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Bruce Sallan: My 13-year-old know-it-all

A Dad’s Point-of-View column by Bruce Sallan

There’s nothing new dealing with teens that think they know it all, but recently I’ve found that my 13-year-old is making me crazy with his attitude. I’ve got another teen at home – his 16-year-old brother, so I do have some experience living with a teen, but it doesn’t get any easier!

David and I occasionally go on short ski trips together, without his step-mom or older brother, and that is when David’s attitude tends to fully blossom. This “attitude” manifests itself in his regularly contradicting everything I say, questioning why he has to do something I ask him to do, and generally being constantly contrary.

Of course, being the mature dad and parenting writer that I am, my reaction is completely mature and appropriate. I yell, stamp my feet, and otherwise act like a five-year-old, which naturally only aggravates the situation. David, in response, acts just like a 13-year-old and pouts, muttering to himself about what an idiot I am. The result is a stalemate in which we’re both unhappy.

On this last trip, the tipping point for me was when we were packing to leave. I was busy cleaning up the condo and I asked him to take some stuff to the car. He took his stuff and waited in the car. While I was busily running around the condo, and making us lunch to eat on the drive, David was sitting in the car texting his friends. Finally, impatient waiting so long for me, he decides to give me a visit to urge me along.

I naively asked him where he’d been to which he replied that he’d been waiting for me. I then asked him if he thought he might have come back to help take some other things to the car. By now he’s rolling his eyes, in the way only a “know-it-all” teen can do.

At that point, I martyrized (new word) all that I do for him, what an ingrate he was, gradually raising my voice so everyone within the county could hear. He grudgingly takes a small handful of stuff, to which I suggest maybe he could add more, at which point he storms off, with the aforementioned muttering of what an idiot I am.

I finish my cleaning, lunch making, and bring the rest of the stuff to the car and proceed to embark on our drive home. However, at this point, I’m going to show him who is boss and who is in charge. So, I don’t talk to him at all. In response, he turns on his iPod or portable DVD player and blissfully and happily zones me out while simultaneously texting his friends about what an idiot father he has!

Obviously I’m being slightly dramatic, but I’m sure every parent with a teen has experienced something similar. And, though I’ve no first-hand experience, every parent of teen girls insists the whole teen thing is worse with the girls. Our family behavior pattern was set with my parents where I learned that we got mad, sulked for a while, but got over our anger quickly and moved on.

So, repeating the pattern that I learned as a child, one of us broke the ice, halfway home, and we began talking as if nothing had occurred. I think that is better than holding onto the anger/hurt/pout, but I also think we need to deal with this ongoing behavior.

And, layman expert that I am, I can’t handle this by myself. David and I are going to go to our family therapist together. We will try to figure out where this attitude is coming from, how I’m contributing to it, and what repressed anger or other emotions may be there for either of us. Hopefully we will learn to establish a healthier pattern, regardless of the positive fact that we don’t hold onto our momentary irritations with each other. I need to learn how to react more maturely, how to teach him to express his feelings a bit more honest and openly, and maybe just maybe learn a better pattern of interacting.

The interesting contrast is how I am now relating to my older son. We’ve actually moved past this childish pattern and are relating more like good friends. While I fervently don’t believe parents should be their children’s friends, as the job of parent often requires levels of discipline and consequences that are not the province of most friendships, I do like relating to my Will with less friction and conflict.

It’s an evolving process–an evolving relationship we parents have with our children, and the progress my older son and I have made is heartening when compared with the recent conflict with David. At lunch with Will recently, we actually had a heavy-duty discussion about sex, as his relationship with his girlfriend is either at that place or near, on the naïve assumption that he’s telling me the truth.

There is nothing in this column that is new. Every parent thinks his or her teens are difficult. But, we also know deep inside, we’re probably just repeating patterns and behaviors that our parents had to suffer with when we were teens. I know, for me, that I was worse than both my kids put together so, I’m actually getting off easy. And, I know I wouldn’t trade my kids for anything, any other experience, and have truly grown together with them into the semi-mature middle-aged dad that I now am!

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