I know how people who don’t have teenage children think about how they’d be received by them and their friends. I know because I used to be one of them. It was only a few years ago, but it feels like forever.
They think that the idea of “dorky parents” is one that won’t apply to them. After all, they’re cool. All these kids who roll their eyes at the moms and dads driving them to the discotheques or ice cream socials do so because the parents are dorks with lame stories. If they had kids of their own, those teens would think they were awesome. How could they not?
After all, your stories from childhood aren’t lame, right? They are fantastic and maybe even a bit dangerous. You envision telling kids about your childhood adventures and watching them all gather around like The Night Before Christmas. They’d be so impressed. You’d be the cool parent.
Well, try this one on for size. This is a real story that literally happened three days ago.
While driving through my old hometown, we passed a gas station. As we did, I motioned towards it. My 14-year-old daughter, in the passenger seat, barely looked up. I began my tale…
See that gas station there? I almost got into a knife fight there in college. Seriously. We were going to this formal dinner for a sorority. The bus stopped for gas and these guys started throwing rocks at the bus. So, one of the guys with us took out a knife. Then they all took out knives. A lot of us had knives at the time too, so I took mine out. We all were standing there ready to knife fight and the girls started screaming so the driver made us get back on the bus and sped away. It was insane.
My daughter’s response was one that I am familiar with.
Click, click, click…
She kept her head down and typed to some unknown person on her phone. She hadn’t missed a click since I started speaking.
Did you not hear anything I told you?
Still not looking up, she regarded me with a tone that I have encountered through various females in my life.
Yeah, yeah. Knife fight. Girls screaming. I heard you.
And that’s that.
So, unless you have a story that can outdo a knife fight, you’re probably in for a surprise. Kids rarely react to any story any adult tells. Sure, we have had some break through the cracks when talking one on one, but it’s far less common than the duds. Never expect a reaction. This is the first rule of Teenage Parenting Club. The second rule of Teenage Parenting Club is not to let that cold reaction stay in your head. That’s what will doom you.
That’s the big piece of advice I have. That’s the secret I have learned when it comes to dealing with my daughter and her Get-Along-Gang friends. Don’t allow that first moment of awkward shock to stop you in your tracks and scare you from speaking out again.
When a group of kids, in my case girls, get together and start chatting, don’t volunteer any information that you won’t be OK with getting a cold response to. The first time I remember it happening was in a car full of them.
The discussion turned to a classmate they knew who wore the same leggings many times over the course of a two-week period. I don’t know. I guess that’s what girls talk about. I had no idea what any of my friends wore. Nowadays, I have no idea what I wear most of the time. People tell me I look nice and I have to make an effort to remember what I have on. It’s worrisome.
As these legging aficionados were discussing this girl, I remembered a fun story from seventh grade. I told it. Like a putz.
When I was in Junior High, my social studies teacher, Mr. Elante, would wear the same suit every day. We all wondered if it was just different ones of the same style. So one day, this girl hit the back of his jacket with an eraser from the old black boards – you guys have those? Either way, she left this big eraser mark on his back and all week he came in with it on his jacket. It was crazy.
And that’s when everyone stopped talking. No laughter. No sarcasm. No reply. They weren’t rude to me or insulting. They also weren’t enthralled or entertained. They were awkwardly silent. It was as if I was lecturing them about the socioeconomic strife of Argentina in 2002. I have never been the focal point of such an uncomfortable moment in my adult life.
After a minute or two of complete quiet, one of them got a text and they all started giggling about that. I kept my mouth shut and drove the Miss Daisies to their stop.
Now, here’s the trick. You can’t let that moment change how you interact with teenagers. Sure, you can learn from it and know that they might blow off your stories. But don’t let it keep you from ever speaking again around them. If you do, that becomes what makes you weird. The trick is to not speak too much or speak too little.
Today, I say hello when they get in the car. I respond socially when my daughter brings me into the conversation. I identify the friends I know best and those are the ones I will sometimes tell a funny aside story to. Even then, I make it short and to the point. Teens don’t have the attention span or patience to hear the backstories about Pogs, Z Cavariccis, or Beverly Hills 90210.
As a bonus, learn a piece of obscure teen slang and throw it into the conversation. That was a big hit. They were discussing a friend of theirs who was hit on by a boy in her class. To this, I pulled out a term that you should google.
Yeah? I guess she has rizz.
They lost it with excited laughter.
Your dad said rizz! Olivia! Your dad said rizz!
That’s all it takes. Play it cool, keep your tales of days gone by short, and never expect a reaction to anything. If you go into it with that mindset, you might not be the coolest parent, but you won’t be the dorkiest.
And, to be honest, you don’t want to be “the cool parent”. They’re usually drug dealers. Be a good parent. You’ll get all the benefits of your kid’s friends liking you while still maintaining a level of respect. It’s the middle ground we all should strive for.
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