Category Archives: teens

My Week Without Kids

This article publishes in the Press Democrat on August 10th.

The kids are visiting their dad this week. As a result, the house is strangely quiet. The TV, which is usually blaring with bright pictures and loud voices from attention seeking sitcoms, has been off for days. And the Internet speed is curiously faster without video games tying up the bandwidth. The living room is free of clutter, and the food in the kitchen is intact for much longer than usual. In fact, our food bill this week was much lower than usual, and it’s been really nice to cook for two rather than five. Our calendar is looking pretty bare this week, and the cash in my wallet is staying put instead of being handed over to kids who need new clothing, a soda from the store, money for half-done chores, or whatever their fancy of the moment happens to be.

I was asked recently if I missed my kids. Without hesitating, I said absolutely not. It was only after I said it that I realized maybe I shouldn’t have been so enthusiastically quick in my response. I love my kids. I love that I have them with me the majority of the time. But after a long summer of bored teenagers taking over the house, I love that they are at their other parent’s house for 7 glorious days.

It’s been a really long summer. My son, Taz, has taken to video game marathons while I’m away at work. Despite the sunshine outside, his comfort level takes place in his darkened bedroom, chatting away with friends on his headset. When he’s not doing that, his butt is planted on the couch watching TV. Dirty dishes are piling up in his room even though he’s been told food doesn’t belong anywhere but in the kitchen. When I come home from work, he’s usually back upstairs in his room, talking loudly into his headset while his friends shout back through the television. Meanwhile, the downstairs TV is still on with whatever kids show he was watching earlier, the living room totally destroyed and the kitchen showing blatant signs of whatever he ate that day through the food on the counter and the garbage on the floor.

But the noise from my son is overruled by the pounding beat coming from upstairs. Frizz, my stepson, has taken to listening to club music at extremely loud levels at all hours of the day. From the moment he wakes up at 2 pm till late in the evening, all that can be heard throughout the house is bump, bump, bump, bump. I’d like to strangle whoever thought it was an excellent idea to buy a teenager a sub woofer for his tiny room. While we are at work, Taz and Frizz compete with each other as they try to hear their own sounds above the others. The other day, Taz’s TV was on full blast, as was Frizz’s pounding music. This was what I got to come home to. The kicker was that Frizz was also wearing earplugs to drown out the noise. Tired of sounding like an ancient broken record about keeping the noise at a level that is respectful towards everyone living there (just writing that out makes me realize what an old fogey I’ve become), I fought the noise in the most mature way I could muster. I figured out just how loudly the downstairs surround sound could play my personal mix of Coldplay music. Apparently pretty loud – at least loud enough to drown out all the other music.

In the midst of all this is my daughter DQ, who is suddenly very much in puppy love with a boy who lives near us, and wants to spend every waking moment with him. Take a hormonal 14-year old girl, add in a 14-year old hormonal boy, factor in the summer break right before entering high school when both have a lot of free time on their hands, and mix it all together. The sum of this equation supersedes any stress that videogame marathons and subwoofer competitions can induce by about a million.

So when it came time to drive my kids several hours away to stay with their father for 7 whole days, I couldn’t throw their stuff in my car fast enough.

In the time they have been gone, I have enjoyed a few lazy days by the pool with a magazine in my lap and a cold drink within arm’s reach. I have gone to bed early every night, and woken up refreshingly early every morning. Mr. W and I have even enjoyed a couple nights out on the town.

In a few days, my kid-free staycation will be over. By then, I will be ready to take back the reins. But until then, I think I will enjoy this brief interlude from motherhood while it lasts.

Teenage Jekyll & Hyde

(This article is publishing in the Press Democrat on June 29th)

On a recent evening, I took my daughter, DQ, to the store to go shopping for some clothes and jewelry she wanted for a special occasion.  We not only looked for what she needed, but had fun going through the different aisles trying on scarves and making fun of gaudy rings.  It was an inexpensive way to get in some mother-daughter time – until we got to the checkout.  We both knew I ended up spending too much money on her, and she was extremely gracious about all her new pretty things I bought for her.  So I was caught off guard when the very next day she was blasting me via text about how uncool I was over a household rule I wouldn’t bend on, and how I always treated her like a baby.  We closed the conversation and ended up not speaking to each other for the rest of the day.

The following day she helped me put dishes away, finished her chores early, and then hung out with me all afternoon.  But that night at dinner she sassed back anyone who had the audacity to speak to her, making it clear that we were all idiots, and appalled when we required her to help out with cleaning up after dinner.  A mere 30 minutes later, she was lacing up her shoes to join me on a run around our neighborhood.  When we got home, she cracked jokes with her stepdad.  But when he joked back, she whipped around and snapped at him.

We are officially in the Jekyll & Hyde years, that lovely age when darling daughters turn into exceptionally moody beings that are sweet as pie one second, and then turn into raving monsters the next.  Sometimes there’s a buildup to the actual explosion, giving you some time to duck and take cover.  But mostly it’s without warning, the scene changing from serene to volatile in the blink of an eye.

“One minute you still have your sweet girl, the next minute she’s back talking and slamming her door. Never really know which one you’re dealing with,” Carley Harp of Rohnert Park said about teenage girls around age 14.

One mom I know was astounded when she discovered that her daughter had a secret Facebook for her friends, and a more innocent one she kept for all her family.  Another mom stated that her daughter had recently stopped speaking altogether to her parents, her only form of communication done by rapidly moving fingers over the keyboard of her phone.

Having worked with teenagers for years at a summer camp our family attends, I have witnessed girls around my daughter’s age who are incredibly mature in their responsibilities.  But get them around their parents, these same girls are suddenly spewing venom and hatred.  And have you ever witnessed a Facebook newsfeed filled with hormonal teenage girls?  Emotions create an avalanche of ups and downs, ranging from exaggerated excitedness to depressed song lyrics and cryptic codes begging for others to ask “what’s wrong”.

“My girl was sweet, calm and gentle up until puberty,” Caren McLerran of Santa Rosa said about her own now-adult daughter.  “Then wham, she changed into a secretive, defiant person that I didn’t know.”  But she offered hope to parents going through the same thing with their daughters, having observed her own daughter coming back to her senses around age 18.   “Let’s just say that the caterpillar stage of a girl’s life is hell, eating her way through the feelings of everyone around her. But as she emerges from her rather toxic chrysalis she has once again returned to her beautiful butterfly-self.

The fact of the matter is that girls around age 13-15 are going through a huge shift in how they view their bodies, what it takes for boys to be interested in them, the pressure of popularity and fitting in, and the hormonal and physical changes going on inside and outside their bodies.  According to statistics, 50% of young teenage girls view themselves as fat, and 80% have dieted in some form or another (visit anad.org and eatingdisorders411.com for more statistics on teens and body image).  Peer pressure, whether it be drugs, sex, or any other pressure of “going with the flow”, are the strongest in the early teen years.  And this is the age when teens begin to make real adult decisions that could impact the rest of their lives.

So how do you deal with the fragile temperament of these cantankerous cherubs?  There is no cookie cutter answer.  The best you can do is try to remember what it was like when you were a teenager, and have empathy for what your daughter is going through.  And whenever she’s on the sweet side of her Jekyll & Hyde mentality, savor it for all its worth.

Night of the living teenager

“My kid has totally turned against us,” a friend of mine lamented as she shared all the ways her teenager was lashing out in rebellion. “She insists when she turns 18, she’s leaving. I feel devastated!”

I was there as recently as a few weeks ago. My 14-year-old daughter looked at me like I was an ogre, and anything I said or did was a blatant attack against her. She even swore she was moving in with her father at the end of the school year. I felt like I was grasping at threads to keep her here. I was failing as a mother, and I was sure to be the only person in the world going through this teenage drama pointed directly at me. It wasn’t until I put a call out to the universe and sought the help of some friends that I realized I’M NOT ALONE.

You, parents of teenagers – YOU’RE NOT ALONE.

I’ve heard that the teenage years are akin to mental illness. Teens just don’t know what they’re doing, saying, or how to handle all the mess going on inside. One friend of mine put it more kindly by referring to teenagers as delicate creatures, describing how teens are overwhelmed with feelings of rage, addiction, lust, fear, and more – sometimes all at the same time. Even when they’re hateful or spiteful, they’re fragile. And with all that, plus the daily struggle of making it out alive amidst their peers, the closest (and safest) person they have to lash out at is YOU, the parent.

The first best advice I ever received while going through the heartache of having a teenager was to seek out a good counselor – with and without my daughter. I bristled at this a bit, believing it was an expensive route to go. However, I found that most jobs cover up to 3 therapy sessions, and many insurance companies take over after that with just a co-pay from you. A good counselor will not only give your teenager a place to vent and help in managing all the stuff going on inside, but he or she will give you (the parent) some insight into the workings of the teenage brain and how to guide your teen without sliding into a power struggle.

Will your teen fight you on counseling? Probably. At least, mine did. When I brought counseling up to my daughter, her initial reaction was to tell me she wasn’t going. And when I insisted, she swore she’d act like she was off in the head. I finally reasoned with her that all I was asking for were three sessions. After that, she was free to never come again.

She went, and counseling ended up being the saving grace in ending the war between us.

Second best piece of advice I received was to listen. That means no talking, no rebuttals, and no trying to fix anything unless your teen specifically asks for it. If he’s lashing out at you, take a step back emotionally and let him vent. Sometimes the unreasonable things your teen is saying will lead into the real feelings he’s dealing with underneath.

Third best piece of advice I’ve heard is to share your feelings. Sometimes your teen just says things to make herself feel better. Sometimes it makes her feel better to make you as angry as she is. Sometimes she just want to be rude to you so that you have to be rude to her – and then she has something to use against you because GAW, YOU’RE SUCH A HORRIBLE PARENT! If your teen is blasting at you that she’s going to move out immediately after high school, she may just be trying to hurt you. Or she may really mean it. Either way, she’s looking for a rise out of you. If you bite back, she succeeded. But a better way to handle it is to tell her that when she says things like that it makes you sad because you actually love having her there, but understand how much she must really want her independence.

I’ve discovered that empathy goes a really long way.

Final advice – don’t go it alone. Surround yourself with other parents of teenagers and allow yourself time to vent or seek out advice. Sharing stories with others who are going through or who have been there will solidify the fact that you’re not alone. It will also give you the reality that this is such a fleeting period of your child’s life – and it too shall pass. Soon enough the stranger that has invaded your teen’s body will up and leave, and left behind will be the son or daughter you knew was in there somewhere.

As I told my friend, there should be medals of honor for parents of teenagers. Hang in there, we’re all rooting for you.

Don’t FREAK out.

Don’t freak out.

What did my parents say? “We hope you have a daughter just like you.” Guess what, it’s happened. And now I get to deal with the same stuff they freaked out on me about, but try to do it in a way that won’t cause her to rebel and get worse.

Like I did.

I was 17 when I met him. He was charming, thought I was beautiful, and made me feel like I was on top of the world. He was so much more than the boys I went to school with.  In my eyes, he was the boy who became my pedestal, lifting me up in ways I’d never experienced. In my dad’s eyes, he was trouble. If I wasn’t sure of it before, it became incredibly abundant when my father stood outside his house ready to fight this 18 year old kid to save the innocence of his daughter.

But dad, that ship had sailed long before.

The hatred that ensued only made me fall deeper into this boy’s arms. I snuck out at night to see him. I skipped school to be with him. I talked on the phone with him till the early hours of the morning. I visited him every chance I had and revolved my whole world around him. And when he was kicked out of his parents house and found himself with no place to live, I snuck him into my room – as if I could really hide him like bringing a pet home.

My parents found out, of course. At this point, the power struggles were getting exhausted. But guess who had more resolve? Me, the teenager. And I was going to fight till the end. My parents must have sensed this because they did the exact thing I never expected – they let him move in. There were rules, of course. And we stuck to them for about a day. And then we were having sex all the time under my parents’ roof almost as if we had their permission. If my dad suspected anything, he kept tight lipped and furrow browed about it. And this boy lived with us until the day after graduation.

Around this time my parents gave me a proposition. I could go to college, anywhere I wanted, and they would pay for the whole thing. However, if I moved in with him, I would forgo any money for college and would be on my own.

I was a smart girl. I had aspirations to be a writer. For years I actually had thought about where I wanted to go, and had it all picked out. A deal like this doesn’t come just anytime.

And of course, I chose the boy.

Fast forward to a one-bedroom apartment, too many cigarettes, strange people coming and going, thrown on the floor and kicked around, pot and alcohol flowing, never having any money, a diet of Top Raman, his disappearance for days, girls claiming to be his girlfriend, a nightmare that I couldn’t wake up from, being unable to reach out to my family who no longer knew what to do….

And all because I felt the need to win this power struggle.

So don’t freak out. Talk to her. And then, just listen.

Whatever.

Whatever.

It’s her word of choice for me, regardless of what I say to her.

Did you eat all of your brother’s chocolate?

Yeah.

Well, wouldn’t you go ballistic if he went in your room and stole something out of it?

Whatever.

Just weeks ago we were close. And now? I barely know this 14 year old girl. She looks at me with contempt. She does nothing to hide her hatred for me. Above all else, I find myself so angry and hurt by her deliberate apathy that I want to hurt her back, make her care, do something drastic to take “whatever” out of her vocabulary. Days earlier, a war between us raged on until I finally took the phone out of her texting hands and threw it across the room with all my force, breaking the only thing she cares about anymore. I wanted to get her to open her eyes.

And she did.

She told me she wanted to move in with her dad. I had to bite my tongue from telling her I’d help her pack. We both knew she was bluffing. And we haven’t spoken since, except to address the issue of her stealing from her brother.

It’s all very mature.

I’ve never had to lay down the law for her. She’s been my “good kid”, the one I could rely on to keep up with her responsibilities and be my second pair of hands in the house. Now, she has to be told several times to do her one chore a day. She tells Mr. W he’s “not her father” whenever he says anything to her. She acts sweet as pie when she needs something, and then spews nonchalant venom when things don’t go her way. She has made it abundantly clear that she can get away with anything.

And truthfully, she can.

I suck as a parent of a teenager. I sent this sentiment out to the Facebook universe when lamenting the whole situation, and immediately friends who understood jumped in and gave words of encouragement and wisdom.

“Teenagers have a neurological condition called hypofrontality. It is akin to living most intensely in the midbrain, responsible for rage, addiction, lust, fear, etc.  Give yourself a break. You’re really working with a different and delicate sort of creature,” one friend wrote.

“Mine just informed me I am a power-hungry tyrant who cares only for myself. It may actually have hurt my feelings if that came anywhere near to being true,” another said. Her reaction was to laugh it off.

I don’t know how to be calmly authoritative. I wish I did.  I wish I were one of those parents who could hear their child say horrible things with laughter and a quick consequence. But I’m not. Instead, they win once I open my mouth, since tears are always soon to follow. I don’t want to be the bad guy. I don’t want to take things away. I don’t want them to be anything but happy. And I don’t want to allow the wall that goes up between teenagers and their parents to exist in my home.

“What do I do?” I asked my mom. “What did you do with me?” And she reminded me about the contracts she had written up, attaching consequences if I didn’t abide by their rules in my teenage defiance.

“Sometimes they worked, sometimes, they didn’t.” And she admitted to spending many nights crying into the phone with her own mother when I acted like an ogre – like I couldn’t care less. My grandmother’s advice earlier that afternoon had been to talk to the kids’ father. “We may not have gotten along,” she said of her own ex-husband. “But we always backed each other up when it came to raising the kids.

“What would you like me to do?” the Ex asked me supportively after I had relayed the whole scenario. We’d never been very successful at the whole co-parenting thing. But this time, it made the most sense of all. He didn’t freak out when I told him I broke our daughter’s phone. And he agreed that her disrespect was uncalled for and needed to be addressed.

“Just listen to her,” I sighed. I admitted to him that I was not in a space where I could listen well at all. I knew she had some real areas of hurt and frustration. And I was too caught up in my own misery to even be a good parent to her. But I recognized that she needed someone she could spill with – someone who wasn’t emotionally attached to the situation at hand. And he told me he could do that.

It’s doubtful DQ and I will even talk until after her visit with her dad this weekend. Every time I think it might be time to let down my guard and break the ice, my pride gets in the way. The knife is only sunk in deeper when I see her sharing with Mr. W things she would normally share with me – even though just days ago she was throwing it in his face that he isn’t her father – and ignoring me in the process.

For now, I think time and space are going to have to do. That, and a really good contract with set in stone consequences.

Mortified Teenagers

I have a confession to make. I embarrass my kids. Most of the time it’s unintentional. For example, my son will turn down the radio before he opens the car door when I drop him off at school. He doesn’t want anyone to know we’ve been listening to talk shows, blues music, or worse, music his friends might actually like because I’m an old fogey and shouldn’t be listening to anything but talk shows and blues music.

Sometimes, however, my embarrassing nature is intentional.

My daughter deletes any comment I make on her Facebook. It doesn’t matter how simple it is, she has it banished from her timeline faster than I can refresh the page.

The other day she was being a bit too snarky for my taste. So in good humor, I posted ‘I love you’ on her page – ten times. She kept deleting them, but my copy and paste skills were faster than her delete mode could function.

“Oh, we’re playing that game, are we?” she said, a smirk on her face.

“Hey, I just love you very much, and want you and everyone you know to be aware of it,” I replied.

“You really want to go there?” she asked. And I nodded. But then I realized that payback is a, well, you know.

“You better not be posting anything horrible on my page!” I exclaimed, aware that I not only had real-life friends, but also co-workers and some people I didn’t know at all as ‘friends’ on Facebook.

“No, I’m not posting anything on your site,” she said. I went back to my ‘I love you’ paste-scapade and received an error message.

“DQ only shares some information publicly. If you know DQ, add her as a friend or send her a message.”

My own daughter UNFRIENDED ME!

Truth be told, it doesn’t take much for a teenager to be mortified by their parents. Want proof? Try to sound like them. Santa Rosa mom Jessica Snowden described the looks her daughter and friends gives her when a common phrase used by the younger generation slips out of her mouth. “Unfortunately, it could be when the friend who started it is around to hear,” Snowden said. “It’s hard not to have it rub off on you though when they are saying them all the time.”

Pediatrician Pierrette Mimi Poinsett of Windsor confirmed that just the “mere existence of parental units instigates mortification of teens.” Dr. Poinsett, who has a teenage son, advised that if parents want to be able to hang with their teenager, it’s best not to hug or kiss them in public. She also jokingly advised, “never sing or dance in front of your teens, especially in public.”

Of course, all bets are off on that one in my family…

Ann Leach of Santa Rosa agreed, joking that she’ll go out of her way to embarrass her teen as a sort of payback when her daughter is being particularly nasty. “But overall, it’s a great relationship,” Leach said, mentioning that while her daughter’s friends view her as a tough mom, she believes they know how much she cares about them and her daughter.

And let’s not forget the fact that if you are a parent, you are WRONG. Even when you’re completely right, you’re wrong. Santa Rosa dad Matthew Witthaus shared about the time his niece walked in on her mom and stepdad just when they were in the heat of the moment. She “thought she was the wronged one when shouted out the door and chastised for not knocking first.”

But teens don’t always hate their parents. While my daughter is 13, thus at an age when she knows way more than I ever could in my 30 plus years, sometimes she feels more like an ally than the enemy. She’s known to hang with me for lots of mom-daughter bonding time. There have been many nights when we’ve stayed up late watching a movie together or just gabbing about girl stuff. I include her in some of my Girls Nights Out now that she’s no longer a young child. And she’s become my favorite shopping partner in crime.

Witthaus mused about this as well, mentioning the friendship that exists between his niece and her mom regardless of the teen years. “Molly and her mother have a text message habit, communicate constantly on FB, and, if you didn’t know it from looking at them, talk to each other on the phone as one would a sister or best friend,” he said. “Neither of them would have it any other way, and they enjoy, rather than abhor, the comments as to the nature of their ‘sisterhood.’”

My daughter eventually ‘friended’ me again on Facebook. In return, I have done my best to refrain from commenting on her status updates. But seriously, it’s torture to keep my thoughts to myself when she types things like “He makes me smile” as an update.

Who??? Who makes you smile, DQ???

Guess I’ll never know.

Best gifts for teens

The most difficult group of people to buy gifts for? Teens. They’ve moved beyond the latest Elmo toys and those cute outfits we love to see them in, and have now developed a taste in style that is as separate from ours as they can get. Needless to say, this makes gift buying for them extremely difficult. Having several teens on my own gift-giving list this year (and knowing firsthand how horrendous the teen gift-buying experience can be), I’ve compiled a smorgasbord of items that your teen may actually crack a smile over….and utter something more than their usual grunt.

1. Video Games
These are a terribly personal gift, and it’s best if you know what titles your teen is asking for before buying, as well as what the games are about if you’re concerned about content. But if you’re looking to surprise your teen, here are a few titles topping the lists this year (with help from our game blogger, Eric Wittmershaus).
“The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” – A massive, open-world role-playing game full of magic, elves and dragons.
“Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” – Cutthroat mulitplayer that puts players in the role of various manly men fighting World War III against a Russia run by a group of ultranationalist terrorists
“The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword” – The latest, and possibly greatest, chapter of the Zelda series that has Link tormented by dreams, and scouring the dreamy world of Skyloft for his princess Zelda.
“L.A. Noire” – Detective story set in a stunning re-creation of post-World War II Los Angeles.
“FIFA 12” – Sports gamers will appreciate the improvements in this latest version of the soccer game that features improved gameplay, competitive scenarios, and more.
For more video game titles, check out Eric’s blog at gamewit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

2. iGifts
The iPad, iPod Touch, and iPhone are topping the lists for technology this year, according to a Nielson survey. And truthfully, you can’t go wrong with these gifts. Not only do the offer tons of uses beyond just listening to music or scouring the internet, they offer plenty of other gift ideas to go with them – accessories, headphones, protective covers, iTunes gift cards… Your whole family will be set on what to get your teen. Thank you Steve Jobs.

3. eReaders
Teens still enjoy a good book, but eReaders give them the ease of being able to dive into a novel without lugging around something bulky and heavy. Those who enjoy reading several titles at once will especially love the ease a good eReader gives them. Topping the charts is the Kindle 3, followed closely by the Nook Simple Touch Reader. The eReader we recommend with the best memory options (though low battery life) would be the Nook Tablet.

4. Clothing
Tread lightly if you plan on buying your teen fashions. Many teens have a very specific (read: picky) sense of style, and will turn their nose up at most of the things you deem “cute”. If you don’t have a specific sense of what your teen likes to wear, it’s best just to take your kid pre-shopping and let them pick out what you’ll be wrapping up in terms of clothing. Or, just keep the receipts for a few inevitable returns.

5. Livescribe Pulse Smartpen
Possibly the coolest thing this self-described geek has ever seen, it’s a way to make note taking easier. The pen records audio and handwritten notes to make studying and organization so much easier. Drool…. Buy it at Amazon

6. Polaroid 300 Instant Camera
Sure, now everything is digital. But what about the retro coolness of the Polaroid camera? Photo buffs will go gaga over the vintage aspect of shaking out their instant photo for a new spin on picture taking. Comes in black and red at HSN.com.

Still strapped for ideas? Here are a few more:

Preppy teens:
Make-up
Hair accessories
Watch
Jewelry
Perfume or cologne
Locker accessories
Leather-bound journal

Sporty teens:
Carrying bags
Team wear
Athletic shoes
Heart monitor
MP3 player
Snow Goggle Camera

Geektastic teens:
Computer
Portable speakers
Eclectic alarm clocks
Gaming Chair
Gadget charging station
Laptop messenger bag
Gaming accessories

New Driver:
Personalized license plate
License plate cover
Fun bumper stickers
Antenna characters
Floor mats
Seat covers
Car speakers
GPS/Garmin

Teen Room decor:
Lava lamp
Beanbag
Room fridge
Glow in the dark decals
Random art
Wall clock
Artistic lamp

And more:
Headphones
Subscription to online streaming site like Hulu, Pandora, Netflix, or Spotify.
Retro style record players
Artist carrying case
Origami kit
Karaoke machine

Teen Stocking stuffers:
Cash
Personalized luggage tags
Keychain
Chocolate
Uniquely styled USB Flash Drives
Earbuds
Room freshener
Fingerless gloves