Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Raising Teenagers Can Be Fun and Other Fantasies

November 30, 1998

"There is nothing wrong with teenagers that reasoning won't aggravate." - H. E. Martz

"Youth, when thought is speech and speech is truth." - Walter Scott

Raising teens can be fun. Raising teens is an ordeal something like a proctology exam for colon cancer. The fun comes with the relief you feel once it is over.

We have one more teen to go. Our formerly delightful 12-year-old seems to be enjoying asserting his will and opinion upon us. I grudgingly admit that having a mind of his own and asserting his independence is a goal we strive for. It is a little like watching sausage being made. Not a pretty sight, but the end result is good.

He recently played a game at a friend's house where the object was to do everything right and not make any mistakes. He didn't like it. He deliberately tried to disrupt the game because it was boring. When he came home he announced that he wished his older brother - now attending college - was home. He misses the obnoxious misbehavior that only a teen can bring to family life.

Then it dawned on me. We as parents are trying to live in "Pleasantville" while teens take it upon themselves as a personal mission to bring color and disruption to our perfect lives. And they do it.

Raising teens is fun if you enjoy the challenge of trying to get to know these monosyllabic creatures whose idea of a self-disclosing conversation is, "fine," or, "OK." It is fun when some of your teen's friends have personalities and are willing to interact with you even if your own child regards you as an escapee from a leper colony. It is fun when you go to a teacher conference and learn that their anti-social personality is manifest only at home.

OK, it’s not fun all the time, but sometimes it is. Sure, teens are more moody than adults. But only twenty percent become actively oppositional and have the stormy adolescence that is the reputation of youth. The vast majority are happy, generally pleasant, growing human beings - still delightful most of the time.

It is exciting and fun to be around their energy, roller-coaster emotions and their enthusiasm. It is fun to go to their games, concerts, award ceremonies and special events. It was fun to see children center stage and doing well.

There is something fun about seeing a child experience something new for the first time as a teenager - their first date, their first prom, their first performance, their first game. It is rewarding to see them develop their skills and abilities. I take greater pleasure in their accomplishments than I do my own.

But as much pleasure as there is in this, there is more in experiencing the "empty nest" without the daily worry and responsibility of keeping track of them. In fact, when seven children at home reduces to one, it feels like we are already there.

There is pleasure in those elusive moments when the siblings get along and enjoy one another. Sometimes these relationships don't mature into lifelong friendships until after they have left home and come to appreciate each other.

There is pleasure when they:

- help out in the home.

- show concern for others.

- are respectful to authority figures.

- show they have common sense, good values and make the right moral choices.

- are polite and say please and thank you.

- learn to take no for an answer.

- clean up after their own messes.

- are honest.

- learn to negotiate instead of throwing tantrums and walking off in a stubborn huff.

- take a special interest in younger brothers and sisters.

- take an interest in family traditions and lend a helping hand and helpful attitude.

Have you died and gone to heaven yet? If you had all of these things all of the time, you probably wouldn't have a teenager. You'd have a mature young adult. Be grateful for what you get.

There is one more way you can have fun with your teenagers. Create family fun and memories. Children and teens will remember the times you spent together doing something zany, fun or memorable.

You and they will remember the vacations, picnics, adventures, family nights, board games, card games, puzzles, special meals, birthdays, surprises, and holiday celebrations with style. These will be remembered long after the clashes and hard stuff has been forgotten. They won't remember with the same emotion the clean house, your successful profession or the material comforts they enjoyed.

They will remember the commitment and sacrifice you made for their well being, growth and happiness long after their high school friendships have faded into distant and dusty memories.

One more thing. Raising teens can be fun, but not nearly as much fun as relating to healthy, responsible, productive, happy adult children who share their lives with you out of love and friendship. I really can't call that fun either. It is satisfying - immensely satisfying to see them do well in life.