If you’re rolling your eyes at that headline, you’re probably the parent of a teenager. Or you’re a teenager. If you are one, this is not the article for you.
This article is actually tips for parents of teenagers, because, as any teenager will tell you, you as a parent don’t actually know anything. When they were younger, you were so full of wisdom, and now you’re basically always wrong. What happened to you?
So, as a parent who’s only recently come into the parashah, I’ve written down some observations and tips in the hopes that I could get as many as I can down on paper before I completely lose it.
If you are not yet the parent of a teenager, you might be thinking of becoming one. Perhaps you’re planning a bar or bas mitzvah, and you’re all excited. But I need to warn you: Raising a teenager is a little stressful and not highly recommended.
What’s it like to have a teenager? You have another adult-size person in the house who, at most, begrudgingly does what you say.
“I don’t need that. I already have a wife.”
Teenagers are also frequently exasperated with you and consider you embarrassing, which is rich, considering that you’re the one who taught them how to use a spoon. And they still sometimes forget. Who’s embarrassing who, huh?
Sure, having a teenager can be rewarding. For example, ever since my daughter has become bas mitzvah, I could say things like, “Young lady, go to your room.” I’ve always wanted to call someone “young lady.” My wife objects when I call her that, even though I’m using the word young.
But then again, having a newborn is rewarding, too. Parenting teenagers is a lot like parenting newborns — they’re awake at weird hours of the night — mostly to eat — they change moods without warning, and the neighbors complain about the noise. And their clothes are everywhere. My son’s davening jacket, for example, is always in the living room.
“Hang it up!” I’m constantly saying.
By the time he finally does this, we’re about to leave for the next tefillah. Then he comes home, throws his jacket down, and we start the fight again. We’re having three fights a day.
Parenting Tip: Shut your teenager’s bedroom door to make your house feel cleaner.
It’s also weird that teenagers are suddenly at full height when they weren’t like a month ago. You used to have two adults in the house and a bunch of short people, and now it’s a crowd, where you can’t even see your spouse because everyone is just standing in the way, complaining and asking for money.
Teenagers are impatient. About everything. Especially about growing. All their life, they’ve been growing at a nice, reasonable pace of a few inches per year, and all of a sudden, they’re like, “You know what? Forget it,” and they sprout up the rest of the way. And you don’t know when your particular teenager is going to do this, though it’s usually right after you’ve spent a lot of money on clothing. You buy your son a nice bar mitzvah suit, and you daven that he gets some use out of it before it becomes shorts.
Though I feel like Hashem has some fun with that. If you’re one of those people who makes their Shabbos bar mitzvah and their weekday party a few weeks apart, your child is guaranteed to be a different size for each event.
Parenting Tip: Take all your bar mitzvah pictures at the clothing store.
But that’s not their fault. Let me ask you this, though: Do teenagers mumble, or are parents of teenagers hard of hearing? My son sometimes says, “mehmehmeh,” and leaves the house, and I look at my wife, who is suddenly visible, and ask, “Where did he say he was going?” and she says, “I have no idea. I thought you knew.” But meanwhile, our son thinks he told us where he was going. We call after him, “Wait!” but he pretends not to hear us. So it goes both ways.
To be fair, if parents of teenagers are hard of hearing, it’s from listening to their kids shriek for 15 years. So their kids should be the last ones to point this out. Likewise if we’re wearing anything with a permanent stain.
Or maybe he is mumbling. Your child’s spent years mumbling his davening, for example, with you telling him, “No! Daven the way you normally speak to other people.” So now he mumbles at other people.
Parenting Tip: Set an example of how you want your son to speak by always yelling.
Daughters, on the other hand, will tell you a lot, but mostly about things you didn’t want to know. My daughter has about 13 friends who, as far as I can tell, all have the same two names. It’s like at some point, your daughter decides “All my friends are going to be named either Yocheved or Bina.” You spent years when she was younger paying attention to her stories, many of which involved a Yocheved, but this is a different Yocheved. The one you know isn’t even in her high school. But your daughter didn’t tell you this. She got into high school and started talking about a Yocheved, and now you’re two years in and you honestly thought this was all the same Yocheved. Even if she told you contradictory stories. It’s not like you’re taking notes.
Boys don’t have this problem, because they call everyone by their last names.
Parenting Tip: Have your daughter tell you all stories using puppets. Same for your son.
It’s also hard to plan your evening, because your kids walk in like they have no idea that you were gonna serve supper, and they say, “No, I’m eating at babysitting,” or, “I just had pizza before I got home. Everyone at detention got pizza.”
As the parent who mostly works at home, I often make supper, and then, while it’s in the oven, one kid announces that she’s babysitting, one says he had a siyum in school during math period, one has a surprise bar mitzvah, one says he doesn’t like what I’m making, and then, after supper, my wife asks me why I always make too much food. I have to pretend I wanted to eat five chicken quarters just to avoid an argument.
Parenting Tip: Schedule supper for a time you know that everyone’s home, such as the morning.
Not that you can get them up in the morning. You kind of feel like you should stop enforcing bedtimes at some point, but if they’re left to their own devices, it’s impossible to get them up, seeing as they’re too big and awkward to drag out of bed.
So now that I’m bringing my son to Ma’ariv every night, I have to go to earlier minyanim. No more ten-o’clock Ma’arivs if I want my son to go to bed at a reasonable hour. Because he doesn’t come home from Ma’ariv and go right to sleep; he wants to eat. I’m like, “You don’t have to eat after every tefillah. It’s not Shacharis.”
“But I want cereal!”
Parenting Tip: If you let him sleep all day and stay up all night, like he wants to, getting him up for Shacharis won’t be an issue. And he can have his cereal after Ma’ariv!
And it’s not like they’re doing homework. My wife and I have made it clear that we’re willing to do homework with our kids whenever they need it, and as a result, as far as we know, they somehow never seem to have homework.
They definitely don’t bring it home. My son doesn’t even use knapsacks anymore. He’s at an age where practical bags that free up your hands are for babies. He’d rather show up to school with his stuff in a shopping bag, like a homeless person. And then, when it’s raining, another shopping bag on his head. People are coming up to him like, “Boy, you sure like Kosher Konnection!” I think it’s about being able to throw out the bag he’s using when he’s done with it. We used to frown on that when he was doing it with knapsacks.
Parenting Tip: When you go to yeshiva for conferences, put a bag in his locker so he can bring stuff home.
See, the issue is this: Teenagers are kids who think they’re adults, just because we had a big ceremony wherein we said, “Today you’re an adult.” Though we didn’t say that. They only think we said that. I’m pretty sure I said, “You’re mechuyav in mitzvos LIKE an adult.”
But teachers definitely say it: “You’re an adult; you should start acting like one.” Teachers say that in the hopes that it will get the students to behave. (“Oh yeah, you’re right! Good point!”) But then these teenagers come home, and their parents say, “No, you can’t have absolute freedom. You’re just a kid.” They’re confused is what they are. The candy man refuses to give them candy, even if they say a d’var Torah, but it’s not like they can go get a job and afford their own candy either. How is an adult supposed to get candy?
Parenting Tip: Get on the same page with your child’s teachers (not to mention the candy man) about whether or not he’s an adult. The confusion is exhausting. Sometimes he just falls asleep in middle of the day.
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of six books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.