• mbgarvey

Ode to the Wonderfully Weird & Wild Teenager

Well, hello, pandemic. And, hello, lots and lots of family time. Or Mandated Family Fun Time, as one of my favorites decrees it. Most of us are logging in a great many hours together, sharing time and space with few boundaries or breaks, and it has been a kind of joyful, messy blessing.

For myself, and many I talk to, this family time has been the single most satisfying by-product of these challenging months. It has also been a time where I’ve fluctuated – sometimes wildly and unrealistically – between being really proud of the resilience, optimism and kindness of our brood and… well… finding fault. I suspect I’m not the only parent who struggled with the best and worst of so much together time.

My young people include a teenage girl and two boys not too far past their teen years. They are really fun ages and really fun people. I have moments, though, when I lose sight of how awesome they truly are and get organized around things that are not that important. This tends to happen more when I don’t feel very in control, which was more often than I care to admit during this unpredictable period. As I watched my kids navigate so much down time at home, I initiated an unusually high number of conversations (read: lectures) around getting stuff done, being productive and contributing. It is a common teenage-parent dance - one I was engaging too much in. It brought to mind a poem I read years ago, by Poet Laureate Billy Collins, which spoke to this dance with wit and humility. Take a listen:

It makes me laugh, mostly at myself. Because teenagers actually are not intended to be defined by their productivity – they are a great work in progress and they are actually pretty amazing as they are. I love them at home and I love seeing them in my practice. So I’m going to take a moment and be grateful for the wonderfully weird and wild teenager (and those just older).

A few things I love: your energy and intensity, your big emotions - even when they are sloppy, confusing or complicated. Your humor and irreverence, and your brutal honesty and inhibition. I love your vulnerability and unguardedness. Your ability to be in the moment, as if nothing else exists. I love that you are hard-wired for connection.

I mostly appreciate the risks you take, your sense of adventure. You are often big-hearted, and I’m grateful for your spirit of generosity and inclusion. Your grit. I appreciate your instinct for what is authentic and what is bullsh**. Often, not always, I appreciate your relentlessness and your stubbornness, even when it’s maddening. Your negotiation skills know no bounds.

I welcome your laughter, your giggles, your banter from basements and backyards, car pools and overnights. It is the best backdrop for all things. Your confidences on road trips or at kitchen tables or late at night. I especially welcome the moments where I’m invited into conversations with your funny and fabulous friends. I was amused when you suggested we shouldn’t volunteer to chaperone or that it’s unnecessary to check in with another parent to see if they were home. Or that we would ever be swayed by the argument that other parents are doing things differently. We were happy when you gained the wisdom to abandon these arguments and especially for the moments when we saw your good judgement developing.

I am entertained by your posts, slang and expressions and I absolutely COVET your dance moves. Seriously. But I get the greatest satisfaction from how you respond to a parent learning said dance moves or imitating the latest teen talk. Your hilarity and embarrassment fuels our drive to persist in these efforts. We find it way funnier than you.

I’m thankful for your friends’ shoes piled up at the front door and how you think it’s humorous to call all the parents or teachers by their first name (when you’re not referring to them as “boomer," which, by the way, most of us are too young for). And let’s face it, your sighs and eyerolls, and all manner of exasperation, are epic. Well done on that.

I’m not idealizing, I intimately know just how difficult you can be. But most traits are both a gift and a curse, and this is about the good stuff. You sure do make life more interesting.

Dr. Daniel Siegel, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA and author of The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, notes that there are many positives that emerge throughout adolescence. The brain changes during the early teen years to become organized around four qualities, each of which can foster new strengths. They are:

• Novelty Seeking – which emerges from an increased drive for rewards, to feel life more fully and to create more engagement. The developing strengths include being open to change, living life passionately, taking risks, curiosity and a sense of adventure.

• Social engagement – marked by the desire for more peer connectedness and new friendships. The developing strengths include the motivation to cultivate supportive relationships, mutual accountability and respect, and an enhanced sense of well-being.

• Increased emotional intensity – this provides an enhanced vitality for life. The developing strengths include passion, exuberance, energy and engagement.

• Creative exploration – an expanded sense of awareness which facilitates new ideas and enhanced imagination, flexible strategies, the creation of new ideas and greater innovation. The developing strengths include a focus on cultivating the extraordinary in the ordinary, as well as imagining the world, and your place in it, in new and creative ways. This helps shape a life that is unique, far-reaching and satisfying.

You are a weirdly wonderful and wild bunch – at home, in my office, in school, on the athletic fields, stages, jobs, and all the other places you show up in your big ways. We have much to learn from you and I'm grateful for the richness and clamor you bring to our routine adult lives.

Thank you, if you are one. Love ‘em up, if you have one. It’s a fun and frantic ride, and it goes by in the blink of an eye.