You pretty much know the drill before your kids are even born. You spend the first few months of their life doing everything possible (including talking in that ridiculous baby voice) to get your child to smile. For a few years, smiles come easy. All you have to do is hold up a purple Popsicle, or tell them they are beautiful – or even thank them for throwing your beer can away, and kids smile. You probably have hundreds, if not thousands of pictures of your little pipsqueak smiling randomly. Babies are happy creatures. And when babies smile, parents smile.
Then…they grow up. And for some reason around the age of 13, the smiles become less and less. The pictures of smiles become completely absent and family portraits look as if you are running some sort of torture chamber rather than raising a happy family. You might even be less inclined (or not at all inclined) to take pictures of your teens, especially because they always look so unhappy.
One day, you will wonder to yourself, would it really hurt my teenager to smile? You might even have the guts to say this a time or two to your ‘tortured’ teen – only to get one of those fake ‘I hate you- you are ruining my life’ type of smiles in return. You will muse about whether or not you are doing something wrong, something awful to make your teenager such a sourpuss. Perhaps you are emotionally damaging them, or maybe your requests for them to pick up their laundry, is causing their inability to smile. You see them smile with their friends when they think you aren’t looking. But enter mom or dad (or any adult for that matter) into the picture and the smiles vanish as quickly as steam from an iron.
Many parents mistake the lack of smiling, the lack of happiness and glee that is commonly connected to the teenage years with bad parenting. But you should feel at ease, because their smiling (or lack thereof) has nothing to do with you. And everything to do with hormones, bad attitude and personal growth. Most teens go through that stage in their life where they get stuck in a ‘woe is poor pitiful me’ phase of life. Everything is unfair, and extremely problematic for them. Purple popsicles don’t make them happy anymore. As a parent, you have to stay strong and realize that their unhappy faces and frowns are simply a part of their personal rites of passage into adulthood. If you constantly worry that they are not smiling and make stupid comments like, “Turn that frown upside down,” or “Your face is going to get stuck like that,” or ask, “Why are you so unhappy,” your teen will use this against you to the fullest extent of their capability. And worse, they will smile even less because they know it is irritating you – and they are hoping that you might buy them a car or install an in-ground pool just to bring back their smile. (Which you SHOULD NOT DO)
Teenagers have a lot of things going on in their life. Parents should remain aware, but also remain fearless. If the lack of smiling seems to be something linked to drug use or depression – then you should seek help. But if the smileless face of your teen is nothing more than the over dramatic, hormone induced phase of life that is dubbed the ‘teen years,’ remember that you are not alone. Your teen smiles plenty, when they are locked in their room with their peers listening to music, or during lunchtime at school, or at the high school football game. They just don’t smile when you are around. Because you remind them of limits and boundaries and are employed to make sure that they stick within these limits and boundaries. Teenagers hate this. They also hate that every time they do something wrong, or aren’t doing what they are supposed to do, that mom and dads voice is ringing in their head like some sort of external subconscious reminding them that they know better. And this makes them smile even less.
The best advice that a parent can take is to keep those old pictures of your smiling child handy for future reference. This way, you can remember your child when they did smile. And, continue to be annoying and nerdy, saying and doing stupid little embarrassing things in effort to draw a smile from your teens face. They might get annoyed and stomp off to their room, but you can pretty much guarantee they are smiling as they slam the door in your face. There will come a time, when this phase of childhood will pass. Just like potty training and weaning – your child will get OVER this. They will move on, especially when (and if) they realize that being miserable all the time, and using all their energy to stay pissy and short and unhappy isn’t paying off in any worthwhile way, because mom and dad are simply ignoring them and smiling anyways. This is exactly how you pay back your teen for not smiling….you personally smile more than ever!
Truth is, it wouldn’t hurt your teen to smile. And as the smiles become more fleeting, take a minute to realize how much more they mean now than they did back when all you had to do is wave a purple Popsicle in their face.