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Tips Of The Trade: Parenting Teenagers Edition


I’m less than 6 weeks from sending my oldest child off to his first day of high school.

(I just threw up a little in my mouth.)

This painful fact has had me thinking a lot about the very fast transition we made in Junior High. I thought the first years of a child’s life represented the fastest growth period – and it might – physically. But emotionally? It has got to be the 7th and 8th grade years.

The roughest transition to me was one no one warned me about and I could find no good guidelines for; it was the transition from Parents Making THE Plans to Kids Making THE Plans.

You know how it is when a slumber party happens. Or a playdate. Usually one parent calls another to invite them over. Or maybe an invitation is handed out at school, written by the host parent but mailed through the child’s backpack. As a kid gets older sometimes he/she will make plans with a friend at recess but when the kids come home, one of the parents actually calls the other parent to say, “So, did you really want my child to come live with you? My son assures me that you told your son that.” Usually the kids have exaggerated their version of the activity a little bit so the parents step in and finalize the little details. You know, like playing at each other’s house instead of at Disney World.

However, sometime in the 7th grade, parents start being removed from the equation. This was a very tough transition for me that I pushed away for a very long time. LilZ and I had a lot of embarrassing to him/satisfying to me issues where I called a parent to confirm the details he had come home with. It was simple stuff like, “LilZ asked to come over to your house for a little while, is that okay with you?” Just the kind of thing that I wanted to confirm with the parent before dropping my kid off at their house, especially if I didn’t even know the person.

Eventually the embarrassment to LilZ became too much and we started trying out the training wheels of Tween Made Plans. Birthday parties no longer came with invitations. Parents no longer did the planning, much less the inviting. Eventually the Teen Planned House Visits turned into Teen Planned Outings. You know, meeting at the movies. Or Bridge Street. Or the Mall. These outings where the teens meet up to hang out and cause certain amounts of trouble to nearby adults. (I can say that because I was part of several loud and obnoxious giggling groups of teenagers at the $1 Movie Theater in high school.) We have transitioned to those type of outings and for sure – no parents are involved in the planning of those events.

Essentially you go from Mom to Chauffeur/Personal Assistant. I am no longer consulted regarding plans or even involved in the details of the plans. In the end, LilZ and I have settled on our own system that allows him to do stuff with his friends but also allows me some sort of sanity. I thought I’d share my lessons/tips with you so that they might ease your own transition. You may want more restriction and your child may want more flexibility – in the end you’ll find your own system. I’m just sharing what works for us.

Insist upon knowing the plans before your teenager leaves and require a notification if plans are changed during the outing
If you do not make this rule, then the plans will change as the outing progresses. Trust me. It happens ALL THE TIME AND IT DRIVES ME CRAZY. If you thought you were dropping them off to see Up and Cindy’s Mom was going to pick up after the movie? What will happen is that Up will be sold out and then some kid will want to go to Barnes & Noble to get coffee. Cindy’s Mom will be called and she’ll approve a later pickup time at a different location but you’ll probably only be notified when you call and say, “Where are you?” 10 minutes after your teen should have arrived home. Remember this important fact: All Teenagers Are Self-Absorbed And Inconsiderate. They may also be sweet and sensitive and smart and responsible. But still? Self-Absorbed. Don’t take it personally they just live in their own heads not quite realizing that the rest of us are not here to serve them. LilZ must call me before plans change. I have given him permission to badmouth me while making these calls. “He guys, I just have to call my overprotective and annoying Mom to let her know our plans have changed because she thinks I’m four still.” This is okay by me as long as he CALLS.

Require at least a couple hours of warning before announcing plans
You may not have small children when yours is a teen, but you probably have a life outside of your teen. Maybe it’s a job, maybe it’s an exercise routine. Whatever it is, you can’t just jump in a car and drive your child to someone’s house at the drop of a hat. They need to be reminded of that fact. You do not spend your days waiting to serve your teenager. We have had many of those conversations that involve me overusing the word “respect” to try to convey why this rule is so important. “You have to respect the fact that there are more people in this family than you.” “You have to show a little respect to your parents and acknowledge that they’re more than just bus drivers.” “You have to respect my schedule and know that sometimes I have more important things to do. You know, like watch So You Think You Can Dance.

Get your teenager’s friends’ cell phone numbers
Again, I’ve given him permission to badmouth me about this rule, but I have more of his friends’ cell numbers in my contact list than I do my own. Usually when I need to use this rule I text instead of call, “is E there? can u tell him 2 call me?” They all have my number programmed in their cell phones so it comes up something like, “E’s Annoying Mom.” Doesn’t matter. It allows me a line of communication to my child when something happens and I can’t make the pickup location or time. You would not believe how many times a child’s phone battery dies, or they forget their phone. You will use those friends’ numbers more than you would ever dream. Just accept the fact that they’re all rolling their eyes at you as you’re calling them.

Sharing the driving responsibilities
LilZ’s friends all have Moms who are very nice/good about driving certain legs of the outings. I took advantage of that for a long time because I don’t like being out late and because I’m scared of teenagers. (What? Aren’t you?) I have forced myself to get over this and now insist upon helping out whenever I can. This has many positive side effects. 1) You know where your kids’ friends live. 2) You get leverage in case there are times you can’t help out. 3) You get to know your teenager’s friends. This is the most important part. It allows you to put faces to names and become a more active part of your child’s life. Now, some of LilZ’s friends have Moms who they all love and embrace when they see them. I’m very jealous of those Moms. I’m not that Mom and I think it’s partly because I’m probably still one of the more strict parents. However, they at least know who I am and talk to me when they see me. This is important.

Learn to compromise
I know that at some point in time, my child will be driving. (There’s that throw up again.) Then he’ll be left to his own decision making and I just simply have to trust that. However, we’re not there yet. In the last two years we’ve inched more toward that point through compromise, but I still have a year and half to be all the way there. As your child creeps toward the same terrifying age of 16, you’ll do the same. I used to pick LilZ up right when a movie was over. “No lallygagging for you young Man!” Then, eventually, I gave him time after the movie to hang out with his friends at the theater. Now? I’m allowing them to walk across the parking lot to Target or Barnes & Noble. That was a huge step for me. Those are the type of steps we have to be willing to make as our children get older but TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. I have held LilZ back longer than many of his friend’s parents simply because I wasn’t comfortable with those transitions yet. I’ve learned that while it causes my son to bitch about me behind my back, it’s still necessary that I make those transitions when I’m comfortable. We’re still their parents, we are still in charge.

You are allowed to CHANGE YOUR MIND
Just because you approve something one time doesn’t mean you have to approve it every time. Sometimes we decide to grant them a bit of freedom but maybe, after seeing it in action, decide they aren’t ready yet. And maybe that we’re not ready yet. You can always backtrack. ALWAYS. Your teenager will try to tell you that’s not fair (Mine did.) to which you throw out the line all of our parent’s used on us. “Who said life was fair?”

And the circle of life is complete.

Next Up: Managing Your Child’s Cell Phone Privileges Without Starting World War III

Bonus BRILLIANT Tip Provided By Cursing Mama In The Comments Section
When he asks to go to someones house for a party (I consider a party to be more than 3 kids) we ask if a parent will be there – and take him at his word. THEN we call the parent (sneaky, I know) thank them for hosting said group of kids – they are a brave & wonderful breed of parent – and ask if we can supply some snacks or soda or something because we are not brave & wonderful. So far we haven’t run into a parent that didn’t know about the party and we also haven’t run into a single one that turned down our offer to send something along.

25 thoughts on “Tips Of The Trade: Parenting Teenagers Edition”

  1. I love these photos of LilZ. I think he needs a new name like TeenZ or BigZ.

  2. Thank you for creating a much needed “Parents Manual”. I totally appreciate this.

    And when NikkiZ and P are this age, I will be stalking you…..and her!!

  3. I have been going thru this with TWO boys (they’re 17 now) for the last couple of years (one is mine, one is borrowed). You’re doing it RIGHT!! I wish all my boys’ friends’ mothers were like YOU!!

    I still have to bend an arm behind a back because one of them still can’t use the dang phone right when plans do change. He will call when his curfew is up to say I’ll be 15 minutes late. You know..instead of calling RIGHT AWAY when he KNOWS he’s going to be late. I keep telling him it’s for his own good to remember when to make the call. When he screws up, he just digs his hole a little deeper. (They are TALL, it will take a BIG HOLE!!)

  4. Great post!

    I love the underlying message “You are the parent, not the friend.” That seems to be a huge problem for parents – wanting to be LIKED.

  5. Oh wow, Zoot. Your son is so…GROWN UP. thehell?!?!? wasn’t he like, a KID yesterday? i envy the realitionship you have with him and I hope thegirl and I are are able to have the type of realtionship you and LilZ have. he’s a lucky young man to have such a kick-A mom.

  6. He looks so grown up in those pictures!

    I have an eleven-year-old, so I think your tips are going to prove timely. And I’m not ready!!

  7. I love this post, it couldn’t be more true 🙂

    I am just 8 weeks from sending Gameboy to his last year of High School (might be crying inside) and I have a tip that has worked wonderfully in the teenage plan making – inevitable party going deal.

    When he asks to go to someones house for a party (I consider a party to be more than 3 kids) we ask if a parent will be there – and take him at his word. THEN we call the parent (sneaky, I know) thank them for hosting said group of kids – they are a brave & wonderful breed of parent – and ask if we can supply some snacks or soda or something because we are not brave & wonderful. So far we haven’t run into a parent that didn’t know about the party and we also haven’t run into a single one that turned down our offer to send something along.

  8. I think those tips are excellent. I don’t think I did that to my parents, but maybe I did? I never had a problem that I recall with my parents calling the other parents….I don’t think? Anyway a good rule/guideline to follow in about a year and half when the driving starts? Is, and he may hate it for awhile, to call when he is leaving wherever and heading home. I had that rule, and even when I was out of college and back living with my parents, and had late night rehearsals for plays, I would call my parents when leaving, most time waking them up as I would have a 35 mile drive to make home, and then I would wake them up when I actually walked in the house to let them know I was home. It is something that we all still use today, call when you get home. Could be a drive, could be a flight, could be anything just call. I make my parents do the same, as does my sister. It is settles the mind. 🙂

  9. My eldest is eight, so we have a few years, but I am printing this out and saving it. Seriously the best collection of advice I’ve seen in a long time.

  10. These are all exactly the rules my parents used on me. Even though I complained at the time, as was my teenage duty, I appreciated them. I still do. I will use them on my children as well. It’s important to trust your kids, but you need to give them opportunities to both earn that trust and learn what to do with it!

    My parents also did what Stacey said: they made me call before leaving and wake them up when I got it. We live in a snowy area, so this let my dad know exactly how long he should allow me before panicking that I was in a ditch somewhere.

    I did have to laugh that you have all his friend’s cell numbers. In my day, I had to leave home numbers. That I had to look up in the PHONE BOOK.

    I’m so freaking old.

  11. I don’t know a dang thing about parenting, but, I can say without a doubt that I like his haircut! 🙂

  12. i wasn’t allowed to parties (thank you jeremy for asking every single time anyway). thank you zoot. lilz is getting so grown up. he does know he’s not allowed to date until he’s 35, right?

  13. I am so not looking forward to this stage and I do still have a few years (the boy will be 11 in August). Fortunately, his school and class are small. He’s been in the same class with the same friends since Kindergarten and I know all of the parents fairly well. We just had the D.A.R.E. officer tell us that their class is more innocent/naive than the other classes he teaches. Hopefully that’s a good thing!

    We tend to be a little more conservative than his friends’ parents so I’m planning on waiting to see what they allow and when…and then waiting a couple of years (haha!)!

    At what age did LilZ get his cell phone? That’s the question that is nagging at us now. We’re waiting because we still hang around whenever he has a sports practice/game or scout meeting. I also have many of his friends’ parent’s (my friends) cell phone numbers who, if I’m not there, are.

  14. What a FANTASTIC bonus tip! Can you do a post on managing a teenagers wild hair? I think that’s the thing I’m dreading the most. Mowhawks, I’d be fine with. It’s the Q-tip/puffball look that really gets to me.

  15. When my College Aged Stepson was in high school, I knew his friends. They were a good group. I never had a problem with him hanging out with them. My main problem was your Tip #1 – Where the hell are you? I told him I don’t care where you are, as long as I *know* where you are. We had more than one head butting about this.

    (Come to find out, his mom didn’t give a flip about where he was and the different house/different rules was confusing him.)

  16. oh, and the new design? love it! did you pick the colors out of that first pic? love the font choice on the heads and the simplicity and cleanness, overall. kudos.

  17. Zoot, is it okay if I copy and paste this to keep when I need it in 5-6 years? These are great ideas that I totally want to steal and use.

  18. I like the bonus tip and intend to use it if we’re not the “come hang out at our house” family when our kids are bigger.

    I suspect we will be the host house normally: my mom let our friends practically live at our house when I was in high school. I don’t think any of them ever brought any kind of food though. (I’m pretty sure a few of them couldn’t have. I had one friend whose eyes practically popped out of his head the first time he ate at my place because we had REAL butter and his family couldn’t afford it.)

  19. My oldest is going to 5th grade next year, and you can DOUBLE-DOG BET I will be referencing this for MANY YEARS, until my 2-year-old is out of the house.

  20. Awesome advice even though my child is not quite 3. I just had a conversation with a friend about being the parent and not the friend. Just being the friend never works the way you want it to.

  21. Delurking to write a ridiculously long comment because I think this stuff is SO important: I have a 22 year old and a 24 year old. Both boys. We followed almost exactly the same rules that you have set forth, and our boys turned out really well. They made mistakes, we reigned things in a bit for a little while, then tried again. I think they learned to be responsible, learned that there were consequences for both good and bad behavior, and most of all, that we cared enough to have rules. Something that not all other parents seemed to. They have since left home, one lives in DC, is married and heading to law school at Stanford this fall on a full scholarship. The other lives about 1 1/2 hours away in our closest major city and is in an apprentice chefs program. Both seem to be very happy, well adjusted adults, who function well on their own. I see them as often as their and my schedules allow. (I’m a recent widow…so I’m seeing them more often now..they are also compassionate kids as well!) Thank you for writing this. I still see their friends here quite frequently. (one is actually living with me…she needed a place to stay for a couple of months and I needed the company and she cleans my house!) What I see frequently with their friends is that the ones that had parents that were overly permissive, OR overly strict…as in giving them NO freedom to fail, are the ones that are screwed up. This is important stuff and it is my suggestion that all of you with younger kids, print this out and put it on your refrigerators and refer to it frequently. Zoot, I admire you tremendously!!! You are a GREAT Mom!!

  22. Very very very good points.

    And ACK! Who is that Guy in the picture?!?! Does he freak people out with his Man Voice on the phone?

  23. We’re totally on the same page with Teen Rules. I finally got unlimited texting for the whole family and it sure does make keeping track easier. Now the kids (boy 14 and girl 16) can send a text everytime they change locations–no need for excuses or even embarrassing conversations.

  24. Excellent post! Thanks for sharing those valuable parenting guidelines with our teens. I’ll use them as a reference one of this days. Keep posting.

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