Teen or parent, we’re all works in progress


Do you have a teenager?  Do you know a teenager?  Were you a teenager?  If so, and it’s pretty much everyone reading this column, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that teens are, to paraphrase Pascal, ‘both wretched and glorious.’

Now, I love my children, no matter what age they might be.  From the moment I held the first in my arms, and with each subsequent child my wife bore to me, I was awash in love.  I was full of love to the point of exploding.  And I have loved every stage of their development from day one.

But this teenage thing, well it’s different.  Please understand that I don’t love them one iota less. But when those teen years came around, things begin to change.  They aren’t harder to love…just harder to be around at times; and at other times more charming than at any point in their lives to date! And they certainly don’t need less love or attention.  If anything, they need more.

However,when kids become teens they cease to be simple poems to enjoy and become riddles and enigmas to their parents and to themselves.  They are physical challenges as they grow out of everything and eat whatever holds still.  (And can no longer be wrestled to the ground as easily.) And they become challenges emotionally, as they become, little by little, the adults they are born to be.  And this, I suspect, is where the problem lies. In their increasing need to be themselves, think for themselves and learn to make their own decisions.

See, I don’t mind being thrown to the ground or losing an arm-wrestling match. But I find it difficult when I can’t explain to a teen why they should or shouldn’t do a thing, believe a thing or go to a particular place.  It’s sometimes a challenge to explain that I actually know more about a problem or an issue than they do.  Perhaps because it’s hard to articulate experience to a young person who hasn’t much of it.  And it may be, in part, because young people believe that their electronic access to all the world’s knowledge makes them smarter than anyone!  Here’s a common exchange in our house:


Me:  I just think that’s a bad idea…trust me.

Them:  Yes, but I just read several studies online that said it was OK.

Me:   I know, but that’s not been my experience, so let’s talk about it some more and let’s consider the study and, well, no because I said so!


That seldom goes well.  Most of us hated that answer from our parents.  The thing about our teens is this:  they’re sometimes difficult or stubborn because they’re supposed to be.  They owe us respect but they’re learning to think and decide for themselves. They’re living in an information tsunami, and struggling with their expanding minds and changing physicality. And frankly, if they didn’t question us from time to time, that would probably be a bigger problem than the questions themselves.  And worst of all, and it’s hard to embrace this, sometimes…(lean closer, it’s a secret)…sometimes the kids are right and we’re wrong!  Don’t let that get out, OK?

But here’s the other thing to remember.  I was thinking about this one day and sort of said, in a half prayer, ‘Lord, why don’t they just do what I say?’  And He said to me, with what must have been a smile, ‘son, why don’t you just do what I say?’  I responded, ‘but I’m their dad, and I know more than they do, and they should trust me and…’  And he waited a second and said, ‘think about it…wait for it..’  I then responded, ‘oh I get it…’

The essence of it all is this.  We’re all teenagers.  Whatever our age, we remain, on many levels and at various times of our lives, the same confused, stubborn, charming, learning, difficult, angry, affectionate, brilliant, emotional and wise creatures that teens so typically are.  And we’re all parents standing around frustrated with other people.

This reality affects our marriages, our work, our national politics and our faith every single day.  Like teens, we’re all ‘works in progress.’  That’s certainly the message of Christianity.  God trying to shape us, through love and trial, into something more like our true Father.

And it’s the reality of our teens.  So we owe them the same patient love that God shows all of us, ‘wretched and glorious’ as we all are.



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