I enjoy titles that make you wonder. Titles are the hook that our instant-gratification world provides for so many things. Back in the day when I worked as a television executive at ABC-TV, we would have title contests for the television movies we broadcast. The title of this column intentionally has the double meaning that mom and dad may be at war with each other and/or at war with one teen or the other.Naturally, there are families with one child or more than two children. I would argue, without any empirical evidence, that the majority of American households average two children. Consequently, as that is my personal point-of-reference, I will stick with the two teens theme, though the applicability of the ideas discussed herein can certainly apply to homes with more than two children, or one child.
Teens are unique human beings. They were created by God to test parent’s patience, endurance, and fortitude. Teens believe they know everything, regardless of the constant contrary evidence. They also believe that parents have miraculously lost all common sense and wisdom, as well as any taste in music, clothes, television, or movies. I love Mark Twain’s quote, “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years. “
We’ve recently learned from brain research that the human brain doesn’t even fully develop in the frontal cortex until sometime in the mid-twenties! That is the part of the brain that gives us the wisdom to make good choices. So, our teens are working literally with only a partial brain, yet one they believe is more than complete.
Consequently, as I’m fond of saying, the job of the parent of a teen is simply to keep them alive. Forget trying to advise a teen on just about anything. Hopefully, earlier counsel and discipline, maybe even religious upbringing, will surface in the nascent teen brain at those especially vulnerable times. These may include driving, sexual opportunities and choices, drugs and drinking, and for boys, such dangerous activities as riding a skateboard off a 2-story building on a dare, while a friend is taking a video of it.
In our household, without revealing the gory details of my two teenager’s respective “growth” and “development,” the difficult times have alternated between them. That is the point of the title of this column. If a parent is fortunate, as my wife and I have been, only one teen is particularly difficult at any particular time.
The truly ironic and fun aspect of this alternating puberty and hormone induced insanity is that the teen that is acting relatively normal is on mom and dad’s side and shares dad and mom’s wonderment at their sibling’s unusual, maybe even demented, behavior. Dad and mom actually have a temporary ally. That lasts as soon as the next hair-brained idea pops in the sane teen’s head!
That is when nature inserts herself, and the roles reverse! Now, “Insane teen” has more or less returned to moderate sanity while “Normal teen” has been taken over by the hormonal frontal-lobe-deprived puberty-incensed monster. Those few times that both are “Normal” are gratefully relished while those times when both are “Insane” are an endurance contest for dad and mom.
Mom and dad may not be sure who is who, which is which! What and who is normal? Who and what are not? Dad and mom may even have a difference of opinion and start arguing with each other, taking sides as if it mattered! This is where “The War” of our title comes from. It’s “War” between the teens, it’s “War” between the parents, and it’s “War” for any who dare tread inside such a torn asunder homestead.
Hair will be lost. Sleep will be spotty and the dogs may even howl, not to mention the late-night phone calls that will undoubtedly interrupt what little sleep transpires. There may be visits at the door by uniformed men and women. Mom and dad will each have speed-dials to the family therapist and the high school counselors and vice-principals. In rare cases, there will be a bit more adult consumption of comforting food and drink, such as double martini’s and lots of fried food.
When you consider a blended family, with a step-mom or step-dad, you have now potentially created a totally combustible household. The honeymoon ends quickly in second marriages when confronted by the teen mind and behavior. This may be a contributing factor in the high failure rate of second marriages. Yes, second marriages fail on average 2/3 of the time.
As with just about all relationships in life and work, communication is the key to making them better, and in the case of raising teens, surviving altogether. Talk to each other, talk to your teens, interact, pay attention, and you may win the war.
Fear not; parent, for this too shall pass.
Get Bruce’s new book and Limited Edition (of 500) Poster, A Dad’s Point-of-View: We ARE Half the Equation at Amazon, iTunes, BN.com, or The Store.