I was a teenager once…it was a long time ago. Though some challenges of raising teens have changed over the years (especially the addition of technology and social media,) some are changeless. Whether you were a teen in the 60s or a teen today, one “want” is still forefront in a young person’s mind as they journey through the teenage years…

“I just want to be happy.”

What’s better than happy? If someone had asked me to define “happy” at the age of 15, I could not have done so. I knew I wanted it, but didn’t quite know what it was at the time. Whether I understood it or not, God designed me for relationship, to be part of a family, part of a group.

After reflecting on my own childhood and observing our own children and grandchildren, three elements of “happy” emerged.

  1. To Be Liked

In my small Oklahoma town, some kids were liked because they were athletes, some because they were pretty, some because they were funny, some because they had cool cars. We all wanted to be liked by the group. We wanted to be validated, loved, romanced and pursued. This element is dependent on other people and relationships. We get our sense of being liked from others. Like SNL Stuart Smalley’s daily affirmation, I wanted to be good enough and smart enough, so I could say, “Doggone it…people like me!”

  1. To be Free

The desire to be with my herd was powerful. Horse owners call this strong desire buddy-sour or barn-sour behavior. When taken away from the “group” the buddy-sour horse will become worried and may whinny or make squealing noises (whining?) These verbal expressions mean “Where are you?” or “Don’t leave me!”  or “I want to be with my herd!” The buddy-sour horse usually becomes head-strong when being kept from his buddy horse or herd and he acts as if he’s in a hurry to get back to where they are.

This barn-sour behavior is strongly influenced by a horse’s (or teen’s) natural instincts, including their instinct to be free to be with the group and their need for security within the group.

  1. To Have a Place

We all want to be significant, have a skill, be needed, have a secure place in the group. I was the one with the cool ’66 Bronco—open air and free with the top off. Others sought me out for a ride. My friend Richard was even cooler. No one could do a 180 spin with a 390 Mustang Fastback in an intersection like my friend, Richard.

Confident, prepared, strong, going somewhere—that is the teenager’s goal. Some kids stay in the group by conforming. Some stay in by performing–“Hey Richard, do that again!” Smart. And, while listening to Led Zeppelin.


Points for Parents to Consider

As a horse owner, I have no strength to break the strong inclination of an 1100 pound horse. The power to break his habit is only found in connecting the horse to me, his new buddy. My parents surrounded me with an emotionally secure home and with people I wanted to be with and be like.

Desire for inclusion with the right group is protective. The goal is not to keep your child from connections, but to encourage and foster their connection to the right groups.

Your teen may not be able to name or define the meaning of “happy,” but they are pursuing happiness, wanting to live happily ever after. Acknowledge your child’s desires.

Keep in mind, Satan uses these same God-given desires and offers his counterfeit. Your teens will hear competing voices from peers, the culture, and others. These voices will either validate and direct them to God, or away from truth.

Satan uses these same God-given desires and offers his counterfeit for their fulfillment.

“Do not be deceived, ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.'”

–I Corinthians 15:33

See related posts:

Incorporating Validation into Everyday Parenting

The Pursuit of Happiness