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The Give and Take of Teenagers


There is a lot of taking in my house . . . the “taking” of rides to practice, the taking of dinner, the taking of clean clothes, the taking of food purchased at the store.

I don’t always see a lot of giving.

I’m not talking about the generous-save-the-world kind of giving. I’m talking about what my friend calls Common Kitchen Courtesy. I’m talking about the Common Kitchen Courtesy that should be “given” not only in the kitchen, but in the car, the family room, the laundry room, upstairs.

I’m talking about a (simple) “thank you” to mom when she takes you to practice and delivers you home. I’m talking about a “yes” instead of a grunt, with just a tad of eye contact. I’m talking about answering the (basic) questions and acknowledging the (loving) comments posed to you from the people who love and care for you the most.

I’m talking about the give and take . . . of teenagers.

I get teenagers.
I get that they need their space . . . with some “independence” from mom (and dad).
I get that we don’t (often) speak the “same language.”
I get that they’re “feeling their way” amidst resounding hormones along with the multitude of physical, emotional, and social changes that surround their teenage days.

I’ve read the books. Even studied Education and Human Development. As a Sunday school teacher, I’ve watched those little, vivacious, talkative cherubs emerge into the quiet, reserved, introspective (ok, almost sleeping) teens. Even the most talkative young ones take on a more quiet, private, teen demeanor.
I get that.

And as a mom, I do my ultimate best to walk that delicate balance. I restrain myself every day from hugging and kissing my teenager and otherwise smothering him with questions about all the things in his daily life . . . especially when he just awakes or returns home from school. I try my bestest to show my love and express interest without interfering too much and invading his personal space. It’s a delicate balance, especially with these teenagers.

Yet, ultimately (when they’re all grown up and all), a good and healthy life — consisting of good, healthy relationships — requires the ability to give and take. And the sooner, I believe, that we teach our children . . . let me rephrase that. The sooner, I believe, that we expect our teens to give, in response to all the taking (of the rides and the dinners and the clean clothes), the better equipped they will be to have a good, healthy life, consisting of good, healthy relationships . . . be it with a friend, a roommate, a girl (or boy)friend, a spouse.

It reminds me of an author (Thomas J. Zirpoli, Ph.D.) I once heard speak. He reported of two schools, with almost identical locations and identical demographics. One school suffered from an insurmountable problem of “smoking in the bathroom.” The other school did not. Why? Why did the kids smoke in the one school, but not the other? Because they could. Because it was tolerated.

Sure, raising teens requires tolerance. It requires patience. It requires . . . deep breaths. Many. Frequently.

But we, as parents, must continually question ourselves about what we are tolerating. I challenge us not to tolerate anything less than Common Kitchen Courtesy. And let’s extend that to the car, the family room, into the laundry room and upstairs. I challenge us to expect that our teenagers will give us Common Kitchen Courtesy — and beyond. And that they will participate in the “give” as well as the “take.” Every day. And to tolerate nothing less. For some day, the more they give, the more they will receive . . . within relationships, situations . . . and most anything that comes their way.

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