How I Beat My Teens At Their Own Game

by Andrea Chacos
Originally Published: 
A mother hugging her teen daughter.

My husband and I have been playing a game with our children (ages 12, 14, and 16) we affectionately call “Adolescence.” It appears to be a brutally long game with no end in sight and because I’m fiercely competitive, I won’t rest until I win.

I’m in it for the long haul, so I coyly inhabited the role as dowdy, exhausted mom years ago. In reality, I’m an eagle-eyed, cunning investigator who has a gift for clairvoyance passed down from generations on my mother’s side. My husband chooses to portray the serious, responsible patriarch. He’s obviously not into creative role play.

Whether big or small, a win puts valuable points on a player’s letterboard. For example, a small win is when a parent has been easily duped, like the time my sneaky teen turned in early for the night telling me she was exhausted from a demanding day at school. I can now confirm she was feigning droopy eyes and a well-timed yawn as I found her online at midnight updating her profile picture instead. Her straightforward win screams that I need to sharpen my parenting prowess.

There is only so much time children should be left to think they rule the roost so my husband and I needed a gigantic win to restore some street cred in our home. I channeled the patience and observation to piece together some clues. I discovered a young guilty perpetrator in an incident We Shall Not Laugh About, yet we all immediately did. Yeah, I realize that’s another win for the kiddos.

The first clue I uncovered appeared when I came home to a clean house. Every dirty dish was washed, the living room was vacuumed, and I could see the countertops. Tidy houses with teens usually pair with the individual responsible seeking accolades, so when no one appeared to claim credit, the detective in me sprang into action. We appeared to be knee-deep in some multi-move, strategic play and I was prepared to decimate my younger opponents.

The second clue appeared minutes later. Another youthful player gushed about the shirt I wore to work, a simple black fleece. Fake compliment, I told myself, because everyone knows fleece is not fashion. Anyone with a shred of integrity would only acknowledge its comfort and warmth, not praise it for style.

Then, the third child boldly asked, “How was your day, mom?” Novice play, little man. No child asks a parent about their day at work before asking about snacks, dinner, and dessert. What a rookie move trying to butter me up like that. I’m nobody’s fool.

After a few days of waiting and watching, I finally noticed it sitting right in front of me. The ficus. My plant had been moved mere inches from its deliberate staging in our living room. It’s green, shiny leaves no longer hit the light the way it should. Even though my teenager opponents increased their competency and stamina seemingly overnight, I felt a big win in my immediate future, like one of those nights in Las Vegas where you finally think you’ve outwitted the slot machine and somehow scored free drinks in the casino.

Confidently, I brought my sweet, cunning children to the kitchen table and looked at each one for a very long time. I was filing away their micro-movements for use at a later time (professional parenting play) simultaneously attempting to intimidate my suspects like I see them do on crime television shows.

“There’s a gaping hole in the wall hiding behind the ficus,” I said with a slight sigh and arched eyebrows.

Their rehearsed replies came in semi-automatic, rapid succession. Huh? What? Wow.

“Yes. It seems the plant has been moved to assist the perpetrator in hiding a vacancy in the wall. Anyone know how the hole appeared?” My eyebrows moved into a menacing frown.

Again, a barrage of lies. No way. Nope. No idea.

I was being schooled by kids whose combined age was less than mine. The delinquent who was riding through the living room on an electric skateboard at a cruising speed of about 30 mph was not about to acknowledge that a structural wall got in the way of their joyride. My children gazed around the room avoiding my eye contact and protecting one another like a band of on-the-lam bandits. I was backed into a corner and the youngsters forced my hand.

Precisely at this moment, I saw the moves my children did not really know they were playing. They were full of secrecy, fanning their flames of independence, and trying to dismantle their parents’ authority. This was all part of the game of adolescence and their moves were textbook, like those parenting books I read long ago told me would happen.

I finally figured out who was the hole-in-the-wall culprit by simply being an observant parent who understands her kids. But instead of using my beloved, overplayed, and increasingly ineffective, “I told you so,” I made an unusual pivot for a move that caught everyone off-guard. I vowed not to be angry with punishment and marveled aloud at the elaborate measures used trying to hide what must have truly been an accident. That’s a big win for mom.

My husband and I often stress if we’re doing this parenting thing correctly because the boxes came without any instructions. Our wins remind us that we’re on the right track and the losses let us how much we still have to learn. We’re not quite ready for the next edition because we’re having too much fun hard-core gaming with our adolescents now.

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