“Youth can not know how age thinks and feels, but old men are guilty if they forget what it is to be young.”

Albus Dumbledore

Ah, the teenage years! A time when your child transforms from that sweet, cherubic little being who once believed you were the smartest person in the world, into a creature who seems to regard you with the same enthusiasm they reserve for a dental appointment.

My son, now a teenager, is a walking, talking paradox. One moment, he’s sprouting up like a weed—necessitating an almost weekly wardrobe update—and the next, he’s curled up on the couch—looking as if he’s trying to shrink back into his younger self. It’s like living with a human accordion.

The other day, I pointed out how tall he’s gotten. He rolled his eyes with the skill of an Olympic gymnast. “I’m not a little kid anymore,” he declared, with a tone that suggested I had accused him of still playing with rubber ducks. The irony, of course, is that just last week, I caught him watching old cartoons, a bowl of sugary cereal in his lap, giggling with the unbridled joy of a six-year-old.

Teenagers, I’ve learned, are a unique blend of adult aspirations and childlike nostalgia. They’re like a gourmet dish that can’t decide if it’s sweet or savory.

Back to my teenage son:

  • He just navigated the rite of passage of his first shave, yet only recently tackled the art of tying his shoes—motivated, of course, by the allure of sporting a new pair of Jordans.
  • He’s eager to learn driving, yet still hasn’t mastered the childhood staple of riding a bike.
  • He’s outgrown bedtime stories, but his collection of stuffed animals still holds a place of honor in his room.
  • And while he rolls his eyes at the idea of a family game night, he can’t resist joining in when the UNO deck emerges.

It’s a whirlwind of contradictions, each a reminder of the delicate balance between growing up and holding onto the vestiges of childhood.

But it’s not all a juggling act of paradoxes. Some things are classic teen behaviors, as timeless as acne and mood swings.

For example, his room has become his sanctuary, a mysterious realm where every cup and glass in the house goes to retire, like elderly vacationers in Florida. The closed door is like the universal badge of teenage independence, a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign hanging on the doorway to his evolving identity.

And then there’s the hunger—or as I like to call it, the “hangry” phase of the day. It’s a state of being where his mood is directly proportional to his level of hunger. I’ve seen him transform from a brooding Shakespearean character to a jovial sitcom sidekick with just a few bites of a cheese sandwich.

The moments of laughter are my favorite, though they’re often shrouded in mystery. I’ll walk in on him laughing hysterically at something on his phone, and when I ask what’s so funny, I’m met with a dramatic “NOTHING-uhh,” as if he’s guarding the nuclear codes.

We’ve also instituted a new house rule: the deodorant check. A can of deodorant sits by the door, a silent reminder of the importance of personal hygiene in these hormone-fueled times. It’s a small but crucial step in preparing him for the outside world, where scent can be a friend or a formidable foe.

But amidst all these changes remain moments of pure, unadulterated sweetness. Moments when he leans against me, his hugs enveloping and warm—the kind he mostly reserves for the dog. There’s a particular charm in the way his favorite smile slowly creeps across his face, especially when he’s trying hard not to smile. It’s in these precious, fleeting moments that I see him navigating the choppy waters of adolescence, trying to find his place in the vast ocean of life.

So, to all the parents of teenagers out there, remember this: amidst the eye rolls, the deepening voices, and the mysterious laughter—there’s a beautiful dance happening. It’s a dance of growth, of finding oneself, and of holding onto the innocence that once defined them.

Embrace the dance, even if you occasionally step on each other’s toes. Before you know it, the music will change, and this dance will be nothing but a memory—a sweet, funny, and utterly precious memory.

Stephen Boudreau serves as VP of Product + Content Marketing at Virtuous Software. For over two decades, he has helped nonprofits leverage the digital space to grow their impact. To that end, Stephen co-founded RaiseDonors, a platform that provides nonprofits with technology and experiences that remove barriers to successful online fundraising. He is an avid (but aging) soccer player, audiobook enthusiast, and the heavily-disputed UNO champion of his household.

Copyright ©2024 Stephen Boudreau.