Living with Teenagers

You know when you tell your small children that they can be whoever they want to be? In an inspirational parenting kind of way? Well let me tell you - they will be taking you at your word by their teens.

My 16 year old daughter for example has already mastered skills worthy of a top barrister, magician, politician. secret service agent, tabloid journalist and short order chef and can demonstrate all of these before breakfast. As long is breakfast is served at 2pm obviously.

 Take a text exchange we had last week. She asked if she could go to "a friend's house." It took all of my investigative journalism training and parenting persistence to drag out of her that the friend was a boy and that basically it was a mixed-gender meet up. She was as vague as an MP covering up a rent-boy scandal as to whether this boy's parents would be around.

She can disappear at will much like a magician or deep cover agent. Her phone will miraculously fail to receive or send texts or accept calls when I am trying to track her down or need her to babysit. Oddly it works really well when she wants something from me.....

We did have a tracker app for a while but I was 16 once too and knew full well that all that proved was that her phone was at a certain address. It's owner could be miles away. So we abandoned it. Actually, my eldest son uses it to track me but that's another story.

Don't get me wrong. It sounds like she's a nightmare and we don't trust her. That's absolutely not the case. I'm writing this with her full permission as a bit of a laugh and to give those of you at the toddler stage a glimpse into your future.

You see when you are dealing with nappies and colic and tantrums and weaning, you think it will get easier. Well the sheer physical effort of it does but the emotional and psychological bit gets worse I think.

It's like dog training a particularly recalcitrant Doberman puppy. All giant feet and empty stomachs. And occasionally like that puppy they'll trash your house and throw up on the rug, especially if they've had one too many ciders.

You'd think at least you get a full nights sleep once you get past the baby stage but I've had many a broken night going to pick up teenagers or keeping a sleepy ear out for the door to click open and shut before I can relax knowing they are home safe.

Weaning was a breeze compared to finding something my teens fancy to eat. They will walk in, head purposefully to the fridge freezer then insert the top half of their bodies inside looking for something tasty which takes less than 45 seconds to prepare.

Even a stuffed fridge, bulging cupboards and a delightfully arranged and colourful fruit bowl will elicit the complaint: "There's nothing to eat" before they head to the village shop to buy some artificially-flavoured noodle based snack or an item with more pastry than pie filling.

The stress of potty training and scraping them off your leg to get them through the doors into pre-school has nothing on trying to steer them towards good life choices with GCSE and A-Level options then the hell of university applications or apprenticeships or whatever they choose to do post 16/18. No darling, being good at Minecraft is not something to put on your personal statement. And I wouldn't mention that you only want to do a course with no lectures starting before lunchtime.

You watch them ambling along, without a care in the world it seems as vital exams approach. You can't tell if the person staring at the screen is actually revising or focusing more on the music entering their ears though those darned ear buds. How come they know all the words to all the songs on their latest fave album within a day of it being released but can't learn three Shakespeare quotes for English?

The worst thing about parenting teenagers is that you have to let go of the controls as they loosen their grip on the apron strings. It's like that first time when you let go of the back of the bike when they are learning to ride without stabilisers - that fear is nothing compared to the terror of watching your precious baby head off for the first time driving a car.

Grit your teeth, bite your tongue, smile and nod - these are often the only options available as your growing children start to find their own way in the world. Difficult when you all you really want to do is put your foot down and say "no" to what looks like a stupid life choice.

We used to choose what pants they wore. We used to decide how they had their hair cut. We used to empty their potties. Now it seems we are redundant until it's time to clear up shit in a different way.

This of course is not restricted to teenagers. I'm sure I'm not the only so-called adult who still relies on a parent!

There are of course golden moments of pride when your youngster demonstrates that all that effort you put into making them a good citizen has paid off. A moment of achievement, or kindness or thoughtfulness can bring a tear to your eye. The time you realise that your bird has flown the nest but is soaring high enjoying their life is truly magical.

What teenagers don't realise is that parents remember being teenagers themselves. I still feel 18 in my head and the ageing face in the mirror frequently startles me. We want our children to learn from our mistakes, not their own but the sad fact is, we have to let them learn their own way, whilst being prepared to pick up the pieces when it all goes wrong.

OK. I've rambled enough. I'm going to make a nice, nutritious spag bol which I am fairly sure will be rejected by my teens in favour of a ready meal out of the freezer. Ah well, more for me.

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