THIS Stage, the Teen Years, Is Certainly the Best Stage

My husband and I recently spent the day together to celebrate my birthday while our kids were in school. I wanted a quietly-adult day-a breakfast at my favorite sunny spot lingering over coffee I didn’t make, a lazy walk around the National Mall to see cherry blossoms and gape at tourists, and most important, a visit to the National Gallery to see a temporary Rothko exhibit. 

How civilized. 

But as we entered the exhibit, hushed tones were quickly drowned out by loud voices, laughing and an energy that felt like my home with two sons, 14 and 16. Gallery-goers looked over, a little annoyed. A security guard inched closer to the tiny hurricane that was made up of four teen boys. But they were oblivious to the stares, and soon I heard one of them say, above their teasing one another: “Wait. This is all by the same guy?!” 

Here are the reasons why I love being the mom of a teen. (Shutterstock – Yuri A)

One observation was the perfect reminder of how amazing teens are

That one observation in the midst of them being themselves was the perfect reminder of the amazingness that teens hold. Not yet an adult, no longer a child, always trying to make sense of their world, whether that’s through teasing, ball throwing, arguing, door slamming, endless questions or, yes, seemingly shutting down to any adult who tries to speak to them. 

The gallery boys didn’t stay long, but later we saw them lined up on an escalator, pointing at a sculpture, still goofing off, still laughing, yet not ignoring the beauty and wonder inside the museum walls. There was something so vulnerable and delightful about this group. Just as there’s something so wonderfully vulnerable and delightful about teens. 

Over the last 17-ish years of parenting, I have often found myself thinking that whatever stage my kids were in at that moment was absolutely the best one. But here’s the kicker: THIS stage, the teen years, is certainly the best stage. (Stop laughing.) Yes, I know it’s challenging, both for their caregivers and for the teens themselves. I know that our teens are suffering with mental health issues, stress, all the ills of society we’ve piled in front of them. And I know not every teen is always enjoyable, but surprise- we adults aren’t always a picnic either. 

7 ways in which teens are the best

Stick with me, and let me explain why teens are the best.  

1. Their “challenging” of all things authority, of the status quo, of world events, of you is a gift

It’s so easy to hear them arguing and saying no to so many things (like, well, your suggestions) and feel frustrated. You know what’s a little more difficult but so much more rewarding? Listening to them and letting that arguing and those nos show you where your teen is heading, how they are making sense of the world, where their values are landing.

What a gift to witness their morphing philosophies, thought processes and values. Listen hard and maybe their stance on the new neighborhood development or the “unfair” assignment will actually start to make sense. Or if it doesn’t, maybe after you listen to them and ask a question or two, you’ll witness them thoughtfully consider your words, even for a second. Because they notice if you’re listening and you’re giving them the respect they deserve as they become who they are. 

2. Funny. So, so funny

I don’t remember the first time I laughed at a joke or comment from one of my kids – I’ve always enjoyed their humor. But I do know they make me laugh for real now, not just because they’ve done something incredibly adorable or out of character, like when they were younger. I bet your kid is hysterical too.

There came a time (not long ago) when I actually realized they make me laugh as much as the adults in my life do. Whether it’s an inside joke, a self-deprecating moment where they are both hysterical and self aware, an apt observation about the world, opening the path for their humor is priceless. (This morning, I heard my older son coughing and looked over – he was loading the dishwasher and teasingly wanted to make sure I noticed.) There is nothing better than a sense of humor, and wow can they sling it. 

3. Their friends are the best

Want to laugh? Want to feel warmth? Find a way to witness your teen with their friends. My younger son and I were recently home alone on a Friday night and I offered to take him and his friend to our neighborhood pizza restaurant. I spent more than an hour learning about their lives and laughing.

It is an absolute joy to witness your child with a friend or several and watch them interact, delight in one another, have fun and care about each other. And knowing some of their friends since they were little? That’s just a huge added bonus, because seeing these giants come through your door when it was yesterday you were helping them put their shoes back on to go outside will remind you how far they have (all) come. 

4. They are kind and thoughtful

No, not all of the time, but neither are we, right? I am lucky enough that my elderly father lives in a retirement community just a few blocks from us. It’s been a gift for him and for us. I get to notice my teens interacting with other residents there, or see them leave the house because it’s a good time to go say hi to “gramps.”

We often label teens as selfish or stand-offish, but teens tend to have tender and good hearts, and I love to catch them in the act of being kind. I bet if you give it a minute, you can easily think about a moment, no matter how small, that your teen did something sweet or kind or generous. How cool is that? 

5. Late night conversations

Think teens don’t open up? Try being near them after 10 p.m. You may be tired, but teens after 10 can be the best part of the day. So take a deep breath and sit for a minute, or let them linger in your room. If I open the fridge at 10 p.m., or suggest a late night ice cream with crushed Oreos, the conversations flow and I feel like a guest who’s been invited into a secret party.

They want to talk, to connect, to make sense of the world, and when we allow for it – even if we’re exhausted – it can be a true joy. They may spend their day grunting or ignoring you as they stare at their phones or hide behind their bedroom door, but when they’re ready to let their guard down, you’ll find gold. 

6. They are the best teachers.

Have you ever played GeoGuessr? I hadn’t until I realized my older son could fill in most countries on a blank map in a minute when I still struggled with some of the midwest states. I didn’t know anything about soccer until my younger one wanted to tell me everything (EVERYTHING) about his favorite team and I now worry about Chelsea’s ranking.

My older son taught me some smooth tennis moves, younger one has enlightened me about music and sneakers. And yes, I’m told if a phrase I’m using is not ok by today’s standards, or if something I explain is not “how we do it anymore.” I may still be guiding them, but I am also learning, and I am so much better for it. 

7. Witnessing them become who they are

I had a vision before my children were born what they might be like. I didn’t expect that they would fulfill those visions at all, but every now and then I stop and catch my breath when I think about how interesting they are – and how different they are from what I may have expected.

Like the boys in the art museum, I witness my guys both be the teens that they are the adults they are becoming. I can see them taking in the world around them, and figuring out what to do with that. What a thrill when you see a new skill they picked up, marvel at a deep conversation they’re having, sit on the sidelines to the life they are creating.  

They can be difficult, these teen years, for us and for our kids. There is a cauldron of emotions we’re all working through – hormones, changing relationships, an unsteady future. (For all of us!) But as we witness our children moving into this stage, the moments of joy and connection can be so fulfilling. Maybe it’s time to realize the teen years aren’t all bad. I’d actually argue teenagers are truly the best, and they are even better when we take the time to notice that. 

More Great Reading:

Stop Putting Down Today’s Teens Because They Really Are Alright

About Amy Joyce

Amy Joyce is the former Washington Post On Parenting editor and writer. After almost three decades as a reporter and editor at the Post, she recently left to open a bookstore in Bethesda, Maryland, due to open in the fall. She continues to write and edit as she builds her business. Amy lives in Washington with her husband, teen boys and teen dog, Rosie.

Read more posts by Amy

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