother of teens. So for those of you just starting out and hearing all the horror stories about middle and high schoolers, let me tell you what I like about teens.
• They are fun, often kind, sometimes petty.
• They are more like young adults than old kids.
• Every once in a while they give you a glimpse of the person they will be.
• They are full of righteous indignation rather than unrighteous resignation.
• They can carry on conversations of the “cals” (theological, rhetorical, ethical, political, philosophical)
• They are willing to explore the edges.
• They keep me grounded in the past with memories and in the future with possibilities.
• They make me thankful to be my age and done with all the angst, emotions, zits, and uncertainty that is part of the teen territory.
• I get to vicariously experience life at the beginning again.

Did you ever play that stupid, slightly off-color, fortune cookie game where you added “between the sheets” to the end of all the fortunes? Well, you could play a version of that here, but adding “most of the time” to each of the above list. Teens as a group aren’t all the same, but the same could be said for younger children. I’ve never been one to say “I love kids.” Human beings regardless of the age are not ubiquitous blobs. (Another fun thing about parenting teens is that you get to look for ways to increase their vocabulary by sneaking in what we call “SAT words” like ubiquitous.) I love and like some kids (fortunately, mine included), but some children, like people all along the age spectrum, rub me wrong.

The hard part of parenting teens is fear. Adolescents still need parents but they need us to step out of the way more, and let life teach them. This is scary. I know that they need to make mistakes to learn, but I’m afraid that their mistakes will be too big, too harmful, too life altering. The anecdote to this fear is trust—in them and in myself.

My teens have not been perfect and have made their share of mistakes, some bigger than I would have preferred. But I know that I have to have faith that they know what is right, and they will learn and grow from their missteps. So another thing I like about teens is that they keep me humble and force me to focus on my parenting mantra: Progress Not Perfection.

So for those of you just beginning or dreaming of beginning your parenting journey, take some advice from someone in the midst, up to my waist and sloshing through. Don’t be afraid to jump in; the water’s fine—most of the time.


Image credit: tifotter