From Teenage Thorn to Adult Rose

by Melinda Neeley

Someone once said, "You can either complain that rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice that thorn bushes have roses." A teenage child is like a rose bush - one of God's most beautiful creations, yet covered with an armor of defensive thorns. For a parent who loves their teenager, it can sometimes seem impossible to penetrate this armor and connect with the inner beauty.

To enjoy the texture and beauty of a rose bush, we must be protected by insulation thick enough to shield us from the painful pricks and jabs of the thorns, yet thin enough to allow us to maintain our mobility and sense of touch. Our gardening gloves offer this type of insulation - they softly encapsulate our skin, yet enable us to pull the thorny stems close, absorb the beauty of the roses, and inhale their soft, fresh scent.

In a similar way, wearing gloves of emotional strength, parental maturity and unconditional love can insulate us from the thorns of fear, hostility and anger that protrude from our teenage children whenever their modes of defensiveness are engaged. The key is not to allow this insulation to make us thick skinned. Somehow, we must still preserve our ability to feel.

This "insulation" process can be tricky. Sometimes we can over-insulate ourselves from our children's spiteful jabs, and we end up creating a wall that actually barricades us from them. Being insulated is not synonymous with being apathetic. We cannot insulate ourselves so much that we disengage from our hearts and fear embracing our children or praising their inner beauty.

Sometimes it is a challenge to remember that the defensive thorns of a teenager are his "protectors" from the dangers of the world. Just as God gave the rose bush its thorns as protection against a hostile environment, he provided his children with the wisdom to design their own thorns as well.

The thorns of a teenager may seem like the quills of a porcupine; from the teenager's perspective, they serve as protective shields from pain, sorrow and humiliation. Bitterness, anger and self-conscious behaviors are some of the sharpest thorns. Still, we must never forget that those ugly thorns are intertwined with an inner beauty that is growing and blossoming - even if we are only permitted to view that beauty from a distance. True, we will inevitably be "jabbed" by unkind teenage words or actions during our attempts to connect with their hearts or appreciate their beauty.

Nonetheless, we must try and focus on the beauty of their laughter, the gleam of hope in their eyes, or their giving hearts. It will help us endure the pain from a few nasty pricks.

All too often, teenagers wish to be loved from a distance rather than share an intimate moment of closeness with their parents. On the rare occasions that they allow us to get close, perhaps even embrace them, we are usually forced to place our arms somewhere in between the sharpness of their thorns. But we can learn to be at peace with this.

In the same way that we accept the thorns of roses and do our best to care for them so they will be healthy and beautiful, we must consistently nurture the physical, spiritual and emotional well-being of our teens. A teenager should be fertilized with the nutrients of love, admiration and respect; spiritually nurtured with God's Word, and showered with encouragement. Eventually, they will grow into loving, responsible adults.

Helping our teens flourish includes fending off destructive influences. The "weed killer" of discipline must be applied so that a teen does not choke or die from the wild, uncultivated invaders - the "weeds" that try to raid their territory and drain the nutrients from their otherwise healthy, fertile soil. These weeds can include drugs, alcohol, premarital sex, juvenile delinquency and more. Consistent, firm discipline with our children is vital for maintaining a strong, durable foundation that is resilient, yet unbreakable.

One important thing to remember is that not all thorns are visible - some are hidden. But a parent can learn to recognize these, too. For instance, a frown, glare or scowl clearly indicates your teen is angry, and at these times they usually wish to be left alone. However, other edgy behaviors may be symptoms of anything from anxiety and fear to hunger and lack of sleep. To identify the cause, we must be aware of such things as their school and social activities and eating and sleeping habits.

As parents, we must especially seek to be attuned to our teenager's hearts. We must cultivate emotional strength, compassion and unconditional love. A heart that remains filled with unconditional love and compassion will always be accessible to our children. And we must continually seek God's wisdom. Each child is unique, and God knows what he or she needs at any given moment.

Over time, we will learn to give thanks for the thorns - for these are the temporary protectors that will help them survive the tumultuous teenage years. Without thorns, rose bushes would be helpless and hopeless - without thorns, our children would never have a chance to bloom.

Melinda Neeley is a freelance writer from Morrilton, Arkansas. Her background includes newspaper reporter, feature writer, and editor of several local newsletter publications. Neely's published writings include: "House of Stone," Reflections: A Poetry Quarterly, Winter 96-97; "The Cemetery Women,", Fall 2003; and "From the Hollow of a Bell," Ascent Magazine,, February 2004. "From the Hollow of a Bell" was also released last spring in a short story anthology, "Clerestory," published by DLSIJ Press. Melinda also enjoys writing mini-biographies for people who wish to have lively, inspirational accounts of their lives recorded on archival paper.


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