Parenting #101: “A portrait of a teenager”

The first known usage of the word teenager was in 1912. Strange to think about really. Only a few years before the start of World War I and decades away from the 1960s, which is the era of the teenager. Baby Boomers marked record numbers of these youngsters and for the first time in history there was a power growing for this age group. Since then, teenagers have been studied, analyzed, and dissected, and until recently they have only been my students. Now I have one of these creatures in my home, and things haven’t been quite the same.

My fourteen year old stands shirtless in our kitchen. He is drinking iced tea out of the container when I walk around the corner. I say “hello” and he doesn’t even pause. One white earbud juts out from his left ear. His long hair is in disarray and he pushes it back as he gulps down the remainder of his drink. His phone is in his other hand and his ringed finger scrolls through something I cannot see on the screen.

Photo by cottonbro on

“Nah, nah, dude,” he says to no one in particular. He burps loudly and throws the empty bottle into the recycling and I realize suddenly that he is actually in a conversation with someone. “Yeah, yeah, I will. Peace.”

There are so many things wrong with this picture that I literally stand amazed for about a minute. The long hair, the rings, the drinking out of the bottle, the standing shirtless in the kitchen, the phone, burping without even so much as an ‘excuse me’…he has become what I never thought I could or would raise: a typical teen.

I tried to be so careful. I tried to limit social media and electronics. I pushed legos and soccer and we went to the park and museums. I organized play dates and signed him up for camps and classes where he could express his imagination. I went to Back to School Nights and stayed in contact with all of his teachers. We sang songs in the car and we read together every night. We have family dinners and vacations and I make sure he has clean clothes and good food in the fridge. Weren’t all of these things supposed to help?

As soon as he hangs up the phone, he looks at me, “Oh, hey, momma.” He calls me “momma”, which I love even though it makes me feel like I should be in an apron working behind a deli counter.

“Hey, baby,” I say as I pull the trash bag out and begin to arrange the recycling.

“Can I help?” he asks when he sees me struggling.

“Yeah, that would be great,” he walks over and easily pulls out the bag. He laughs when he sees how light it is compared with how it looked when I was wrestling with it.

“Wait, this isn’t even heavy,” he says.

“Yeah, yeah,” I say as I wipe my hands on the dishrag. “Oh, and get a shirt on please. You know how I feel about no shirts on the first floor.” He makes a face and mimics my mannerisms as he puts his other earbud in and begins to take the trash outside.

“Sure whatever,” he says and I can hear some blaring rap song playing in his ears.

“And turn that down!” I yell. “You are going to hurt your ears!”

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on