We were sitting at the Chinese Buffet a few weeks ago and my son hadn’t eaten since lunch; to say he was hungry is an understatement. He spent all day doing hard labor with his father because he’s saving for a car.
The night before he was up late; he’s been having a lot of trouble winding down before 11pm despite the fact that he gets up before 6 in the morning to get ready for work or school.
He’s grown about 5 inches this year and has stretch marks on his arms, back, and hips. As a junior in high school, no matter where he goes someone wants to know what he plans to do with the rest of his life.
I get that people aren’t trying to harass him–they care and simply want to know what he’s up to and what his goals are because that’s what you ask teens.
You can’t expect your teen to be reasonable when he’s exhausted.
But on this particular evening he was exhausted and he didn’t feel like talking. He wanted to stuff his mouth with egg rolls and chicken lo mein then take a shower, and crawl into bed.
He was answering the third question from our acquaintance who was kind enough to stop by the table to say hi, and I could see my son shutting down. Instead of saying “I’m too tired to talk” which is how he felt, he became short with the man standing next to our table. His chicken fingers were getting cold.
I rubbed my son’s back and said, “He’s just tired. he’s had a long day at work,” he was presenting like a rude kid and I felt the need to explain his behavior.
It’s rare to see a child, our teens included, apologizing to an adult about being tired. It’s something I’ve discussed with them, letting them know it’s perfectly acceptable to tell someone you’re too tired to think. Lord knows adults do their fair share of dodging people in the grocery store and at restaurants so we don’t have to face anyone or think too hard.
But our kids don’t think they can do that. They try to engage and continue to play along until they simply can’t say one more word.
If they cut people short because they were up late studying, are stressed out about a relationship dilemma, or had a sleepover the night before and they are simply fried, they are deemed to be rude.
The thing is, a lot of time, they are just tired. They grow like dandelions in a freshly mowed lawn. Their melatonin is all screwed up and doesn’t hit them until later in the evening making it hard for them to go to sleep at a reasonable hour.
A teenager being rude is a lot like a toddler having a meltdown in the middle of the pharmacy. It just happens sometimes.
Add going into high school really early on top of all the other things life throws at them and it’s a wonder they can tolerate anyone. Think about how you feel when you have trouble falling asleep and have to be awake before the sun rises. Are you cheery? I didn’t think so.
We adults are quick to assume that these teens who we pepper with questions, expecting them to know where they want to go to college and what they want to be when they grow up, are being rude when they stare at us like deer in headlights.
We hear sentences like “Teens these days are ungrateful and disrespectful.” There’s talk about how they don’t know how to work hard and they take things for granted. There are times when those sentiments are right on. I’m not here to say teens are never rude because I have three and I know better.
But our teenagers have spoken: According to the American Psychological Association (APA) teens have reported being more stressed than adults. Only 45% of Gen Z-ers say that they feel that they have very good mental health.
The pressures from school and team sports are higher than ever. And while we think they have no real worries because they aren’t responsible for buying their own food, or paying the mortgage, they have concerns spinning in their head every second of every day. Just because the aren’t the same as ours doesn’t mean they don’t have their own worries. Too often that fact is overlooked.
I’m not saying it’s okay to raise rude teens. I’m saying that there are times when they don’t even realize they are coming across as being rude because they are so damn tired they can’t see straight. And let them know that sometimes it’s okay to say, “I just don’t know,” and dig into your warm Chinese food instead of trying to make pleasantries.
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