It’s a phrase that parents have been uttering for decades — make that centuries, or perhaps eons.
In particular, teenagers.
There isn’t a grandparent around who hasn’t chuckled at his or her own offspring as they meet the balancing act of the teenage years with their children.
In many ways, a balancing act is apt description for the relationship between teens and parents as the next generation finds its way in this world. They can be years of great moments — high school graduation, prom nights and great disappointment —struggling grades and, well, prom nights.
Frankly, anyone who says the teen years are the best years of a person’s life, may have forgotten how hard those years can be for a teenager… and the parents.
But take heart. Those years don’t last forever and, in fact, most parents end up saying those years with their children went way too fast.
Craig and Sue LaKose know firsthand how fast those years can go. Their son, Sam, is now an 18-year-old freshman at Kirkwood Community College. Younger sister Lizzie, 15 years old and a freshman at Clear Lake High School, still has a few years to go before she can leave the nest, but the couple are already feeling the changing times.
“It’s been really hard,” Sue says, while Craig chuckles, “It’s been great… I get my TV now.”
But that’s really just the voice of a proud dad who understands the hard work of the teenage years.
“Our house has always been kind of the hang-out place, especially for my son’s class,” Sue continues. “I would keep those cupboards stocked full of food. We have a refrigerator in the garage that we would keep full of pop. And we have a pool in the backyard, so his friends were always here. It’s been really quiet.”
The Lakoses, who were high school sweethearts at Clear Lake back in the Class of 1984, consider themselves fortunate to have great relationships with their children, but understand well the pressures that teens and families face together.
“I think kids have a lot more challenges than we did,” she says. “We went to school, pretty much came home, did homework, did chores around the house, went to extra-curricular activities, maybe had a job.”
Compared with the choices in society now available, that seems to be a lighter load for generations past.
“I think there are so many societal pressures that are on kids nowadays; the cell phones, all the technology that you can’t shut off,” she notes.
And it’s amazing the speed with which those technological changes came. Consider the fact that when the parents of today’s teenagers were teenagers themselves, there was probably only one phone in the home. It might have been cordless (or maybe not), but parents pretty much knew who their teens were talking to.
By contrast, just about every member of today’s family has his or her own cell phone, and it can be a full-time job for a parent trying to know who their teens are talking to, who they’re texting and who might be talking to them online. Parents want to respect privacy, especially for teenagers, but it’s also still their job to protect those teens while they are growing into adulthood.
It’s easy for Craig to see that critical balance in his work as a law enforcement deputy for the Cerro Gordo County’s Sheriff’s Department.
“You have to stay in touch with kids because I see some families where Mom and Dad seem to give up,” he says.
To Craig, it’s all about boundaries. Teenagers need to be free to stretch their limits, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any limits.
“You want for the kids to have fun, and to have a great experience as teenagers, but there has to be rules, too,” he says.
But if it sounds like he’s all about rules, he’s also clearly a guy who enjoys having fun with his family and particularly enjoys a good laugh together.
“We enjoy sports as a family, and we enjoy going to sporting events,” he says. “When the kids were little we played a lot of board games, and we enjoy watching movies together as a family.”
Having fun together is key for this family, but at the same time, a parent is always a parent.
“You don’t want to be just their friend because you still have to parent,” Sue says. “But you need to be on their level; you have to respect each other. Enjoy them, because, boy, those years go by fast.”
The couple also takes pride in bringing their kids together at the supper table as often as possible. With two working parents and active children, that can be hard, but they always make the effort.
“We make the commitment to have supper together at the table every night that we can,” Sue says.
Acknowledging that it can be hard to get teens to talk, they even have a set question to get the conversation going.
“We always go around the table and ask, ‘What’s your high today and what’s your low today,?’ ” she explains. “That would get everyone around the table to talk, even their friends when they were visiting for supper had to tell us their high point of the day and low point of the day.”
Such communication is critical for families to succeed and for teenagers to safely navigate what can be rather treacherous years. Cathy Spotts is a veteran high school counselor in Clear Lake and a parent of three herself; ages 20, 16 and 8 years old.
Even in just the last few years Spotts has seen a dramatic uptick on the pressures faced by teenagers.
“I’ve been a counselor about 10 years, and in the first five years I did not deal with this many emotional issues. I was actually doing more career counseling, more post-secondary planning with students,” Spotts says.
Much of her time, she says, is spent matching teens and parents with appropriate resources to help them cope with those outside pressures.
“I just think the social and emotional needs have really risen in the last five years that I’ve been a counselor,” she adds.
Use of social media has also skyrocketed in those same years, but fortunately, Spotts is seeing some positive signs on that front as kids are getting the message about staying safe and respecting privacy.
“Facebook and texting issues seem to have calmed down in the last year,” she says. “It’s definitely still a concern, but I think kids are getting a little smarter about how they deal with social media.”
While she knows that parents and teens can face a lot of stress together, she encourages them to enjoy these years together and finds great reward in watching teens turn into young adults before her very eyes.
“I think it’s fun to watch them and see how much they can change in just a short period of time,” she says.
Even in the best of times, teenagers are under great pressure, notes fellow Clear Lake High School counselor Amy Sunde.
“There’s a lot of pressure for kids to do well in school and have a decision on what they want to do with their lives,” says Sunde.
With the new year here, that pressure kicks into high gear for seniors as they look forward to graduation day this spring, she notes.
“The first question they’re going to get when they graduate is, ‘What are you going to do after high school?’ ” Sunde explains. “They definitely feel that pressure in their senior year because that’s the question they hear all the time, and I think that really stresses them out.”
In reality, knowing exactly what one wants to do their life at 17 or 18 years of age can be a challenge — just ask any 40 year old who’s still wondering.
Sunde encourages students to be open to the possibilities and investigate their various areas of interest.
“I’ve met with a lot of students who simply want help in how to make that decision,” she says. “They want to know how to make a career choice, what colleges to look for based on those career choices they are making. I think a lot of them just want someone to give them a direction to go in so they can explore because they are just overwhelmed with options.”
One benefit for Clear Lake students is the ability to take college level classes while still in high school.
“Clear Lake is really fortunate to have that relationship with North Iowa Area Community College so they can take a lot of college credit courses in high school,” she says.
Most of all, she encourages students and parents to be patient with each other as students ponder the choices ahead. Oftentimes, it’s that exploration that leads to a discovery.
“Sometimes, if they don’t know what they want to do kids just feel bad,” she says. “But it’s OK not to know at 17, and it’s OK to change your mind.”