Betsy Hart: Want to be 16 again? No way!

Scripps Howard News Service Published:

I remember standing on the patio of my childhood home one afternoon when I was 16. My mother and her friend were exclaiming, obviously in response to some trauma I was going through but have long since forgotten, that they themselves would never want to be 16 again.

As my mother put it: "You couldn't pay me to relive that experience."

I remember thinking: "They are saying that because they are old and can't be 16 again. They don't really mean it."

It's funny that the scene stands out so clearly to me. All the more so, because over the last weekend I caught myself saying to my teen daughters, "I'm so glad I'll never be a teenager again!"

George Bernard Shaw once said, "Youth is wasted on the young." I'm inclined to say, "Let them have it." There can be wonder and marvel at any age, but it seems to me it's really a great thing to be able to find the wonder and marvel of the age one is in right now.

My dear mom, who died long before I was ready to lose her, was on to something, of course. On the one hand, I loved being a teenager. I remember thinking at the time that was the only age worth experiencing. (I calculated that when I got to be about 30, or 35 at the latest, life would be pretty much over. After you get married and have a child or two, what else is there to do?)

On the other hand, it's an age of such angst, insecurity and uncertainty. Just remembering being 16 gives me the feeling of standing on quicksand. And that's why it holds no allure to me.

Of course, being 16 in the early 1980s sounds barbaric to my own children. No cell phones, email, Twitter or satellite television. They cannot understand how we communicated at all. They know many of my friends from high school, as I have maintained close friendships with a large group of them. They just don't understand how friendships were possible then given the lack of communications options.

When I remind them that most households back then had two phones, on cords -- and only one phone number -- they almost stop breathing altogether. I told one daughter over the weekend that when we were teens, had someone turned up then with the iPhone from the future, we would have literally thought it was magic.

I'm just not sure such "magic" has improved the lot of the average 16-year-old today. It may have made it worse. Maybe because we had to actually communicate directly with each other, typically in person or at least via real phone conversations that fewer and fewer teens do today, well, maybe that's why my women friends and I have the lifelong friendships that we do in the first place.

But I digress. The point is, my children completely comprehend not wanting to go back to that world. But who wouldn't want to be a teenager now?

They find it hard to believe me when I tell them that I honestly don't! And, of course, they don't need to believe it. Part of the wonder of those torturous teenage years is somehow believing they are actually the best years of your life.

They will find out in time, or at least I hope they do, that it's pretty sad if those are the best years of your life.

And then I think their mom might look as smart to them as my mom increasingly does to me.

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  • Sixteen, that magic era of ones life where they have all the answers to questions they don't understand.