Although my kids do not believe me, I remember what it was like to be a teenager. It may have been a long time ago, but I have a pretty good memory (for now, at least). It’s easy to ridicule teenagers and their take on language, fashion, or just about any other pop culture topic, and it seems every adult likes to proclaim how ridiculous teenagers are today and how it wasn’t like that when they were that age. “Kids today,” they say shaking their heads forlornly.
I’m here to say, “Yes, it was.”
I’m no fan of conventional “wisdom” and question whether such an oxymoron can exist. Every kid beats the path to adulthood through the field of teenagedom. Being a teenager is about pushing the envelope and exploring the world in different ways. It’s certainly not about being like your parents and other adults. What fun is there in that? The truth is that we need this with each successive generation. By the time we all reach our thirties, we’ve grown stale and become set in our ways. The world wouldn’t move forward without those willing to shake up the place a bit, and that’s where teenagers come in.
But being a teenager is more than setting the world on fire; it’s also about finding yourself and discovering who you are that makes you happy. It’s a journey fraught with the whole range of emotions from sheer joy to disappointment. The reality that who we want to be and who we are can be different and incongruent slowly settles in until we reach our late 20s and we either settle or make changes to achieve a level of happiness that girds us for the rest of our lives. Not everyone makes it to that point. Many are lost along the way either physically or mentally.
It goes without saying that most people navigate this path through which we all must pass successfully, but that doesn’t make it any easier. The supporting cast of adults around teenagers make the world of difference even if they are spurned by the adult-in-the-making. This is where a good memory helps. We’ve all “been there done that,” but it’s important not to apply our “woulda-coulda-shoulda” thoughts to our kids. Yes, if you had it to do over again, you’d do it differently, but that doesn’t mean your kids will use your wisdom to make the perfect journey to adulthood. It’s not going to happen. We all make our our own mistakes. That’s how we earn it.
Of course, I can write these words and believe them. The rational side of me understands this well but the father in me struggles as my kids venture into this critical period of their lives. This stage of life brings back a lot of memories for me as it likely does for most adults. I know I cannot and should not try to eliminate pain and disappointment for my kids. They have to experience these things to grow into healthy, well-adjusted adults, but watching them suffer, no matter how small it may be, challenges my resolve. Parental instincts can be powerful and unflappable, but they can also be irrational and short-sighted. It’s a battle I hope I’m prepared for because the toughest years are yet to come.