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Teens age me

'Minor but annoying?' The minor IS annoying, but at least there's hope

'Minor but annoying?' The minor IS annoying, but at least there's hope

March 17, 2003|By LYN WIDMER

Some mothers of teenagers I know seem to be perfect moms. They support their children with encouraging words, adapt quickly to the ever-changing plans of teenagers, issue gentle reminders about unfinished chores and patiently endure endless shopping sprees.

I encourage my kids to hang out with moms like these because they sure aren't going to find those qualities in me. I try. I keep "how-to-raise-teenager" books within reach and pore over chapters like "Responding to Emotional Blackmail" and "Turn Tasks into Tidbits." Currently my favorite guidebook to the teen years is "Surviving Your Adolescents: How to Manage and Let go of Your 13-18 Year Olds" by Dr. T.W. Phelan.

Dr. Phelan identifies what he calls "Cardinal Sins," behaviors that parents must avoid at all costs when dealing with teenagers. These include nagging, arguing and insight transplants.

Here's an example from my family. Teenage Daughter, who upon being asked to vacuum the living room, responds by saying it's unfair, her brother never has to do any chores, she just vacuumed the living room two weeks ago, why is she always being picked on and besides, a major homework assignment is due the next day, rendering her incapable of service to the family.

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According to Dr. Phelan, the appropriate response would be to calmly restate the chore list and walk away. No nagging, no arguing.

Forgive me, Dr. Phelan, for I have sinned. I tell Teenage Daughter I am SICK AND TIRED of being told "no" and that just ONCE I would like to hear "OK, mom, I would love to help you" and that I WORK all day and would really enjoy coming home to a living room that is not LITTERED with cookie crumbs and empty milk glasses and hair accessories with fragments of scalp still stuck to them and is it REALLY too much to ask for a little help when HEAVEN KNOWS I ask for so little compared to OTHER MOMS.

Teenager Daughter replies, "You know what, Mom? You are right. I should appreciate you more because it is difficult being a parent and I certainly will await college graduation and health insurance coverage before even thinking of starting a family."

Dr. Phelan knows that last part is a lie. Even though Teenage Daughter does not actually say these words out loud I like to believe she is thinking them.

"Insight Transplants" are another Cardinal Sin.

Insight Transplants are parental lectures given on the spur of the moment to convey to teenagers some bit of wisdom about life.

The television sitcom "Friends" was made for Insight Transplants. I have told Teenage Daughter "You think it's funny Rachel is an unmarried mother who works at a low paying job and can't afford her own apartment? HA! In real life she wouldn't be thinking about dating she would be worried about health insurance, hospital bills and paying for quality child care." During another episode, I thoughtfully observed there is no way Rachel and Phoebe and Monica could possibly afford all those clothes, hairstyles and makeup since none of them have decent jobs because none of them has a decent education.

Teenage Daughter now watches Friends in another room.

I am doing better at following Dr. Phelan's advice about ignoring "minor but annoying" teenage habits like messy bedrooms and sloppy dress. I have finally learned to simply close the door of Teenage Son's room without commenting on the hundreds of dollars worth of clothes strewn on the floor. I find it more difficult to ignore the backpacks, musical instruments, athletic shoes and magazines that collect on the kitchen floor.

I take a deep breath and throw them all on the porch as I mutter over and over again "minor but annoying, minor but annoying"

When I get too discouraged about parenting teenagers, I put aside Dr. Phelan's book and I re-read an e-mail sent to me by my goddaughter Lizzy, a sophomore in college. I asked her what advice she might offer about raising teenagers. She suggests even though it might be hard dealing with a bad attitude, "just keep being there" and "give teenagers some space so they figure stuff out on their own, but at the same time, stay involved with their lives."

I figure if Lizzy, who confesses that she was pretty snotty to her mother as a teen, has turned out to be so wise, maybe there is hope for my kids.

In the meantime, Dr. Phelan and I will stay in close contact.

Lyn Widmyer lives in Charles Town, W.Va., and is the mother of two teenagers who do fewer chores than she did at their age.

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