Trees, like teenagers, are handsome, strong and will dump on you if they feel like it. (Jennifer Bardsley)

Trees, like teenagers, are handsome, strong and will dump on you if they feel like it. (Jennifer Bardsley)

What parents of teenagers can learn from arborists

If we want teens to grow up strong, then they need deep roots in a family that loves them.

The November afternoon is crisp and glowing. I heat up a pot of apple cider and enjoy the sunshine pouring in through the windows. “Can you rake the leaves?” I ask my son as I stare out into the backyard. Our big leaf maple shrouds every inch of grass with fallen leaves.

For those of us with trees in our backyards, November is when trees, like teenagers, test our love. They’re handsome. They’re strong. They’ll dump on you if they feel like it. And, oh yeah, they cost money.

My teenager pulls on his rubber boots. “I’ll head out right now,” he says. An hour later, he’s raked the lawn and packed the compost pile. There’s too much biomass for the yard waste bin, so he’s created a massive pile of leaves in the side yard. “That’ll be $12,” says my son, when he comes back into the house.

My husband and I pay him minimum wage whenever he does extra yard work above and beyond his normal chores. We believe that encouraging our son to do manual labor is one the best things we can do for him. Plus, we can use the help.

Maples are messy but we’re committed to caring for them, especially since there seems to be a war on trees in residential communities. Douglas firs, Western hemlocks and big leaf maples are some of the many native trees that make Snohomish County beautiful, and yet they’re the first trees to be cut down when developers “improve” neighborhoods.

Apparently, Step 1 of flipping a 1940s house into three boxy edifices smashed next to each other is to clear-cut the front yard.

Sometimes it feels like teenagers are under attack, too. Vaping companies relentlessly market to them in sneaky ways. School districts experiment on them with new electronic curriculums that repeatedly crash. Online portals make it possible for parents to rake through every test score and assignment to the point where teens are so micromanaged that their social and emotional growth is stunted.

Maybe it’s time to take parenting lessons from arborists. If we want teens to grow up strong, then they need deep roots in a family that loves them. They need space to grow and make mistakes without being crowded by their elders. They need the adults around them to understand that sometimes teens can be messy and difficult to deal with. Some seasons will be easier than others. Storms will come and branches might fall, but the future promises growth.

My son pours himself a mug of cider. “Cash would be fine,” he says, still waiting to be paid.

I reach for my purse. “Let me get my wallet.”

Ten minutes later I look out the window and see a fresh crop of leaves flutter to the lawn. “Oh boy,” I mutter to myself. “November.”

Jennifer Bardsley publishes books under her own name and the pseudonym Louise Cypress. Find her online on Instagram @the_ya_gal, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as The YA Gal. Email her at

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