Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Parenting Teens Effectively

An acquaintance asked me once, “Why do you let your son yell ‘Mommy!’ and run up to you and give you a hug? Aren’t you afraid of embarrassing him in front of his friends? Don’t you think he’ll get a reputation as a mama’s boy?”

“No,” I answered. “I will take every hug and kiss my ten year old gives me until he no longer wants to give them. That day will come soon enough.”

I know that because he’s my third child and I’ve had teenagers before. I’ve also had the worst kind of teenagers---female ones. I know that a day will come when he will be hanging out with his friends and he will dodge me to avoid being embarrassed. In fact, I’m counting on it.

When my girls were neophytes at the teenager thing, I had a good friend that I’ll call Libby. Libby’s two daughters were in their early and mid-twenties and were very close to their mother, even though both girls had started their own families. Erin and Rachel still called their mom every day, lavished her with hugs and kisses, and respected her for her advice on homemaking and child rearing.

I confessed to Libby how touching it was to see her relate to her daughters in such a loving way.

“My daughters,” I said, “act like they hate my guts. If I even attempt a hug, they shudder, cringe or flat-out say ‘Don’t touch me.’ If I ask them questions about school, I get dramatic eye-rolling in response. Asking them to clean their room is a major insult. If I see one of them talking to someone new, they will say, ‘And don’t bug me about who that was,’ before I even say anything! What happened to my sweet little girls? They ones who used to make me cards and notes, and who used to grab my hand in the mall? Where did they go? What happened?”

Libby laughed and said, “The teenage years are what happened. You need to change your tactics.”

What tactics? Why did this all of a sudden feel like a game?

Libby explained that her girls used to behave just like mine did. That gave me hope because I truly admired her daughters. They were blond lovelies, dance professionals, literate, intelligent, and morally upright. “So what did you do?” I asked.

“I got even.”

“You what?”

“I parent teenagers by retaliation.” She smiled.

Whoa. Totally new concept. Brain could not fathom what ears were hearing. Psych major who thought she knew how to do it right was stumped. I needed elucidation.

“Let me tell you a story that explains what I mean,” said Libby. “When Erin was seventeen, my friend Cynthia came to stay with us for a few days. I told Cynthia that she could put her bags in Erin’s room, and that I would move Erin to the family room.

“Erin happened to be passing through the kitchen, and right in front of Cynthia, she threw a horrific, wenchy, hissy fit. I thought for sure my daughter had been possessed by Satan spawn. Erin went on and on about how she was always the one who had to give up her room when Cynthia came to stay. Why couldn’t Rachel give up her room for once? Why did it always have to be her room? Couldn’t someone else make a sacrifice?

“Erin went on and on, despite my pleading with her to stop. Cynthia just stood there and apologized, saying that she would sleep on the couch; she didn’t mind at all. She said she was sorry for being a bother. Randi, I was so embarrassed by my daughter’s behavior, but I knew what must be done.

“I followed Erin out of the kitchen, and upstairs to her bedroom. I did not act angry. I did not insist she apologize. I only did the one thing I knew how to do when parenting teens. I said this to her---

“Erin. Someday, somehow, I will get even.” Later I calmly grabbed Cynthia’s bags and placed them right inside Erin’s door.

“It was about six months before I found my chance. Erin came home from school all excited because James, the football player she’d had a crush on for several months finally noticed her. He asked her out for the coming Friday.

“When the doorbell rang on Friday, I calmly walked up to Erin and whispered in her ear, ‘Today’s the day.’

“Her eyes widened. ‘Oh no. Mom. Please. I beg you. I will do anything you ask. Mom, you can’t. I swear I will never do anything wrong again. I will be your slave forever.’

“You can’t even begin to imagine the fun I had with that boy. I grilled him incessantly about his plans for my daughter, what he was going to do with his life and anything else I could think of. Erin stood slightly behind him, looking like she was going to be sick.

“From that day on, my daughter had a new respect for me. I had spoken to her on her level and she got my message loud and clear. Teens have an irritating, unfounded belief that they are smarter than we are. What they don’t realize is that we can play their mind games so much harder and so much faster that it makes their heads spin. Plus, they can only embarrass us so much. At their age, the embarrassment we can cause them goes to infinity.”

I got Libby’s message loud and clear too. She was right. My daughters might embarrass me by their Neanderthal behavior, but I was a grown-up. I already had self-esteem! There wasn’t much they could do to touch me. But them? I could play with them like a dog plays with Jello. Now I, like Libby, just had to wait for the moment to present itself.

No matter how much you promise me free scrapbooking materials for the rest of my life, I can never be prevailed upon to disclose which daughter I experimented upon first. They were both equally deserving of return torment, but one unlucky antagonista pushed me too far first. Let’s just call her Daughter X.

Little Miss X embraced teenager-hood with gusto. She began tying up my phone lines incessantly, demanding new features such as Caller ID and Call Waiting. She no longer would look at jeans that cost less than $50. And, aargh, she began hanging out with a new clique at school. You know, the one called “Da Gangstas.”

Part of the fashion requirement to be a Gangsta was to wear jeans that could fit two limbs into one pant leg. Thus could the over-sized pants be pulled down past the wearer’s hips. Why, you might ask, would anyone want their jeans pulled down past their hips? So they could display the lovely plaid boxers that the teen was wearing for underwear, of course!

Anyway, X decided to affront me with this new style as I was taking her to school one day. We had a brief argument (brief only because I had to get to work) during which she informed me that I was way behind the times, and that this practice was called “low riding” and that everyone was doing it.

Well, you know me---I had been through the Libby School of How to Get Even with Teens. I knew that I could get my way simply by retaliating. I would not even have to say anything really. I knew I would win this one.

So, the next day, X asked for a ride to her friend Liza’s house. This mama did not particularly enjoy Liza. Not only was Liza a Gangsta, but she was a Goth Gangsta—a combination of white makeup, black lipstick, the aforementioned jeans, and Tupac t-shirt. This was definitely get-even time.

I went to my bedroom to do a little adjusting. I yanked down my jeans and hiked up my white cotton briefs, exposing about 4 inches of uber-cool granny underwear. I was a mama with a mission.

The look on Daughter X’s face when I nonchalantly sauntered into the kitchen was priceless. She didn’t even need white makeup.

“What are you doing?” she cautiously asked.

“Aren’t we going to Liza’s house?”

“No, I mean what are you doing with your pants?”

“Um…low riding?”

“Mom! You can’t!”

“Why can’t I?” Boy, was I confused. I thought this was cool?

“Mom. You can’t leave the house!” Now I was even more confused.

“So you don’t need a ride to Liza’s?”

“Yes! But Mom, you can’t leave looking like that.”

“Oh, come on. It’ll be fun!” Indeed, I was having fun.

I walked out the door. X followed, begging me all the way to the car. “Please, please, please---I promise I will never low ride again. Just pull your pants up before we get to Liza’s. Please!”

Needless to say, she never low-rode again.

I only had to use my get-even tactics one more time before I had her trained.

Because X had started rolling with the Gangstas, she had left a few good friends behind—friends who were concerned for her welfare. Especially hurt was her former BFF, Kally.

Daughter X had gotten herself grounded because of some teen infractions. The only fun she was allowed to have was go to Kally’s house. One Friday night, X asked me if she could go to Kally’s house for a sleepover. I was ecstatic, hoping she was going to return to her former [read "parental love worthy"] friends. I drove her to Kally’s and dropped her off.

An hour later a worried Kally called me to tell me that I was being duped. X had used Kally as an alibi, but X in reality went to a dance and was planning to spend the night at Liza’s. I was more than a little steamed. I thanked Kally and got the dance details from her. Time for Mom Gets Even Part Deux.

I put on a dark maroon trench coat and headed over to the dance. I relied on the fact that most dances are pretty dark, and I was not disappointed. Also counting on the fact that my daughter was not expecting me there, I was able to lurk, mingling with the crowd. There were four huge posts in the room, providing superb cover for my clandestine operation.

Daughter X walked right past me on numerous occasions which, as any parent can imagine, caused me no end of glee. She danced right in front of my post a couple of times. I was amazed and nauseated at how provocatively she and the other thirteen year-olds were dancing.

Finally, the time was right for me to blow my cover. Daughter X was dancing with a boy, someone I had never met. X’s back was to me, about half the room away. I could not see the boy’s face as it was buried in her neck, but I could sure see his hands! They were splayed all over my daughter’s behind.

I left the safety of my hiding place and fairly flew across the floor, my target in view, trench coat flying like a crusader’s cape behind me. I homed in on playboy’s hands, grabbing them with my sharp fingernails. “Ouch!” he yelped, as I twisted his arms over X’s head so he could face me, my nails still embedded in his hands.

“Don’t ever touch my daughter again, or you will feel worse than this. Do I make myself clear?” He yelped again as I shoved his hands back at him. But he nodded.

I looked at Daughter X. “Time to go home, sweetie,” I smiled.

I’m really amazed that teens ever mess with parents.

Epilogue: My daughters are beautiful young ladies in their twenties. Both are hard workers, and one is married with two little boys. The other makes me happy by being extremely picky about men. Luckily, any rebellious stages were short-lived. I mean seriously, how much embarrassment can a teen take? When they behaved, helicopter mom made herself scarce. When they crossed the line, the helicopter landed, becoming their worst nightmare.

Tips if you are contemplating using this strategy on your own teen:
1. This only works if you have already cultivated a loving relationship with your teen. Otherwise, they will view actions on your part as acts of hostility, which these are not. These are acts of love and education. The “get even” façade is for humorous purposes only.

2. All maneuvers must be accomplished with an extremely calm attitude. If you lose your cool, you’ve already lost.

3. You are not supposed to be your child’s best friend until after they have left your home. Until that time, you are their parent. You are not supposed to be cool.

I only have three my years left until my boy is thirteen.


  1. I hope that I can be brave enough to pull of those "get even" moments! Thanks for the tips! I have 12 years till the teenage years. :)

  2. Very funny and very true. You have to use techniques that they can relate to.

  3. Randi,

    Oh my goodness.. I loved this post. And I hope you're going to continue blogging for a long long time because I think you're going to be able to help me figure out what the heck to do with my kid!

    For a moment, you took me forward some years as I thought.. goodness no, don't grow up just yet kid!

    Great story, great post, great ideas.. and maybe, just maybe.. I'll be able to raise him to be a happy, healthy, grown-up who can still appreciate his mommy. :)

    He still wants me or his dad to sleep with him in his bed every night. "When it's your bedtime, will you come sleep with me?" I'm going to continue to drop by every so often because one day, he won't ask us anymore.


  4. Jed: You're so right! The "get even" moments do require a bit of bravery. But I always had to think of the big picture or else I would give in. You do have a ways to go--it's hard to picture Spencer giving you any trouble--he's such a cutie!

    Kim: Yup--reasoning with them like adults doesn't seem to always work for some reason.

    Daisy: They grow up so quickly! My little guy always wants me to sleep with him too. He still loves being affectionate so I treasure every moment. I'm sure I'll be like the mom in "I'll Love You Forever," sneaking over to his house in the middle of the night to rock him. Sometimes in the middle of whatever he's doing, he will just stop and say, "Mom? I just LOVE you!" I never get tired of it.

  5. Wow! I loved this! Enjoyed it like a video! Even more so because my daughter's at ThatAge and my son's just entered the HormoneZone. I'm looking at your photos of the kids now and your famiily's gorgeous! (I'm betting though, that that guy at the disco still has nightmares!!)

  6. Janice! This is like the Twilight Zone---I just left a comment on your site and came back to my site, only to see that you were here while I was at your place!

    Thanks for the sweet comments. Yes, I am hoping that I didn't leave scars on the poor kids hands. Then again, maybe it taught him a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T. :)

  7. Ranid: Is Miss X still speaking to you after this expose?

  8. Auntie M: Miss X does not even know I have a blog!

  9. I enjoyed your voice in this post. My heart fell into my stomach as I imagined our sweet cheeks stumbling into the tween world. Every moment they are practically smothering me with affection, I am reminded by other people's stories to cherish these moments. Congratulations on the new addition to the family. I have been swimming in the deep murky waters of the writing zone project # which one? Reading your words helped me realize I need to snap out of it and enjoy something more fun.

  10. Cindy: I don't think Max or Mia will ever give you a moment of grief. You and Writer Dad have an incredible rapport with your children. I can't imagine that even teenage hormones will come between you. Nevertheless, it's always important to enjoy what we have now, isn't it? The hugs and kisses of a child are priceless.

  11. Wow, that's a great strategie! I recently became a stepmother of four teenage boys... They are so much fun.

  12. Windtraveller: Congratulations on the new additions to your family! I have heard that teenage boys are loads of fun, especially when you have more than one. Good luck on your new venture. And welcome to Foreign Quang! We're glad you stopped by!


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