I’ve got two teenage boys. I’m watching their respective growth – physically and in asserting their growing independence – with both awe and concern. My older son has changed his “look” repeatedly all of his teen years, mostly with his hair length and color and cut, but lately he’s added tattoos to the mix. His younger brother has largely asserted his independence by acting independent and a bit defiant.
This is what we should expect. But, as parents, we all tend to want to protect our children from repeating the same mistakes we may have made that are similar to what they appear to be doing and that we think we see so clearly.
I remember a particularly embarrassing incident in my early teen years in which I adopted a love of a particularly loud Hawaiian shirt – red and white – pattern. Over a quick period of time, I found shorts, shoes, and a hat all with the same pattern. I thought I’d hit the jackpot. The day I put them all on at the same time was a day of embarrassment I’ll never forget.
Whether my mom saw this “look” or not I don’t recall, but I headed out to play with my friends – in the street – as we did every day either after school or on non school days. I was greeted with a chorus of jeers at my ridiculous outfit. I ran home and quickly changed but it was the source of delight for my friends to remind me of that wardrobe malfunction for a long time. Long enough for it to be seared into my childhood memory.
For parents today we face our teens wanting to adopt fashions that are not temporary like my wardrobe choice that summer day. Tattoos are very hard to remove, piercings can sometimes fill in when no longer wanted, but gauges and other so-called “body art” are often very permanent.
Our choice is which to fight and which battles to walk away from. It’s an ongoing skirmish for most parents of teens. I chose to not fight the tattoo clash – with my older son – with the only proviso that tattoos were not allowed until he was 18 and he had to pay for them with earned income rather than birthday money or any savings. He got his first one shortly after his eighteenth birthday, a second one six months later.
I would bet and give good odds that my son will regret both of those tattoos. But, had I fought against it more vigorously than my mild objections, he might’ve gone more overboard than the two he has presently. We’ll see.
Then we have the other hormonal changes that come along during the glorious teen years, such as skin problems. And, just as with our spouses, it’s when friends or others make the same observation and/or suggestion that we do, that “they” listen.
One son has some minor skin issues. My wife and I have each suggested getting further treatment but he replied that he didn’t care. Then, out of nowhere, he asks us about it – if it looks bad – and seems to now want to get it taken care of. While we don’t know for sure, we are pretty confident someone in his circle of friends made a remark.
Even though I don’t remember if my mother warned me not to go out wearing my ridiculous Hawaiian outfit, I know if she did, I would have ignored her and gotten the result I got even with the forewarning. This is only payback which all parents usually face and that all parents look forward to upon becoming grandparents.
Our other son has refused to heed our advice regarding college prep work. He knows much better than we do. Again, we can only watch, unless we want to go to war. Under his own care, his school performance is largely quite good but he’s ignoring those extra things that he could do now that would enhance his chances at getting accepted into the colleges he desires most. Again, we have to allow him to make these choices himself. I hope he’s smarter than we are. We’ll see.
My wife is step-mom to my boys. She brings a much-needed female perspective and often suggests things I’d not thought of that usually make perfectly good sense to me. I then support her ideas but with boys these ages, we can only “suggest” and hope they’ll listen to the better suggestions.
I wonder how my wife would do with girls? I wonder how I’d do with girls? When my first wife was pregnant with our second child, I’d prayed for a daughter. I was mildly disappointed at the birth of a second son, but of course grateful that he was healthy and whole. When my marriage ended and the mother of my boys left completely, I thanked G*d for giving me only boys since the awkwardness of being a single dad to girls was another challenge I most certainly didn’t need at the time.
Which “awkward phase” was hardest for you as a teen and, now, as a parent?
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