On a recent hike, I listened as my 15-year-old and her two friends joked and yelled half a mile ahead of me on the trail. I beamed, enjoying their joy while taking in the green all around. I didn't notice the couple walking toward me until I heard one of them shout, “Shut up, teenagers!”
“Those are my teenagers,” I told her.
“Oh — I’m sorry...”
“It’s OK, but seriously? Have you ever had as much fun as they are?”
The woman and her friend grimaced, nodded and quickly skirted past me. I knew why they were annoyed; the teens’ lively nature disrupted the relatively quiet outdoors. I recalled one of the rules I learned during a Girl Scout troop leader years ago: Kids should use their inside voices outside.
Really? I’d thought upon hearing that “advice.” When do they get to use their outside voices then?
Caution: Teenager ahead
Back when my first child was a tween, I often texted a friend with kids a few years older than mine about our mother-daughter escapades. She'd write back things like, “Oh, I miss those outings. Enjoy them while you can. Just you wait until they’re teens.”
The foreboding message was loud and clear: Raising teenagers sucks!
At times like those, I’d think back on my own teen years. I was 17 when I learned I was clinically depressed, a diagnosis that came only after my mom dragged me to counselor after counselor until one finally saw past my forced, cheerful lies.
With this on my mind, combined with my friends’ dire warnings (let alone society's at large), I was terrified of raising a teenager. So what a pleasant surprise it has been to find the opposite to be true: My daughter is now 15, and I love it.
For one thing, my teen sees adventure wherever she goes. In fact, my family and I just returned from a 9-day, 3,000-mile road trip that I only agreed to because of her encouragement. “That would be fun!” she'd said after hearing my husband suggest the trip. “Let’s do that!” More time with my enthusiastic teen? I was in.
Hit the road
During the trip, my teen never complained. She hunkered down in the back seat, drawing, listening to music, reading, watching shows and eating copious amounts of junk food. We both spent plenty of time staring out the window, marveling at the world.
Even after drives that sometimes stretched past the 12-hour mark, she’d want more. Every evening, my husband, my younger daughter and I would step out of the car, stiff and road-weary, only to have the teen pop out of her seat and ask, “What are we doing tonight? What’s next?!”
And there she was: my baby. I could still see her in that 15-year-old face.
We’re tired, we’d say. So no, we don’t want to get back in the car and do the wildlife loop around Custer State Park. “Really?” she’d say, pleading with her big brown eyes.
And there she was: my baby. I could still see her in that 15-year-old face. She’s right, I thought. We only have 10 hours here and she’s never seen a buffalo. That's how I found myself standing alongside her, our heads out the car’s sun roof to better see a bison chomping on a nearby bush as the sun set over the South Dakota plains.
Now, don’t get me wrong — it’s not always fun. My teen still has tantrums. (The difference from her younger self: Post-tantrum, she can discuss what happened analytically. And she apologizes.) I also know genetics means she’s more likely to become clinically depressed during her teen years. So I wonder if some night soon, I’ll be up worrying and making plans to help her.
But, of course, I can always find something else to add to my list of worries. So instead, I’m trying to enjoy the things people rarely say about teens: They’re awesome. They seek adventure. They know how to have fun.
And if you’re lucky enough, they’ll ask you to join in. Sometimes you’ll hear strangers making tsk-tsk sounds and passing judgment on your teen and her friends. But you won’t care because guess what? You’re having fun, too.