"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!


Gimme Shelter: Why I taught Grammar to Kids Who Didn't Care (Parenting in Colorado, Part Three)

(or What I Learned about Parenting from The Rolling Stones)

In this interview, Mick Jagger calls the song "a very moody piece about the world closing in on you . . . ."

My hometown greeted 2014 with the lawful sale of recreational cannabis. Naturally, parents and educators are talking a lot about marijuana here in the 303. The debate is a many-tentacled beast in our local zeitgeist, and I will address various aspects of it in a series of blog posts here.

Today, I share my thoughts on the importance of helping teenagers learn to think critically about ALL issues in the world, including drug use.

Oh, a storm is threatenin' / My very life today / If I don't get some shelter / Oh yeah, I'm gonna fade away   -M. Jagger, K. Richards

I. The Inner Fortress: Shelter from the Storms of Life

We do not like to admit it, but parents cannot truly keep our kids safe. The storms threaten with too much force; the best we can do is offer some shelter. 

The best protection against the slings, arrows and other outrageous fortunes life offers is knowing how to think. Messages from corporations, institutions and industries barrage our kids every minute of every day. The only real shelter lies within themselves: the ability to discern good from bad, right from wrong, and truth from deceit.

This is the key to ultimate, adult liberty: being free to make choices unfettered by ignorance. This is also why I endeavored to teach high-school English.

II. Rhetoric is Power. Learn How to Wield It, or Fall Victim to It.

Although I think many students remember me fondly, I was not the kind of teacher who inspired a life-long romance with literature. As I reminded them often, I didn't give a whit about how much they liked a book. We had bigger fish to fry. 

Most high-school students would rather talk about anything besides grammar. Literary analysis interests them only slightly more. Discussions of tone, theme, purpose--and God forbid syntax or diction--inspire resentment and apathy in the average teenager.

And yet, nearly every day of my teaching career, I insisted on talking about grammar and analysis. And it was awful.

Why not change tack? Why sail against such rough winds, instead of taking the smoother course of young-adult lit and how it makes kids feel? Because their brains are worth it.

Adults have the opportunity (if not the mandate) to teach kids how to protect their brains against predators. In our brave new world of constant media messaging, the task is more vital than ever. I lost sleep over teenagers who fought my instruction (due to their unfortunate, adolescent circumstances), because unless we understand how arguments work, we are powerless against the barrage of arguments invading our mind-grapes.

III. Critical Minds Build Strong Backbones.

These almost-adults will soon be making decisions about where they spend their money, whom they support in elections, and how they conduct themselves in the wide, weird world. Our parental, teaching, and grown-up decree is to give them shelter from the storms threatening to blow them off-course. 

So we diagram sentences. We write formulaically in the classroom until we can prove a thesis with air-tight precision. It's brutal work, but the minds of our future adults are worth the struggle. When they know how to defend a logical argument of their own (which means knowing how to craft a smart sentence), students are more capable of recognizing the fallacies in the arguments aimed squarely at them.

The forces threatening our teenagers--and all of us--are too many to fathom. Nary a parent I know would argue against the importance of fortifying our children's inner strength in the face of all the evils in the world. That strength--that ability to make sound, responsible decisions--begins and ends with understanding the messages we receive and interpreting them wisely.

Let us give our teenagers the shelter of strong backbones and critical minds. The study of rhetoric--which begins with grammar and embraces logical argument--is an excellent place to start.

See you in English class.

[In honor of the human need for shelter, I will be giving Keith Richard's children's book for Christmas this year. Gus and Me: The Story of Granddad and My First Guitar, here at amazon.]

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!

Open Culture's article on background vocalist Merry Clayton

Mixed Messages and Marijuana: Parenting in Colorado, PART ONE

I live in Denver, where parents are talking a lot about marijuana.

Of course, we are all worried about our children in this new landscape of legalized (and readily available) weed. Rightly so. There is nothing trivial about the effects of drugs on a developing brain

Many are concerned we are sending inconsistent messages to the younger generation. And we are. And it's a big problem. Many are concerned that society's cavalier and comical approach to pot-smoking confuses kids. And it does. And that's a big problem, too.

But here is where I tend to diverge from more popular rhetoric: I submit we are having the wrong conversation. The new accessibility of weed is only one of many, many challenges facing our kids. As we decide how to talk to them about drug use, let us look at how we talk to them about everything.

Let's talk about THIS: 

Adults Send Some Pretty Messed-up Messages about Some Very Serious Things.

Just a few examples, collected in a just few minutes on adult facebook and twitter pages:


Check out: 13 Ways to Smuggle Your Booze 

Digital Distraction

The kids are hep to our hypocrisy. Of course they are.

Gambling and Other Addictions

Marriage & Fidelity



Every Single Thing about Being an Adult



Good Sportsmanship


Dignity & Self-Respect


There is no end to the predators threatening our teenagers. There is no end to their adolescent need for rebellion and risk-taking. There is no end to the vigilance required to raise them into adulthood. Legalized marijuana is another snag in the complicated fabric of raising teenagers

I worry we are looking too hard at the trees of the legalization question and failing to see the forest, which is the question of how we teach our kids to act responsibly, safely and independently, no matter what obstacles they face.