Many years ago, when I was home with my three toddlers every day and my husband was traveling all the time, I went to a family conference intended to help encourage me in my marriage and strengthen me as a mother. At the time, I was exhausted and desperately needed some renewed hope and energy.
I chose a seminar dealing specifically with motherhood. The speaker stood up and began talking about some issues she was going through with her teenage daughter. She looked out at the crowd and said, “If you have young children at home and you think it’s hard now, just wait.”
This was probably the worst thing I could have heard in that moment. I think I actually may have thrown my hands in the air and muttered something like, “Well, then, I’m finished! What’s the point?”
Today, I am the mother of three teenage daughters, and I respectfully disagree with that speaker. Having teenagers is amazing, and I have thoroughly enjoyed these years. The greatest part is that I don’t just love my own kids — I love their friends. So, if you’re a young mom needing encouragement or a parent of teenagers going through a rough spot or someone who has heard countless times, “Just wait!”, let me offer some encouragement.
Here is what I see when I spend time with the teenagers in my life.
1. They are smart!
Truly, they are amazingly smart. While we may complain about the time they spend on their phones, we may sometimes forget the benefits they have experienced from growing up during the information age. They have always had access to information. If they have a question, they don’t have to search very far to discover an answer. I believe this keeps them curious and interested in new ideas.
They understand complex issues. They remember a crazy number of facts. They take higher level math courses than were required when I was in school. They read a lot! They read faster and comprehend more than I ever did at their age. They are just really smart.
2. They are hilarious.
The teenagers that I know find a way to laugh at almost anything. Since they’re so smart, they understand irony, satire, and parody. They don’t have to stoop to talking about others to be funny or to entertain themselves — they don’t have to be critical. They also create really funny stuff — videos, blogs, Instagram posts. They get it that sometimes life is just funny and it’s better to laugh.
3. They are noisy.
Part of this comes from the laughter (see above), but they also love their music, their movies, and their games. The cacophony has become the melodious soundtrack of our lives. Games of Mario Cart seem louder than an actual race and episodes of The Office seem like live theater presentations.
I think some adults think that a loud and potentially “rowdy” group of teens is “up to no good!” I think it’s important to remember that sometimes they are just embracing all that is wild and free about being young. They are just making noise.
And when they’re gone, it’s so quiet . . .
4. They work hard.
Most of the teenagers I know play two or three sports, take multiple AP classes, review for and take the ACT and SAT several times, and participate in all kinds of clubs. All of this is in addition to their regular class load. Many of them also work part-time jobs. Even though they may sleep in until noon or later on the one Saturday a month that they don’t have a game or a race, they are accomplishing more in their waking moments than many adults during a regular work week.
5. They are genuine.
Because teenagers are still figuring out what they think and believe, they aren’t trying to hide their ideas. They also haven’t mastered the adult sense of required self-preservation and avoidance. They will discuss tough issues and ask really meaningful questions. They will tell us what they honestly think and why.
We just have to be willing to listen.
6. They care about others.
Each year, we receive multiple letters from teenagers we know all over the country who are giving up their Thanksgiving break, Christmas break, Spring Break or summer to help out those in need in foreign countries, in the inner city, or in their own neighborhoods. They give and they sacrifice. When I talk with them after they return home, they understand that there are so many people in the world who have less than they do, and this matters to them. I am always amazed at their level of compassion and courage to step out and serve when many adults I know would rather stay where it’s comfortable and familiar.
7. They appreciate eye contact.
My husband and I have worked with many different groups of teens over the years, and we have had many people say things to us like, “I just don’t know how to talk to kids,” or “They sort of scare me. How do you do it?” The fact is that teenagers are people. They want to be heard and they want to be seen. When we put our phones down, make eye contact, and hear what they are saying, we begin to truly see them and understand them.
It is through these moments of looking them in the eye and listening that I have discovered how truly smart, hilarious, and compassionate they are.
8. They are quick to forgive.
Unlike many adults I know who sometimes choose to become jaded or bitter because they don’t want to confront a tough issue, the young people I know truly appreciate humility and honesty. If I am willing to admit that I’m wrong or that I’ve made a mistake, they are quick to get over it and move on. They understand the value of a healthy relationship and look for ways to stay connected to the people who are important to them.
9. They are important.
I could quote Whitney Houston and remind us that “the children are our future”, but I think the current election season and the endless information about “millennials” has shown us how important this group of young people are for the future of our country and our world.
They are valuable.
They need to hear us say that to them.
I love teenagers. Even though mine are graduating and leaving the house, I’ve thankfully chosen a career that will keep me dialed into the lives of teenagers for many years to come. It thrills me!
As my second daughter gets ready to graduate high school, I just want to close by saying how much she and her friends mean to me, and how blessed I am for all the memories. To Liz, Emily, Maggie, and all of your friends, I believe you will change the world!
“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.” — 1 Timothy 4:12
And, if you have young children at home, and you’re exhausted, I would say to you, “Just wait! The best is yet to come!”