July 18, 2024
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Mazel tov! It’s a teenager!

If you’re rolling your eyes at that line, 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 parsha, I’ve written down some observations and tips in the hope that I can 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 bat 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.”

Actually, I would say that 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 teenagers’ bedroom door to make your house feel cleaner.

And 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. Or during quarantine, apparently. You buy your son a nice bar mitzvah suit, and you daven that he gets some use out of it before it becomes shorts.

Parenting tip: Take all your bar mitzvah pictures at the clothing store.

And let me ask you this: 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 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.

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 that, 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 either going to be named 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.”

Parenting tip: Schedule supper for a time you know that everyone’s home, such as the morning.

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 hope 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, 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 the middle of the day.


Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia and other magazines. He also has seven books out and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected].

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