"Why Does My Son Do Such Disgusting Things?" and Other FAQ for Parents of Teens

If a teenager is driving you nuts, you might read the FAQ--and my links to some answers--below. Or, if you are in a hurry and fond of shortcuts (and I know you are!), you might just remember this: teenagers are the new toddlers. Think that way, and everything starts making a little bit more sense. 

I had such a delightful conversation with an old friend today, whose son has recently turned 15! It went something like this, as it usually does:

1. We caught him smoking pot! What do we do?

I directed her to this series of posts, in which I discuss the very issue of this particular form of rebellion. [How does parenting change in the age of legalization? - Gimme Shelter: Why Grammar Matters in the Great Weed Debate - Ten Questions to Ask When You Suspect Your Kids Are Smoking Pot]

2. It's like my kid has disappeared! What is going on here?

Yes, indeedy. I sent my friend to read all about it here. (The medieval myth of the changeling--child switched in the night--must exist solely to explain those early teenaged years. Shout-out to why it's important to study mythology!)

Likewise, remember the importance of letting teenagers define themselves, instead of labeling them. I wrote about it from a teacher's perspective here and here

3. Will he ever get through this?

Oh, that familiar, frantic look in the eyes of a parent whose progeny is somewhere around 14 or 15 years old (give or take a couple years on either side. It all depends)! I confess, during my first year of teaching--when I only had freshmen students--I did not quite believe myself as I reassured these wild-eyed moms and dads. Years later, after spending time with seniors, I spoke with much more confidence. Now that my own children are showing unmistakable signs of maturity even amidst their hormonal idiocy, I shout with certainty: It gets better!

And I direct my dear friend here and here, to reassure her our kids are up to good nearly as often as they are in trouble.

4. He is sooooo stupid! Why???

Ohhh, Mama. He is so very, very much like a toddler. Read all about it here and here. Remember his physical and developmental limits (of which I was so keenly reminded when I returned to the freshman classroom! Share the journey with me here,  here , here and here). 

5. He can't remember anything . . . and he HATES being reminded! What am I supposed to do?

See above: He's a lot like a toddler. "I do it MYSELF!" is the war-cry, anthem and mantra of three-year-old child, and he returns to a similar state during his early teens. Only he is much less adorable and his tantrums are scary. Repeat to Self: I once thought this same behavior was kind of funny. Back when he was cute. Beg your inner self to see that darling baby somewhere amidst the stench and acne and all-caps rage.

6. Why does he do such disgusting things?

You mean like burp and fart and rub his stinky socks in his sister's face? You mean like absentmind-ed-ly scrawl penis graffiti on desks, notebooks, and random public property? One bonus of my time in the high-school trenches is the thick skin I have grown. Very little phases me; our only recourse is to expect the unexpected. Also, expect to be disgusted.

WHY do teens revere scatological humor so passionately? If we don our "teens are the new toddlers" spectacles, it all comes into focus. When our three-year-olds "explored" their bodily functions, we laughed and forgave them as we corrected them. It is so much harder to do with teens, made slightly easier by recalling how very much they are like their former toddler selves.

7. He is so brutally MEAN to me. How do I keep from strangling him?

Most specifically if you are a mother speaking about her son, this is where it gets real. (I sent my friend off to read this.) Male initiation rites for centuries have recognized the importance of breaking with the feminine in order to become a man. (No one writes better about the subject than Fr. Richard Rohr. All parents of sons would be wise to read him.) 

In the absence of formalized rituals, our sons strike out like angry rattlesnakes. Many mothers describe a nauseating cycle of being abused by the same sons who are contrite and affectionate thereafter. I like to say--and my sensible friends beg me to stop--living with a teenaged son can feel not unlike life with an abusive lover. It gets personal, Mama, and you need to do your best to bite your tongue, walk away, and remember there's no use arguing with crazy. [It is URGENT you read this reminder not to suffer hormonal fools!]

Please stay tuned for more installments! Follow me on twitter @lisafilholm; tune in often to www.beyondmamabear.com; book a workshop or lecture for your parenting group now!