When our children were small, we used to hold them tightly, then pray they’d sleep through the night. Now that they are teenagers we can’t get them to wake up. Teens are in their prime sleeping years.
Our son Jeffrey came home from Bible camp last summer and slept 23 hours, weary from memorising Scripture. I told my wife, "That’s not sleeping; that’s a coma."
Remember when we begged them to clean their plates? Now they clean their plates. They clean our plates. They clean out the fridge, the pantry and the freezer. Then they look at the dog dish and think, Just how bad can that be?
Someone asked me recently what I do for a living. "I follow teenagers around the house," I replied. "I shut lights off. It’s a full-time job."
To make matters worse, our children have friends. Friends who enjoy looting and pillaging our pantry like locusts. "Hey!" I ask. "Do you think this is a buffet?" They smile and laugh. That’s the trouble with my being a comedian; they think I’m kidding.
The truth is, I’ve never enjoyed my children more. Squinty-eyed prophets of doom programmed me to believe that when teenagers arrived I would lose my sense of humour, my dignity, my wallet and my hair. They were wrong – about the first two.
Oh sure, we’ve had our moments of frustration and worry. But five keys have kept our family thriving:
Remember that laughter is the best medicine
Life can be deadly serious for a teenager. Teens are wondering whose rules to respect, whose lifestyle to adopt and who on earth kidnapped their bodies and began doing experiments. So they need the stability of a home where truth is modelled and laughter is never far away. Wholesome laughter is a testimony to our children – that God is big enough to see them through the next exam, the next relational hiccup and the next bout of acne.
And remember this: Apart from loading hand grenades, parenting teens is the world’s toughest job. So go easy on yourself. Other parents who sit in church looking happy and well-organised may also be heavily medicated.
Last month our son turned our basement into a teenage hangout complete with a 680-volt drum set, electric amplifiers with volume controls so small no one can find them and a stereo system with woofers and tweeters. We don’t mind. We figure if our kids are going to party, we’d like it to happen about 20 feet away. The music may sound like someone throwing lawn darts through a jet engine, but we’re getting to the age where we can’t hear it anyway.
Don’t be cool
Your teens need to know you were a teenager once – even if was before the invention of electricity – but they don’t expect you to be cool or to know who Brad Pitt’s latest wife is. The teens I know would gladly settle for a dad or mum who is vulnerable and genuine.
Say the magic words
My teenagers have doubted my sanity at times but never my love for them. They know there’s no hour of the day or night when they are forbidden to flop on my bed and tell me their problems. I may keep sleeping, but at least they can talk. In a kick-in-the-pants world, our teens are starving for a pat on the back, a listening ear and the magic words, "Waytago! Youdabest!"
Invest in memories
Do whatever it takes to stay connected and keep communication open. Through the years we have jumped at every opportunity for a family vacation. After our family travelled together across an ocean, someone squinted at me and asked, "You took your kids?" You bet we did. I have yet to meet someone in a nursing home who regretted such an investment.
Those who are wise enough to allow their teens room to be themselves, who listen more than lecture, who remain calm even when screaming seems a better option, will find that the teenage years are invigorating, adventurous, even rewarding.
And for those who are afraid of seeing the teenage years come to an end, don’t worry. I don’t know a single teenager who has gone into the brave new world without eventually returning home hungry and carrying a bundle of dirty laundry.