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21 things I learned living with teenagers

We’re almost running out of teenagers in our family. Our eldest of six is well past the mid-twenty mark, and our youngest is less than a year away from getting his driver’s license. And then time will really speed by. By the time our last hits twenty, Peter and I will have been parents of teens for twenty-six years. Well, not surprisingly you do learn a thing or two in such an extended period of time. Here are some important life lessons we’ve learned as parents of teens.

 On curfews and cars

  1. A mother’s imagination is a terrible thing. If your kids are a half-hour late, you imagine them in all sorts of trouble. This feeling becomes almost a certainty if you happen to hear police and ambulance sirens in the distance.
  2. Fathers can sleep through anything. “What’s the point of staying awake? If something’s happened, we’ll find out soon enough.”
  3. You can fold a lot of laundry while you’re waiting for your sons to come home. And then when everything is stacked and put away, you can start on the ironing. Getting all this work accomplished will prevent you from blowing your stack when they walk in the door an hour and half late….maybe.
  4. You should never throw apples in anger. You might hit someone…or you might not. Late, late one night, having completed all the waiting-for-son-to-come-home-chores, a mother—whom I happen to know rather well—decided she might as well pick the apples off the ground in the back yard, since making applesauce was on the agenda the next day. By the light of the moon, she trudged to the back of the yard and began gathering the fruit. Shortly thereafter, her tardy son drove in. He slowed carefully to a stop on the noisy gravel, opened his door, slid out, silently closed the door and tiptoed toward the back door, humming softly under his breath. An apple whizzed past his head. Splat! It hit the shed door. So did the next one. Wisely, the son said nothing and calmly though hurriedly continued in and went to bed. So did mother.
  5. If you and your husband come home late one night, and you start to fret and fume because your son isn’t home yet, don’t drive around town looking for him and don’t start phoning his friends to find out where he is. Check his bed first. He may have come home early and be sleeping peacefully.
  6. Life is less stressful if your son’s girlfriend has to be home by 11:00 p.m.
  7. When you’re driving with a son who has his learner’s license, it does not help to push your right foot through the floorboards on your side of the vehicle. The car will not slow down.
  8. If the phone rings at midnight it might be your son informing you that he’s had an accident with your recently purchased car that you reluctantly let him use. Remember to first ask him whether anyone’s been hurt and if he’s all right, before you ask if there’s any damage to your car.
  9. At some point, you will learn to love the sound of your son’s car’s stereo. I have discovered this to be true when I hear it half a block away, fifteen minutes before curfew.

On food

  1. Your teens and their friends will instinctively find and consume all the food items you were saving for your Sunday evening visitors. You will begin to hide these special food items in the master bedroom, something you told your own Mom you’d never, ever do.
  2. If you want to prevent your teens from eating the special dip you made for tomorrow night’s party, stick it in a wrinkled brown lunch bag at the back of the fridge. No one is interested in old lunches.
  3. Homebaked cookies last a long time if you put them in the freezer in an ice-cream bucket marked “Soup Stock.” They’ll last even longer if you mark the pail, “Liver.”
  4. If your son or daughter phones a half-hour before Sunday supper and asks, “Can I bring my friends along?” say, “Yes, of course.” Just add four cups of hot water and a package of chicken noodle soup to the pot and defrost another dozen buns. If they show up without having phoned, the same instructions apply.

On housework, homework and bedtime

  1. You can tell a teen has cleaned her bedroom by the number of her clothing items you find in the laundry hamper. If they’re still folded, you can probably get away with just putting them back into her bedroom. Sometimes all you need to do is fluff up those only-worn-once-for-one-hour-jeans in the dryer with a sheet of Fleecy or Bounce for ten minutes, then fold them and put them away.
  2. Teens don’t like being told what to do. They prefer to make up their own mind about things. So ask them, “What would you rather do today? Dust and vacuum or clean the bathrooms?”
  3. Teens are just as hard to get to bed at night, as they are to get up in the morning. The ideal life for them would start at noon and go till midnight or two. The trouble is, no schools can find teachers who want to be up that late.
  4. The most reticent teen becomes the world’s greatest talker, one hour after Dad and Mom had planned to be sleeping.
  5. Teens who cannot stick to homework for more than thirty minutes without needing three snacks, can play video games for three hours without even a bathroom break.
  6. Interest in school projects increases greatly the night before they’re due.
  7. There is never any glue in the house at 11:00 p.m. the night before a project is due. Someone has also stolen all the scissors. And worst of all, the printer is out of ink.

But the most comforting thing I’ve learned….

  1. You can never pray too much for your teens.

So, just when you think you’ve got it all together, the next one becomes a teen, and the roller-coaster ride starts up once more. But remember, take time to listen with your heart, not just your ears. Keep smiling and give lots of hugs. Before you know it, your grandchildren will be teenagers and you can stand on the sidelines smiling encouragingly, remembering with a sigh what it was like.

This article first appeared in the June 1999 issue of Reformed Perspective.


Up Next


Parenting

Just how bad is the teen anxiety epidemic?

Over the past year or so, I’ve noticed a significant increase in the number of people asking me for help with anxiety issues. While it seems to be affecting people of all ages, the most common problem is teens with anxiety, as the following stats underline: Anxiety is the most common mental-health disorder in the United States, affecting nearly one-third of both adolescents and adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Nearly a third of all adolescents ages 13 to 18 will experience an anxiety disorder during their lifetime, according to the National Institutes of Health, with the incidence among girls (38.0 percent) far outpacing that among boys (26.1 percent). More than 6 million American teens are grappling with an anxiety disorder of some kind. Anxiety is now the most common issue for which people of all ages seek counseling. Over the last decade, anxiety has overtaken depression as the most common reason college students seek counseling services. Since 1985, the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA has been asking incoming college freshmen if they “felt overwhelmed” by all they had to do. The first year, 18 percent replied yes. By 2000, that climbed to 28 percent. By 2016, to nearly 41 percent. The American College Health Association has been recording about a 10% annual increase in anxiety rates over a number of years. Recent studies have declared millennials, especially women, the most anxious generation in history. Among 10- to 24-year-old females, seven to 14 per cent will experience an anxiety condition in any given year. There’s been a doubling of hospital admissions for suicidal teenagers over the last 10 years, with the highest rates occurring soon after they return to school each fall. A 2015 report from the Child Mind Institute found that only about 20% of young people with a diagnosable anxiety disorder get treatment. Based on data collected from the National Survey of Children’s Health for ages 6 to 17, researchers found a 20 percent increase in diagnoses of anxiety between 2007 and 2012. One Christian counselor said, “When I first started counseling twenty-four years ago, probably one out of every twenty kids coming in were dealing with anxiety,” she says. “Now, out of my new appointments, I would say at least sixteen of every twenty families are here for that reason, if not more.” So just how bad is the teen anxiety epidemic? It’s really bad, isn’t it? I list these statistics, not to make everyone even more anxious, but to try to re-assure anxious teens and their parents that anxiety is a very normal abnormality. Due to the stigma that still surrounds anxiety and depression, especially in the church, many people suffer in silence and secrecy. They think, “I’m totally weird….There’s no one else like me.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The statistics say otherwise. We are surrounded by kids who are suffering like this but most are afraid to admit it, and so are many of their parents. The kids therefore often continue to suffer without help or support.  Many different causes So, if teen anxiety is so widespread, what’s causing it? On the basis of personal experience, counseling, and research, here are what I believe are the most common causes of teen anxiety. Unresolved guilt: Teen years are often sin-filled years, especially in the area of sex, both virtual and real-life. This causes fear of being found out, fear of God, fear of consequences, and fear of judgment. Unbelief: Related to the above, many kids are not saved, they have no peace with God, because they have never believed in Christ for salvation. But even teens who are believers suffer from anxiety through unbelief, just simply not believing God’s promises. Physical problem: Oftentimes it’s not a sin or faith issue but a biological issue, where the “fight-or-flight” mechanism is disordered, constantly or periodically flooding the body and brain with “anxious chemicals” such as adrenaline, cortisol, etc. This is far more common than most people think and I’ll have more to say about it in another post. Impossible expectations: Teens can impose on themselves perfectionistic targets in school, sport, work, and other areas of life, causing huge anxiety when they fail to live up to them. Although young, there’s often a sense that bad decisions already taken, or bad exam results, will ruin the rest of life, and that there’s no way back. Parental pressure: Parents sometimes add their own unrealistic expectations, often with a view to getting scholarships, or of maintaining their social standing with other parents. Related to this is the problem of over-protective parents. Many kids are so spoiled or protected by their parents that they are totally unprepared for what the world throws at them as soon as they venture outside of the cocoon. Over-busy parents: And the opposite of the above. Some kids just need quality and quantity time with Dad and Mom. Broken homes: One of the most under-reported causes of teen anxiety. Sleep deprivation: Teens need 8-9 hours of regular sleep to thrive, but many are getting less than six causing significant physical, emotional, and intellectual damage. Technology addiction: The teen brain is being fried by the constant sizzle of social media and gaming, giving the brain no opportunity for calm and repair. Social media: Regardless of the impact of how long and how often teens are on social media, there’s the constant performance anxiety that flows from seeing other teens “perfect” lives online. Physical immobility: Teen bodies were not made to sit down all day. Lack of exercise reduces healthy brain and body chemicals and increases damaging ones. Friends and enemies: There’s constant pressure to please and keep up with friends, and especially for girls, these relationships are often complex and fragile. Then add frequent bullying from enemies, sometimes in real life, but today more often online. Neglect of Sabbath: God made the Sabbath for our good, but very few teens take a day off a week from studies, work, sports, shopping, etc., and are suffering the consequences of going against our Maker’s instructions. Bad news: Our teens are exposed to a constant diet of negative news from the media, feeding anxiety and fear. Unhealthy diet: Sugar, carbs, soda, and caffeine drinks make up a large part of many teen diets, a lethal cocktail for mental health. Bad time management: Bad organization, wrong prioritizing, doing the wrong things at the wrong times, procrastinating, taking on too much, all combine to create a constant background hum of stress and tension. Money worries: Poor planning, indisciplined spending, taking on debt, impulsive shopping, all stretch the budget and the nerves. Practical godlessness: Without God as the foundation and framework of life, everything depends on us. Teens, yes even Christian teens, often go days and even weeks without praying and reading God’s Word. This results in a lack of a sense of God’s presence, plan, and power in their lives. Faulty thinking: Teens can fall into a range of faulty thinking. Trauma: Abuse, unexpected bereavement, exposure to violence, accidents, etc. can result in degrees of PTSD. Conclusion As you can see, parents, there are multiple cause of teen anxiety. I hope this list helps you to think and talk to your teens as you try to explore what factors may be contributing to your teen’s worries — it’s usually more than one. Unless we find out the causes, it’s unlikely we’ll discover any cures. I’ll pick out some of these in future posts for further explanation. Dr. David Murray blogs at HeadHeartHand.org where this first appeared as a pair of posts. In the coming weeks he hopes to share more of his thoughts on the teen anxiety epidemic in the hopes of helping concerned parents understand what’s going in with their anxious kids, offering guidance on how they can help them, and giving practical and biblical advice on how they can contribute to their healing. And we hope to share his thoughts on our website too, and in upcoming issues of the print magazine....


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