A few years ago, I made the statement that I didn’t like teenagers. I remember thinking they were selfish, disrespectful know-it-alls. At that time, my oldest nephew was 12, and my own children were even younger. I did end the brief rant with the statement that I would revisit the idea in a year when my nephew would become a teenager.
Then, one by one, the kids in our family fell into that dreaded category: first my younger brother, then my nephew, then a couple of years later my son and my niece.
They were still great kids–people I wanted to know and spend time with.
Surely though, they were the exception and the evil force that took over teens once that magical turn of the clock happened was just simply lost on them. It was around that time, however, that my husband also took over as youth leader of our church. “Boy, he’s in for it (and so I am by way of association),” I thought.
An amazing thing happened though: I found myself actually liking these teens. They were fun and I genuinely enjoyed their company. They struggled with selfishness and unkindness and even disrespect from time to time, like any human, but I enjoyed helping my husband plan events and games for the group and anticipated them being blessed and having a good time. So, I began thinking, “Is this a fantastic and exceptional group of kids, or was my perception of teens wrong?” Though I do think the kids in our group are pretty great, I’ve come to realize the latter is the case.
Unfortunately, what I’ve found is that not everyone else has come to this conclusion. There are many people who see teens and assume that trouble is coming. They judge their motives and attitudes from the start without any evidence other than size and age. I’m embarrassed that I used to be one of them, but I’ve realized that part of the issue was that I just didn’t understand them, and I think that may be the main problem with others.
Teens are going through an intensely difficult time in their lives. I think we’ve all heard people say that the high school years are the best time of your life. Seriously? I wouldn’t go back to high school for anything. The truth is, a lot gets better after the teenage years.
Besides the obvious physiological things that are taking place in teenagers’ bodies that produce noses and ears they have to grow into, pimply faces, cracky voices and getting used to periods, there are a ton of emotional and mental issues going on that confuse and stress them. They are trying to figure things out. Serious things. Things like, “Who am I really?”and, “What am I going to do after high school?” and, “What do I truly believe from a spiritual standpoint?” And to complicate things more, they have peers, parents, teachers, and other adults telling them how they should answer these questions, often with conflicting advice.
This is a time in life that they need encouragement, comfort, and hope. But, even more so, they need an exceeding amount of grace. Quite often, too much is expected of them. We see their size (my 16-year-old towers over me at 6’1’’ and my 13 year old is at least 2 inches taller than me) and think they should act like mature adults. The truth is though, they are still kids.
There have been a great deal of things the teens in my life have wanted to do, but they worry about what adults will think of them. Take, for instance, the great trick-or-treating debate. Few teens would say no to free candy, but so many comments have been made to tweens and teens who trick-or-treat that many are nervous to do it. “Aren’t you too old?” people ask when they come to the door. No matter how respectful or kind the teens are, some people believe they should “grow up” and act like adults. But, they aren’t adults.
Teens are caught in a place between kid and adult. One day they feel mature and want to be treated like adults with responsibilities and privileges, and the next day (or later that evening) they want to carve pumpkins and watch cartoons.
Give them grace. Let them be kids when they want to be, and gently guide them into adulthood. Don’t expect too much out of them. Don’t let their size fool you. They aren’t adults yet and shouldn’t be expected to know how proper adults act. They are still figuring out who they are and where they fit.
They will make mistakes. Hold them accountable, but be understanding. They still want love, acceptance, and to know they are valuable. Be the safe person they can come to. They will remember and appreciate the grace, and you will reap the blessings of a relationship with a unique person in a unique stage of life.