Personalities that were previously easygoing suddenly burst forth with emotion and outbursts of ugliness. Other children who were gregarious, never shutting up for one moment, become sluggish and quiet. Gangly, growing boys challenge their parents’ logic, and emotional girls accuse moms and dads of not loving them. The challenges and trials that they face as teenagers are much bigger issues than the ones they dealt with as younger children.

Oh yes, there is a Teenland.

But here’s the thing. It’s not a bad place; it’s a good place. But it is a place where children need their parents more than ever. It’s also the place where we parents (read—this parent) tend to blow it and push our children away. As our children pass through those teen years on the way to adulthood what we think they need most is our guidance and Godly teaching. While it is true that they need both of those things, what they need most are our love and understanding.

Have you forgotten what it was like to go through Teenland? Don’t you remember wanting to fit in? You didn’t feather your hair, keep a big comb in your back pocket, or wear parachute pants because you wanted to rebel against your parents—or even because you wanted to be cool. You just didn’t want to stand out.

Your teens simply feel what you felt, but you’ve forgotten that. You’ve forgotten that their tastes in music, styles, and what matters are different . . . just like yours were.

Actually I was thinking about the song "Kids" from the musical Bye Bye Birdie. The song talks about teenagers’ music, styles, and ways, and then the refrain says: “Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way? What’s the matter with kids today?” Again, Mom and Dad, I’m not saying that all teen behavior is acceptable or that it should be overlooked; I’m just saying, “Remember what it was like!”

Instead of freaking out when your teen becomes an emotional mess and lecturing him about the evils of lack of self-control, patiently guide your teen through those turbulent waters; cut him or her some slack, and love your child . . . no matter what. Yes, teens might make some choices that you don’t prefer and do things you may not understand, but in areas of preference that aren’t a matter of sin, instead of criticizing or giving them that look of disapproval, be interested, smile, and wave. That’s right! Smile and wave.

I had forgotten the power of that combination (i.e., smile and wave) until I recently visited the Mall of America in St. Paul, Minnesota, with my family. I guess it’s so cold most of the time in Minnesota that they needed to make an amusement park right inside the mall. I was reminded as my youngest sons, Cal and Jed, drove around a little track. Every time they passed by, I waved and smiled. They went around again and again, and each time, I waved and smiled—and they basked in my pleasure. And then I did it again when my daughter Maggie rode the Ferris wheel and when Jed rode the carousel and when Ben and Sam rode the Brain Surge and when Ike stood on a gangplank four stories above the floor.

I waved and smiled as only a dad can do: with gusto. I know they all liked seeing the pleasure in my face as I watched them and waved. Then it hit me: that’s what I’m supposed to do—what you’re supposed to do . . . especially with teenagers.

When they talk about their new shoes, smile. When they play in a band (that you may not like), wave and smile. When they make different choices and talk about unimportant things, listen and smile.

That’s what your teenagers crave from you, especially at this time in their lives. They need you to remember what it was like to be in that awkward time of life, and they need your unconditional love and encouragement as they pass though Teenland.