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The surprising wisdom of teenagers


Alena Ozerova I Shutterstock

Calah Alexander - published on 12/09/19

I just learned more from my teenage daughter than I have in all the years I've spent trying to teach her.

Just now, my 13-year-old daughter Sienna walked into the dining room to see me staring at the blank computer screen with my head in my hands. “What’s wrong, Mom?” she asked. “Oh, nothing, kiddo, don’t worry about it,” I responded immediately, straightening up and wiping the bleak expression from my face.

It’s been rough week around here. The kids have all been sick, and with my parents out of town it’s been on me to juggle nursing duties, work, and regular life. I’ve fallen behind in more than a few areas — my writing being one of them — and wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed, pull the covers over my head, and turn my brain off for a few hours. And despite my meager attempt to hide it, my daughter saw through my façade instantly.

“Come on, Mom,” she said in her sardonic teenage tone. “You look like you want to throw your computer through the window.” I cracked a smile, acknowledging the truth in her hyperbole. “Yeah, I really need to write an article, but I can’t think of anything to write about.”

She tossed me a Hershey’s kiss, unwrapped one for herself, and said, “write about how chocolate sends endorphins to our brains so it’s actually good for us.” This time I laughed out loud and admitted that I’d already written that one. “Write about how much you deadlifted,” she suggested, knowing that was another topic that would make me smile — and it did, but …”I’m pretty sure no one wants to read an article about how I PR’d my deadlift,” I told her. She laughed and said, “Well, that doesn’t stop you from telling me about it over and over.” I threw the Hershey kiss back at her, aiming for her head, but she deftly caught it, unwrapped it, and popped it in her mouth. “Ha, that’s one you don’t get,” she joked. Then she paused, thought for a second, and said, “Write about perspective.”

“What do you mean, perspective?” I asked. She shrugged and said, “Like, how if you change your perspective you can change your life. You know, like if you wake up in the morning and start thinking about all the bad things that happened yesterday, you’ll never make it through the day. But if you wake up and say, whatever, that stuff is over and I can’t change it, so I might as well pretend it doesn’t exist and focus on the whole new day ahead, then you’re happy about the day.”

I stared at my 13-year-old, a little taken aback by her sudden attack of wisdom. “Is that what you do?” I asked her. “Sure,” she said. “I started doing it in track last year, because I realized that if I thought about how I had fallen on a certain hurdle the last race, it made me fall the same way every time. So I had to force myself to forget falling and focus instead on just clearing them, on keeping my footwork solid and my form clean. When I do that, sometimes I still fall — but I never fall on the same hurdle twice.”

I never fall on the same hurdle twice. I almost can’t believe how wise this daughter of mine is, and how she’s learned — seemingly effortlessly — a lesson that I’m still pounding out, day in and and day out, by focusing on my past mistakes. Whether they’re mistakes I made yesterday or last year or 10 years ago, when I try and live with one eye on the rearview mirror, guess what happens? Yeah. I crash and burn, usually in the same place I did back then.

When I look back over the past decade or so, there’s one common thread to the times when things seemed to go smoothly — I was moving forward. I wasn’t agonizing over the details, over what might go wrong or what had gone wrong. I wasn’t stuck in the past, lamenting mistakes I made or feeling sorry for myself over wrongs I’ve suffered. I was just heading forward, “keeping my footwork solid and my form clean,” in the words of my teenage daughter.

I’ll let you decide if and how you want to apply this wisdom to your own life, but the big lesson for me is: Our kids know a lot more than we often give them credit for — if we have the ears to hear it.


Read more:
7 Spiritual lessons we receive by having children


Read more:
How to get your teen to talk to you

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