Parenting Help

Smile-You Have a Teenager in Your House 

“When a youngster turns 13, put him in a pickle barrel, nail the lid shut and feed him through a knothole. Then, when he turns 16, plug up the knothole.” 

Mark Twain’s famous joke about teenagers still makes me chuckle. But some parents of teenagers aren’t laughing much—not because they don’t get the joke, but because they’ve lost their sense of humor.

Hopefully you haven’t gotten to the point where you can’t laugh a little bit about having teenagers in your house. It’s likely that someday you’ll look back on a lot of what you’re going through right now and laugh about it.

Why not laugh now?

Nothing turns a teenager off faster than adults who have no sense of humor. That’s why successful youth ministers generally are such fun loving people who don’t mind acting silly and looking stupid from time to time. Kids can relate to them. Granted, youthful humor can sometimes be a little bizarre, but it’s still humor to them. The challenge for adults who want to treat kids respectfully is to learn to laugh with them. This is just as true for parents as it is with youth workers and teachers.

“You know your kids are growing up when they stop asking you where they came from and stop telling you where they’re going.”

It’s often overlooked in the psychological literature on parenting, but there’s no doubt that healthy families are usually characterized by an abundance of laughter. Show me a home full of people who have fun together and who can laugh out loud together and I’ll show you a healthy home. There’s absolutely no denying it.

Granted, this suggests one of those “chicken-egg” questions—“Which came first, the healthy home or the laughter?” Why wait to find out? Start laughing now. Have fun with your kids. Lighten up! Psychologist David Elkind in his classic book “All Grown Up and No Place to Go” writes that, “without exception, parents who succeed with their teenagers have a special sense of humor… they can balance the headaches that teenagers provoke against the pleasures of their unique charm and creativity.” Having teenagers around the house really can be a lot of fun. They can lift your spirits even when they are wearing you down. Sometimes the secret to parenting is finding that balance.

“I’m worried about my kids’ eyesight. My daughter can’t find anything to wear in a closet full of clothes and my son can’t find anything to eat in a refrigerator full of food.”

One of the best gifts you can give your teenager is a smile. In the workplace, you know the importance and value of greeting people with a smile and letting them know that you are glad to see them. That’s just being courteous and respectful. Sometimes we forget to do this when we are at home.

What message do you non-verbally communicate to your kids when they get home from school, or come to the dinner table, or when they finally emerge from their bedroom after sleeping until noon on Saturday? I know you may still be upset because they didn’t do their chores, or left dirty laundry on the bathroom floor, or broke curfew last night which resulted in some harsh words being said. But even if there’s some “unfinished business” to take care of later, you can still be pleasant, can’t you? What your kids need to know is that you still love them and are happy to see them, even when there are problems. Let’s face it, there will always be problems. But the time you have with your kids is short.

“Sound travels slowly when your kids are teenagers. What you tell them today won’t reach their ears until they are in their forties.”

I have a friend who somehow acquired a realistic-looking gorilla outfit which he put on early one morning and then snuck into his kids’ bedrooms and scared them half to death while his wife got it all on video. Even though the kids eventually needed therapy to deal with their recurring gorilla nightmares (just kidding), they sure had fun watching those videos later on.

When our three kids were still at home, my wife suggested that we all go to a thrift store, buy some goofy looking clothes and dress up like a family of nerds. While the kids weren’t too thrilled with the idea at first, we coaxed them into the car after dinner and did some shopping. I found a silly-looking toupee that didn’t match, a leisure suit coat with plaid pants, a bow tie and a loud shirt. My wife found the ugliest dress in the universe, put her hair up in a bun and rolled her nylons down around her ankles. The kids also found silly clothes, glasses, plastic pocket-protectors and other nerd accessories like an accordion and a pair of ear muffs. Once we were all dressed up in our outfits, we had a family portrait taken which we sent out with our Christmas cards that year. Everyone who got one of those pictures had a good laugh, and so did we. Even though we all looked and felt pretty foolish at the time, our kids enjoyed knowing (and letting others know) that they were part of a fun-loving family.

“One of the first signs of maturity in a teenager is when they discover that the volume control knob also turns to the left.”

What is your family identity? Are you fun for your kids to be around? Can members of your family play practical jokes on each other without someone taking it too personally? Do you look forward to an evening of Pictionary or Taboo or some other fun game that generates laughter and healthy interaction? Are you creating some memories for your kids which might have a positive impact on their own families someday?

If laughter comes easily for your family, then getting through tough times will come a lot easier also. Wise parents aren’t afraid to let their hair down once in a while and have fun with their kids whenever they can.

“Insanity is hereditary; you get it from your kids.”

It was the apostle Paul who said “Rejoice in the Lord always; I say it again, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4) Our kids are more likely to hear “How could you be so stupid! I say it again, what on earth were you thinking!”

Certainly Paul had more than enough trials and tribulations for one person, yet he strongly urged people to be thankful, to keep a positive outlook, to rejoice no matter what. We parents also need to find joy in the journey—not only when the ride is smooth, but when things get a little bumpy. So you’ve got a moody, belligerent teenager? You just got his report card with one too many F’s on it? You’re having a bad hair day because you couldn’t get into the bathroom thanks to your preening teenage daughter (or son)? You got in your car this morning and found the radio tuned to K-RAP 95 at full blast, french fries all over the floor, a sticky steering wheel, and a gas tank on empty? You have my sympathies. Nevertheless, “Rejoice in the Lord always; I say it again, rejoice!”

Paul went on to say, “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil. 4:8). In other words, try to focus on the positive. True, your kids will make their share of mistakes and they will cause you to feel a few negative emotions that you never knew you had. But relax. Take a deep breath. Insulate your hot buttons and smile. The more problems you dwell on, the more problems you will have.

In family life, there’s simply no substitute for parents who truly, honestly enjoy their kids. Teenagers need people around them who like them for who they are right now, not just for what they may someday become. And really, there’s a lot about them to like.

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Wayne Rice

Wayne Rice is a life-long youth worker, Christ-follower and bluegrass music nut who spends most of his time these days writing, speaking, consulting, playing his banjo and trying to be a good husband, father and grandpa. Wayne co-founded an organization called Youth Specialties, as well as a parenting organization called Understanding Your Teenager, which is now part of Wayne has written over 30 books, including the parenting book, Generation to Generation. You can follow Wayne on his blog at

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