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Lifestyle Nonfiction The Word 7 minute read

Can We Get Real About Raising Teenagers Please?

All  of the “experts” writing books and giving speeches about parenting teens are full of shit.

I honestly think that the entire genre is a scam.  Desperation sells.  If we feel desperate enough, we will buy anything to improve the situation.  Right?  These authors and publishers know how desperate we parents of teens are, so they produce these books to supposedly help us navigate these issues.

We are the same parents who a little over a decade ago bought every Dr. Sears book imaginable, just so that we knew at how many weeks of gestation our child would be the size of a small kiwi.  But at least Dr. Sears and his colleagues actually provided some useful information.  I liked comparing the size of my growing stomach to various types of fruit, and Dr. Ferber helped my two sons learn to sleep through the night (God bless you Dr. Ferber!!); not to mention the fun we had picking out the “perfect” name from those baby names books.

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So it’s understandable that we’d buy books to help us out with parenting again.  We are once again completely clueless about how to handle living with this alien teen creature who does things that we don’t understand; that has emotions that don’t make sense; and that sometimes screams at you for no apparent reason.

You look at it in disbelief as it sits on your new couch with the X-box too loud and inhales an entire box of cereal.  “Is it mine,” you wonder?  “Is it the same thing I brought home over a dozen years ago — the one that I cradled in my arms as I read Dr. Sears to see how to cure his diaper rash?  He was so cuddly, sweet, and he smelled so good.  Now it doesn’t want me to touch it, is normally grouchy and oftentimes smells like death.”

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You still love it.  Actually you adore it (though it’s almost unrecognizable).  So you feed it, buy it clothes, try to bond with it and talk to it.  And many times your interactions are incredible.  The “it” becomes a “him” and you really like him.  You laugh and connect; you notice again that he has your dad’s eyes and you feel good about him, you and life.

But then you find where he spilled orange soda on your cream couch, that he wrecked your car, you get a $600 cell phone bill, you learn that he was drinking at a party last week, you get a call from one of his teachers, or the tells you to “fuck off” as he slams the door to his room in YOUR house.  And all you want to do is scream right back, “No, asshole, you fuck off!”

So, you feel inadequate and guilty because you were just on FB and saw all of your friends’ kids’ straight A report cards; and the Robertsons’ in Hawaii playing a game of family volleyball, and Annie’s birthday post about how blessed she feels to be the mother of her “generous, kind, and brilliant 16-year-old, Matt.”  And you figure you are a horrible person because you’ve raised a straight B-minus kid who you really want to tell to “fuck off”.  As a matter of fact, you did tell him to “fuck off” but he didn’t hear you because the God-awful music in his room is always playing too loudly.

You figure that you need help. “For Pete’s sake”—you say to yourself, “I just told my son to fuck off.  I’m like those parents who used to be on Dr. Phil.”  So you get on Amazon and order $163.00 worth of books, download one on your iPad and start reading it that night (over a bottle of wine you drink straight from the bottle), with promises to do better, to be better in the morning.  You WILL be a great mom, dammit!

You wake up and cook his favorite, French Toast.  You go downstairs to wake him up and sing, “time to wake up sweetie.” He moans.  You give him a few minutes and go put a load of laundry in the washer because being in his room makes you feel dirty.  You go back and say tentatively, “Honey?  It’s 7:02.  We better get rolling.”  He groans again and then croaks, “go away.”  You remember that the book told you not to take things personally and to try again in 5 minutes.  This time you say it in the form of a consequence because that’s what the book said you should do, “a bit louder, “Let’s go honey! You are going to be late for school.”

He yells as he flings his comforter off of the bed, “Geeeeez…  Why do you always have to yell?  You are so annoying!  Stop nagging me!”

You don’t say anything because the book said that you shouldn’t and rather should just “allow your teen to express his frustration.”

By the time he comes upstairs, looking homeless, though you’ve spent a lot of your hard-earned money on new clothes, you’ve set the bacon and French toast at his spot at the kitchen table.  He slings his backpack over his shoulder and heads out of the door without even looking at you or the French toast and says, “gotta go.  I’m gonna to be late.”

All you can think to say is, “Fuck off” as you scarf 1/2 of the French toast down your throat that is swelling with tears and anger.  Who can be worried about a carb-free diet when your life is falling apart?

A few weeks later, a friend invites you to hear a “fabulous” woman who is speaking at her kid’s school about some aspect of raising teens.  You eagerly agree to go.  You listen attentively to the speaker, take notes and buy her book.  She never mentions that she wrote her book when her kid was at a detention center.

As a matter of fact, no one, in this “highlight reel” society mentions the tutors, detentions centers, tears, slammed doors, sleepless nights, wrecked cars, and cries to Jesus.  They just talk about some of the great end-results.  And I promise you, if they raised teens; there were some bad times, some challenges, some moments where they thought that this kid was sure to be a failure, times where he seemed more like an “it” than a “him” or a “her.”  For whatever reason, people just don’t talk about it, so you think that you are a failure for a while (nothing can make you feel more like a failure than raising teenagers, in my opinion).

So, you seek help because evidently you are the only one getting things wrong.  But, guess what — don’t buy the books or attend the talks.  They are bullshit.  Yeah, they are interesting in the moment.  You will feel encouraged briefly, but then life happens.  I promise you those authors and speakers lived the same hell that we are — it may have been different in the details, but it was fire hot during that time.  There is no formula to raising these creatures.  You just have to survive it somehow.  Save that $19.99 at Amazon for the book and buy yourself a bottle of wine instead.  Don’t waste your time going to one of those talks; go to a spa.  Save the money you are wasting on counseling for the jerk who wrecked the car you struggled to buy him and then said, “What’s the big deal,” and get some counseling for yourself.

My advice is for you to do whatever you have to do to survive the teenage years, ’cause ain’t a damn thing in any of those books that has the magic answer.  You and “It” will be fine because you love it.  You love it immensely even when you really want it to fuck off.  Love and hanging in there with them is the answer I believe.  He or she will become fully human again—in time.  Sometimes you gotta just understand that you are in the middle of a storm—a challenging period.  Batten down the hatches, pray that too much damage isn’t done, and ride this sucker out.

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