Teen Hunger for Kitchen Freedom

Don’t make me eat on time, Mom

Photo by Michał Kubalczyk on Unsplash

I remember adolescence as a blur of MTV, surges of emotion, behaving as expected at school and as I wished with friends, and never fully grasping that time existed before or beyond me. Nothing felt temporary or budding — all was urgently certain. Every ruddy detail, down to which turtleneck I wore to which suburban garage rendezvous, mattered semi-painfully.

What doesn’t spring to mind when I squint back to those years is much detail on the routines of home, perhaps because self-definition was largely an away game. If it did, the trend I see unfolding in my house now, 30 years on, might feel more recognizable.

Though reliably present for lunchtime, willing to be called for dinner, and semi-consistent about breakfast (when cued gently and repeatedly), what my teenagers want most these days is a kind of kitchen freedom.

It’s as though their body clocks can’t help but resist routine bookmarks, especially the ones I offer. Sure, I’ll set the table and chat with you over salmon and broccoli at 6:30, Mom, but don’t expect glee. True happiness will arrive when I sneak upstairs at midnight for a bag of chips.

I can’t quite label this behavior upsetting, though it does perplex me.

Why, pray tell, is it more appealing to reheat pizza in the toaster as dawn breaks versus eat it fresh out of the oven surrounded by people who love you? It’s as though my kids’ hunger ignites, bodies turn on, and digestion improves when the Mom clock switches off. And though I swoon to recall the years when the Mom clock signaled joy, I suppose everything about this shift is normal. Particularly now, given that adolescents are just not wired for stay-at-home restrictions.

Plus, in truth, there is something fun about shuffling into the kitchen each morning to grind coffee and discover what late-night needs were realized in my absence. I smile at Cyndy Etler’s wise words: “Want some adolescent catnip? Seek to understand what they crave.” Oh yeah.

Overlooking the obvious (as parents often do), perhaps I missed just how desperately my growing people crave freedom of any sort right now, when so many possibilities feel out of reach.

Freedom was my oxygen at their age. I shudder to imagine what coming of age squeezed by a stifling pandemic feels like. Also, true to hormonal form, teens feel hard — I sure did. Like a flash, urges exist in the moment, for the moment, and are (adorably) certain.

Senior Platform Editor, Elemental. I write and edit stories about health, science, well-being, and behavior.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store