10 Things You Need To Know About Raising a Teenager

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I am a teen expert. Why? Because I have two teens, I was a teen, sometimes I’m on the local news and they call me a teen expert. But mostly, because I say so.

Drawing on this vast because-I-said-so expertise, I’ve come up with a list of the absolutely CRUCIAL things you need to know to survive your own kids’ teenaged years.

1. They Know Everything, You Know Nothing. The fact that you don’t know and acknowledge this is just proof, as far as your omnipotent teen is concerned, of it’s utter, complete truth.

When you have teens, the soundtrack of your life is snorts, the backdrop, eye-rolls.  Get used to it.  They’ll come around by the time they’re 25.  And like the old joke says, by then, they’ll be amazed at how much you’ve learned in ten years.

2. They Hate/Love you, and you Love/Hate them back. I’ve always said, either my child is suffering from a soap opera worthy dual personality disorder, or it’s puberty…so I’m going with puberty.

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Your teenager will alternately want nothing to do with your know-nothing self, or desperately want your attention, approval and love.  They will snort and eye-roll their way through dinner, but then want to be tucked in at night, cuddled, coddled, and otherwise revert back to their toddler selves. They will be mortified by your very existence at their big game, but devastated if you miss it.

It’s the hormones.

You, in turn, will alternately feel like you want to knock them unconscious, lock them in a time machine and make them turn back into their un-hairy, clear skinned, non-attitude infested selves, or be made breathless by the wonder of their maturity and intelligence and the feeling that they’re growing up way too fast.

3. Your Teenaged Daughter Will Think she’s too fat/too thin/too ugly/too short/too tall/ too something and it’s not your Fault. There is no such thing as an unattractive teenaged girl.  Their skin – even if marred with acne – somehow glows.  Their bodies – even if under or over weight – are somehow perfectly suited to them.  They are all gorgeous.  Yet practically to a girl, they think they are too (fill in the blank.)

It’s magazines, sure.  It’s Kardashians, and music videos, and the male hierarchy thrusting an impossible standard of beauty on unassuming girls.

But I think there must be some kind of biological imperative that makes teenaged girls think they’re unattractive, despite physical evidence to the contrary.

Don’t blame yourself.  It wasn’t that you didn’t model good body-image behavior.  It wasn’t that you didn’t praise her enough, or praised her too little.  Or maybe you did.  But it really wouldn’t have mattered.

It’s the hormones. 

4. They Are Nice to Everyone Who Isn’t You. They say this is a good thing.  That teenagers being beyond horrible to you but kind, helpful and respectful to everyone else means that they’re well brought up, yet comfortable enough at home, and confident enough in your love, to let it all hang out when no one else is around.

Which sounds reasonable, except when they’re being horrendous to you. When that happens, you’re just wishing you were everyone else, and they were anyone else.  Which they will be, if you wait a few hours– see #2, above.

5. They will Make Some Really Stupid Choices (and that’s OK.) Remember that time you and your three girlfriends met a guy on the beach and he invited you all to a party, and then he showed up at your house in a van filled with  12 other guys and you and your friends just hopped in and let them drive you away?

Oh, wait. That was me.

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It was pretty seriously stupid.  But nothing happened. Nothing went wrong. They drove us to a party, we had fun, they drove us home.

Were we lucky?  Sure. But not every mistake is fatal.  Most of the time, the dumb things we did as teenagers just end up being dumb things we did as teenagers, nothing more.  They’re the things that lead us to new experiences, new places, new friends.  They’re the things that make us realize, even as we climb into the van, that we likely shouldn’t have done it, and know that even though all went well, we won’t do it again.

The teenager who never makes any mistakes will grow into the adult who never takes chances.

And that would be a bummer.

6. No Matter How Much Food you Buy, it will Never be Enough. I have a friend with three teenaged boys.  Every day, she makes an entire box of pasta just before they get home from school and leaves it on the stove.  It’s what they have for an after school snack.

Another friend’s son drinks a gallon of milk every day.

My son generally goes through a dozen yogurts, a pound of sliced turkey, and a half dozen bagels every two to three days.

My advice?  Clip coupons, and live vicariously.  Because if you’re old enough to have a teenaged boy, you’re way too old be able to eat like that anymore.

7. There will be Mess. Somewhere in the “how to be a teenager” handbook, there must be a paragraph ordering teenagers to throw their coats on the floor when they walk in the door, leave their pants and underwear wherever it is they happen to take them off, and to never, ever, make the bed.

Their rooms will drive you crazy.  You will sometimes have to clear a path to get from the door to the bed.  And sometimes, it will smell.  Like, really, really bad.

This is NOT the hormones, this is the lazy, I’ll-do-it-later modus operandi of every teenager since time began.


8. You will be Wistful. There will come a time when you walk by a toddler rushing, joy unbounded, into his waiting mother’s arms. And you will tear up. And you will feel sad that all you get is the aforementioned snorting and eye rolling, and you will wonder where the time goes.

Get over it. Because also…

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9. You Will Be Grateful. There will come a time, when you will be stuck at a restaurant/at the grocery store/heaven forbid in a plane, and you will see a toddler having a no holds barred, screaming, hysterical, tantrum. And you will see his mother, incapable of stopping it, humiliated, defeated. And you will think smugly to yourself: been there, done that. Better her than me.

10. This too Shall Pass. Remember when you had a newborn, and you thought he’d never sleep through the night?

He did.

Remember when your toddler was in a whining phase you thought would never end?

It did.

This too, shall pass.  The teenaged years, like every other phase, come to an end.

And then they’ll go off to college, and you’ll cry, and you’ll miss them, and you’ll wonder how you ever wished they would just grow up and go off to college already. Because even though your teenager love-hates you, knows everything, does stupid things, eats you out of house and home, and quite frankly, smells…you love him or her.

And in the end, that’s the only crucial fact about your teenager either one of you needs to know.

Related post: 5 Ways Toddlers Are Easier Than Teens

Parenting An Average Student

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One of the most challenging aspects of raising my son was accepting the fact that he was an unmotivated student. Though his father and I tried not to let his grades define how we saw him, especially during high school, they did have an impact on how we viewed ourselves as parents. We had moments of self-doubt and, at times, questioned the way we had raised him. What had we we done wrong?  What did we miss or fail to do to motivate him to succeed?

Nothing really, it turns out.

It was never up to us to motivate him in the first place. He had to find the motivation within himself.

In the hyper-competitive world of AP classes, honor rolls, valedictorians, students-of-the-month, perfect SAT scores, 4.0 and above GPAs, scholar athletes and more, having a child with average grades is considered a serious problem by many parents and can even be viewed by some as embarrassing and shameful. A “C” student might as well be a high school dropout as far as many top-tier colleges and universities are concerned. Some high school counselors, who can be overloaded by the sheer number of students they manage, and private admissions consultants, concerned about their reputations and admission rates, are quick to dismiss average students as junior-college bound.

Just because a student has average grades in high school doesn’t mean he or she won’t succeed in college.

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My son was an average high school student, graduating with a GPA that was just shy of 3.0. There were a number of reasons for his less-than-stellar performance in high school, including a mild learning disability (ADHD) and a severe lack of motivation. His father and I did everything we could think of to ignite an interest in academics in his intelligent but disinterested mind. Among other things, we hired tutors, including the one PhD English teacher at his high school who had been so inspirational to our older daughter. As I surreptitiously listened each week, I was struck by how utterly bored my son was, despite the fascinating (if somewhat exasperated) way the teacher explained the text. For me, a voracious reader with an English degree, my son’s disdain for literature was both sad and a little terrifying. How would he ever make it in college without the skills to interpret complex writing?

And yet, when it came to sports, my son was a font of knowledge. His recall of baseball and football statistics was encyclopedic. He could dissect and evaluate every play in a football game the way mathematicians solve complex calculus equations. What good would all of this information do him, his father and I wondered. On the other hand, we felt the life lessons he learned playing football in high school – commitment, discipline, respect and teamwork – would be of great value to him, so we supported our offensive lineman and his team. We hoped that his zeal for learning about sports would someday translate to his academic pursuits as well.

The belief that attending a top 50 university is the only path to success is not only untrue, but impossible for the 95% of high school students who don’t have the grades and/or the financial ability to attend one of these elite institutions. There are thousands of excellent schools that will admit average students and offer them the growth experiences and education that are the reasons to attend a college or university in the first place. My son was fortunate to be accepted to one of those universities.

Parents of average students might want to consider doing things differently than we did and fight their understandable instinct to constantly push their students to perform better in school. Many teenagers don’t reach a level of maturity to find the impetus to work hard until after high school. The fighting and arguing about getting him to work harder, study more and do better was futile and frustrating, and caused unnecessary stress for both my son and for my husband and me.

In my son’s case, it wasn’t until he went to college and found something that captured his attention – in his case, American History – that he was able to earn the grades we always knew he could.

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My son graduated from college – in four years – in the spring of 2014. The key to his success was finding support and counseling throughout his college experience, along with simply growing up. His senior thesis was on the history of the Mexican baseball league and its impact on the sport in the United States. He received a B plus on his paper. He now has two jobs, one in management for a college football team and the other in public affairs for a large energy company. He succeeded despite being an average high school student – and without his parents breathing down his neck. He did it on his own, which for me is the most gratifying thing of all.

It’s unlikely a potential employer will ever ask him about his high school GPA. Why would they? There’s so much more to him than that.

(Note: This post was written with my son’s blessing and encouragement.)

Related post: About a Boy

Having The Sex Talk With a Teenage Boy

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I think most parents dread the day they have the sex talk with their teenagers.

I never got “the talk’ from my mom. I’m not sure if she just assumed I wasn’t having sex or if she was even aware that I had boyfriends. My first trip to the gyno was when I was already eight weeks pregnant. As if your first Pap smear and pelvic exam aren’t humiliating enough, add 20-years-old, never been, already knocked up to the mortification. I cried through the whole exam.

It would have been easy to blame my parents for my situation. My mother never talked to me about birth control and I, like 100% of teenagers, assumed it would never happen to me. I was a smart girl, I knew where babies came from, and yet I rolled the dice. Nine months later I had a baby by a man that I had known for less than three months. Having that baby turned out to be the best decision of my life and made me who I am today. But, it was a hard life for a long time.

Fast forward sixteen years. That baby is a tall, handsome, smart and very funny young man. Until recently, he had no time for silly, insecure teenage girls. But he’s become romantic about a girl whom he’s been very good friends with since the eighth grade. They’re romantic for each other and I’m happy for him. They’re a great pair: she’s brilliant and sweet and quirky, he’s warm and clever and romantic. I am in love with their budding romance.

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That is, until I walked into the family room and found them horizontal on the couch, their faces plastered together.


I started with diplomacy. I loudly clomped toward them from the next room over to give them time to get decent but, much to my surprise and annoyance, they did not separate. I snapped my fingers at them and barked “Inappropriate!” not knowing what else to say. They slowly sat up but the second I left the room, they were at it again. We’ve had The Talk with him but I just didn’t feel like we had really prepared him for this.

We are very open and accepting. We always want our son to know that he can speak honestly with us about anything, and we have always been very candid with him. He knows he won’t be judged if he tells us he’s gay or has a substance abuse problem. He knows he doesn’t have to go to college if that’s not for him, as long as he’s doing something he loves with his life and not mooching off of us. And he knows to wear protection if he has sex.

It was easy to have these conversations because we approach things in a humorous way. He’s had Sex Ed at school, and he knows in theory that he should bag his groceries but I knew these things too and it didn’t prepare me at all. My husband and I brainstormed over why people don’t use common sense and I think it goes beyond the obvious “it was in the heat of the moment.” It’s a lack of comfort and preparedness.

I’m in my thirties now, and it’s all too easy for me to glibly tell him to just wear a condom. That doesn’t prepare him for the time when he has to make that choice. We don’t verbally instruct soldiers on how to fight and then send them into battle without having ever fired their weapons, do we? No, when people are going to be in dangerous situations, we prepare them and drill them until we’re convinced they can handle the situation confidently and safely.

This is no different.

We sat him down and explained that we were about to have a painfully awkward talk about what had transpired the night before on the couch with his girlfriend. He was invited to not say anything stupid and that his best course of action was to simply shut the fuck up.

I first told him that their behavior, while pretty normal, was quite disrespectful considering I was watching TV twenty feet away. I diapered him, I cuddled him when he had his tonsils out, I kissed his ouchies and he still kisses me goodnight. I should never have to see him in the throes of passion.

Then we explained what was next for him. While he and his girlfriend had talked about boundaries and decided that just kissing was good for now, at some point, he’d find himself in a one thing led to another scenario. Responsible parents take their daughters to the gynecologist to get them on birth control. How do responsible parents prepare their sons? I told my son to go to the drugstore and buy some condoms and then spend some time learning how they work. If he needed help, dad was available. Finally, he needed to report back that he had completed the task.

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Of course he didn’t understand the point of the exercise, at first. I could see the terror in his eyes when I told him he needed to go buy condoms and his discomfort at my mere mention of masturbation. I explained “Girls go to the gynecologist, they strip naked, put their feet in the air, and a virtual stranger probes their lady-parts with metal tools and bristle brushes. When that’s over, they have to remember to take a pill every day or they get a shot every three months or they can have something IMPLANTED in their arm. The least you could do is spend four minutes in the privacy of your own bathroom figuring out how a condom works.” He acknowledged that his part was relatively easy in comparison.

I was pleasantly surprised when he told me, two days later, that he had, indeed, bought the prophylactics. I asked if he had tried them out which, believe me, was every bit as uncomfortable to ask as it was for him to hear. But this was the important part. For me, the follow through was critical and it didn’t matter how embarrassed either of us was. He simply nodded and I left it at that.

I don’t worry about the moment he’ll have sex for the first time anymore. As a mother who believes that pre-marital sex is not only inevitable but also okay, I did everything I could to prepare him for that moment.

Related post: Yes, I Bought Condoms For My Son

5 Things Your Middle Schooler Is Doing Right Now



As a middle school teacher, I assure you that the modern day middle school experience is every bit as awkward as yours was. Since you’ve probably blocked out those memories, here’s a refresher on the five essential activities of the middle schooler.

1. Finding out some piece of fascinating, yet grotesque and terrifying knowledge about sex. Elementary school playground talk bordered on the silly and patently false; No one freaked out when Cindy McClanahan told everyone that sex was when a girl and a boy licked each other’s butts, because no one thought that was actually true. Same when Billy Gibbs said that all the families in the neighborhood had two kids because wives got pregnant by eating one of their husband’s testicles. But middle schoolers are seeing more mature films, having more unsupervised time online, and hearing more from their older siblings, so their sex talk has the air of authenticity. I’ll never forget the slumber party conversation during which I first heard of a blow job. Purely speculative, of course—my cadre of friends and I were still trying to get boys to notice we existed—but I was dumbfounded. What? People put… that’s a thing? So make sure you don’t talk about anything sexy around middle-schoolers. They’re already traumatized.

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2. Being hopelessly, obsessively in love with someone. Middle-schoolers are notorious for being fickle, but what their affections may lack in duration, they make up for in intensity. The Adored One may be someone your child has never interacted with, doesn’t currently interact with, and will never interact with. He or she also might be a giant fuck-up and the last person you’d ever want to see your child wed. Don’t sweat it. Once high school comes, he or she can move on to more terrifying people who might actually impregnate, or be impregnated by, them. You’re welcome.

If there’s one thing that defines a middle-schooler’s existence, it’s this senseless, aching passion known as a “crush.” My seventh-grade crush had long hair and an earring and smoked cigarettes behind Turner’s Bowling Alley, where I saw him every Saturday morning for Youth Bowling League. I would follow his movements with my eyes while Def Leppard’s “Love Bites” evoked in me a curious feeling I now know as “sexual awakening.” In my journal, I lamented the impossibility of our union; he was a rebel, I was a nerd, and we’d be forever fettered by the labels society had imposed upon us. He had a longtime girlfriend whose bangs were formidable in both size and stiffness. In 1989, this meant she was an alpha female. So I stayed to myself, drawing hearts on the cover of my journal with nail polish and obsessively calculating and recalculating our compatibility using a time-tested formula based on how many letters our names had in common.

For most of my middle school career, though, my crush was my academic rival, whom I inexplicably failed to woo by beating him twice in the school spelling bee. Although he lived in my neighborhood, the only time I ever came close to talking to him was when my parents drove by his house one summer day and he was outside shirtless mowing the lawn, whereupon I screamed and ducked behind the passenger seat. We did finally share a painfully robotic slow dance at the eighth-grade formal, but were “cut in” upon by a popular girl. She finished the dance with My One True Love while I went home to pack for the National Spelling Bee. The local paper ran a full-page photo of me with a mouth full of braces and my arm around an unabridged dictionary, which I’m sure made me irresistible to every boy in the eighth grade.

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The moral of these stories is, there’s nothing you can do as a parent to control or even mitigate the vicissitudes of love. Just remember not to talk about anything sexy, ’cause it’s gross.

3. Contending with some sort of physical calamity. There are so many of these in preadolescence—acne, orthodontic torture devices, changing in the locker room, the first menstrual period, random classroom boners. But what I remember most are the fashion calamities. At no other time in life will people look as completely ridiculous as they do in middle school. The evolution of my fashion sense in middle school went something like this:

Sixth grade: Hmm, my parents are largely picking out my clothes for me, but these hand-me-downs from a slightly older family friend obviously are not working out. You know what will fix that? A giant bow on my head for picture day, and silver shoes from Payless Shoe Source. There. Now you’re stylin’.

Seventh grade: Buy me whatever anyone else is wearing. I don’t know why people are doing this with the bottom of their jeans; just leave me alone. Yes, I need two pairs of socks. In contrasting colors.

Eighth grade: Now that I’ve almost got this figured out, it’s time to switch things up a bit. A skort in a loud, hideous print? And a matching one for my best friend? All we need is matching t-shirts decorated in puffy paint. I think we all can see who’s the trendsetter here!

Boys, at least, don’t have to contend with makeup. One day in eighth grade I put mascara on my eyebrows. I have no idea why I did this. The boy who would later become my best friend, with a candor I’ve come to appreciate in a gay man, said, “Oh my God; what did you do to your eyebrows?”

I shrugged. “Just something different, I guess.”

He continued to stare at my face. “You look like a vampire.”

Your parental responsibilities on this one are pretty light. Let your kids wear whatever. If you have to go to the mall, just walk far behind them. That’s what they want anyway.

4. Struggling to navigate a barely navigable social hierarchy. If you have a middle-schooler, he or she is probably being threatened or socially excluded somehow. And chances are, he or she is threatening or excluding someone else. I don’t necessarily mean “threatening” in an overtly physical way, the way I was threatened by the biggest girl in seventh grade, nicknamed “Beef,” who vowed every day to beat me up in the locker room. She also enjoyed torturing me by putting my ink pens down her pants, which I had done absolutely nothing to warrant. (Except, I suppose, being a small, timid overachiever who named her ink pens. But that’s neither here nor there.) “Threats” in middle school can be, and often are, unspoken, leveraged by those with social power. And since what middle-schoolers desire most is social approval, those unspoken threats can be very compelling. Daily, middle-schoolers are getting thousands of (sometimes conflicting) social messages: If you do this, people will like you; If you do this, people won’t like you. Above all, the object is to conform, to blend. Not to stand out, and not to look weak. Middle-schoolers need to be babied sometimes, but they can’t risk letting anyone see it.

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With such enormous social pressure, is it any wonder that middle-schoolers sometimes feel that pressure from their parents will take them over the edge? Parents want them to be mature, but not to grow up too fast; some kids are given the responsibilities of adulthood before they’re given the rights, some vice versa, and some are given both way too soon. I’ve seen enough kids cry in conferences to know that many do want to please. They just can’t please everyone, enough, all the time.

5. Worrying about being normal. This is one thing you, as a parent, can do something about—nonverbally, verbally, whatever way you can. Middle-schoolers need reassurance that they’re OK. And that it’s all going to be OK, even if it seems weird and horrible right now.

In fact, that reassurance may be the single most important thing you can give. So give it liberally.

But don’t talk about sex. That’s gross.

10 Benefits to Having Teen Boys


Gone are the days when I was chasing my three active boys around the playground, or wiping their chocolatey mouths or their cute, little butts. Although two of my three boys are now teenagers, my house is still chaotic, dirty and noisy with a large dose of testosterone pulsing through it. Still, there are times when I long for that phase of them being young again, when I could pick them up and kiss their pudgy cheeks. Yet, I’ve recently discovered that being a mom to teenage boys has benefits that I never would have foreseen when they were little guys…

1. I don’t have to bug them to take a shower. Teenage boys want to look and smell good. No more fights to force them to actually wash their bodies. They have girls to impress!

2. I can curse in front of them. For me, the mom with the potty mouth, this is a huge benefit. If I let the F-bomb slip, instead of receiving a judgmental, “Mommy said a bad word” I’ll likely receive a high-five.

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3. I don’t need to buy them clothes. Three rotating outfits will be fine. They care about how they look, but not THAT much. And their clothes pretty much work year-round. T-shirt and shorts are status quo, and when it’s real cold, a pair of jeans or athletic pants and they’re all set.

4. I don’t have to have “the talk” with them. Yeah, I’m leaving all the embarrassing discussions to Dad. He can review puberty, shaving, and any talk about testicles with them. Sorry, not my department.

5. They’re never too cool to hug their mom. They may go through a few years where hugging dad feels awkward, but mom never gets rejected.

6. If I don’t feel like talking, I can get away with it. Teenage boys are not the most prolific creatures. Sometimes grunts and one-word answers are all you’ll get. And if I’m in a bad mood or it’s before 7am, I’m the same way and essentially mute. My boys never even notice.

7. They are stronger and taller, so I have a built-in helper. Need something off the top shelf? Need some furniture moved? No problem! A teenage boy seems to happily oblige if it means showing off their new and improved muscles.

8. I can finally have privacy in the bathroom. Nothing scares a teenage boy more than seeing his mom naked. He will do anything and everything to avoid this from happening. You can enjoy long, hot showers or take a magazine to the porcelain “throne” and I can promise you, you won’t be disturbed like you were when they were younger.

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9. I can read their minds. If one of my teens is upset or stressed or worried, I can see it immediately. Teenage boys may hold it together for their friends, but in front of mom, they are as transparent as water.

10. I can feed them Hot Pockets, frozen dinners, or leftover Chinese food and they won’t care. Teenage boys are hungry all the time, so as long as you keep a steady stream of food going into them, they won’t care if it’s home-cooked or straight from the box. Carbs are carbs and that’s all that matters to them.

As of now, I’ve got no complaints being a mom to teenage boys. But, one year from now when my oldest will be learning to drive, my list will change and so will my attitude. Please send me valium now, because that’s one teenage milestone I’d rather not face.