I wasn’t a “bad” child (at least not in the standard ways) when I was entering my teenage years - nor was I “bad” during them. I was responsible - I had babysitting jobs! I didn’t drink or do drugs or do that whole sex thing. (That all came in college…) My parents didn’t really have too much to worry about.
But we all have our issues, and I came into my teen years with a year of therapy under my belt and bouts of kleptomania that I fought (and usually lost). I think I actually still have a stash of everything that I stole. I’m not sure if I ever called my mother an asshole, though the times when my parents announced their disappointment in me - that was the severest punishment I ever got.
To this day I couldn’t tell you what exactly I was trying to do with the stealing. I don’t think I was trying to fit in, nor was it the stereotypical “cry for help” (at least not in my mind) - if I could pin it on anything, I’d just say it was a reaction to the social pressure of being a teenager. People suck in middle school and high school. Parents know this. Anyone older than the age of 18 knows this. But you can tell a teenager all you want that this isn’t the way people act when they’re older, that all the bullies and assholes will grow up - but they’re living the day-to-day reality, and it’s hard to see beyond it - as a teenager, a year is still a long time, and 4 years even more so.
I think the most hard-hitting thing, though, as a teenager, is a phase that everyone recognizes - the mental growing pains that go along with the physical ones.
I never truly appreciated my parents until the very end of high school (perhaps a bit earlier than some) when my mother and I were tooling around the country looking at college campuses - and I was freaking out and hyperventilating about not finding the right college. My mother was a grounding force - and I realized that my mother was actually smart and had some valuable insight. What a revelation!
But it was. There are two sides to recognizing that your parents are people and not superheroes (because as much as I maligned my parents and disavowed them, I still saw them as the people who could solve anything) - recognizing both their intelligence (and thus, experience) and their mortality.
That was a scary moment for me - realizing that one day, my parents were going to die. No ifs, ands or buts. It made me realize just how small I was, and how I actually needed to take the time to get to know my parents. They were my parents, yes, but how well did I actually know them?
Being a teenager is one of the weirdest limbos every person goes through because mentally we’re still trying to catch up and remedy our thoughts and knowledge with our new bodies - childish thoughts (that we don’t recognize we still have; of course, we think we are all grown up) in an adult body.
But as it has been said - it passes. As a teenager, we can’t recognize that what we are going through is actually a phase - nor can we see how awful we are sometimes to the people we love, how deeply we cut them. As parents, you have to ride the jabs and insults and trust that your child will mature into the adult that you hope to see them as. It’s a hard transition for everyone - but it’s a necessary step in growing up. It’s not an easy process to recognize that you don’t know everything, and never will. It’s a lesson in humility we all have to learn, but one that teenagers never want to admit to.
This isn’t to say I’m not still occasionally embarrassed by my parents – I say I get the weird from my mother’s side and the crazy from my father’s – but I take it all with a levity that I didn’t understand when I was a teen. It took me a long time to realize that life isn’t something to be taken seriously, but joyously.
Alexis Green is a freelance writer who had her fair share of babysitting jobs and growing pains. She works frequently with Nanny Pro, a service that aims to find the perfect nanny or local babysitter for your family.