The teenage lair
My kids walk in the door after school, usually loudly and laughing.
I’ve convinced my 17-year-old boy, a senior, to drive his 14-year-old sister, a freshman, home from high school with him. (For those of you parenting teenage siblings, you know this was no small feat.)
Our 1-year-old French bulldog puppy waits attentively, barks excitedly and runs circles around them as soon as they walk in.
Admittedly, I feel the same way inside as our Frenchie.
While I don’t literally jump around, I do make sure I’m right in the kitchen, busy with something when they get home. I know after my son lures the pup to chase him around a bit, and after my daughter grabs a snack, up the stairs to their rooms they’ll go — often not to be seen until I call them down for dinner.
I’ve got to take whatever time I can get to connect with them, whether it’s five minutes or 20. The habit of hunkering down in one’s bedroom is typical for teens in this stage of development, I know.
But with the amount of time our kids spend content and alone in their rooms — such a stark contrast to those earlier years — I imagine most parents find themselves constantly wondering: What are they doing up there?
What’s left behind
About once a week, I go into their rooms to vacuum and do a dish pick-up. I’ve found that if I go in more often than that, I get grumbly with the random wrappers, guitar pics and/or hair bands (full of hair) strewn on every surface, including the floor.
Please don’t ask me to comment on their bathroom. I’ve thought about having a hazmat suit tucked into a spare closet just for that weekly job.
It’s not that I don’t complain as I’m stomping down the stairs a second time with my arms full of glasses and coffee mugs. I’ve just decided that’s it’s better to take the few minutes I get with them as they come in the door as a time of connection — and not nagging.
I suppose the hard work of becoming a grownup is reflected in the chaos of their rooms.
Teenagers have but one space in their world that’s really truly theirs — their bedrooms.
While their bedrooms are an extension of our home as a whole, they’re also their places to get away from (or tuck into) the world.
They’re in a safe place with all of their stuff and memories, too — old toys, knickknacks, trophies, things that have been with them a long time — even if they’re just hidden in the closet.
New things adorn their shelves to identify their views and their developing opinions of who they are on their own, who they relate to, plus their sports teams, bands and pics of their friends.
In this base of operations, they can think, study, watch, socialize and just be — separate from, but safely near us, their parents.
Teen happy hour
Teens face a lot of pressure to maintain their positions in their social groups. Being an outsider isn’t acceptable at this age. Their self-worth is wrapped up in their peers.
If you ask your teens what they’re doing in their bedrooms, they may respond the way they think you want them to: “Homework,” they’ll most often reply.
This might be true, most of the time, but they also spend a good amount of time keeping up their social connections and friendships via their devices.
They may be chatting up their friends or binge-watching the latest Netflix series.
But for them, it’s not enough to watch Stranger Things. For teenagers, keeping up with latest episodes means they must stay on top of the inside jokes, memes and references made across social media, too.
Tidying — with love
It’s been another week; they’re away at school. I hesitantly go into their lairs and open up their blinds (and maybe a window, if needed).
I catch myself mumbling about why they don’t make their beds anymore.
And then I remember: This is just a phase. I taught them all of this stuff when they were younger.
I remind myself about the two tests they were up late studying for and the project that was due today. And the choir rehearsal they have to get to tonight.
I’ll surprise them both with cleaned-up rooms. Made beds.
I hope that my love and thoughts of hope will swirl around with theirs when they head upstairs — and that they’ll feel it as they plan, think, dream and just be.
Jennifer Wizbowski lives in Excelsior with her husband and teenage daughter and son. Send comments, questions and story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.