Help! We’ve Got Teenagers in the House!

About a decade ago, when my three children were all under 5, taking care of them seemed to be a constant challenge. We had to change diapers, survive countless tantrums, and struggle at the dining table to get them to eat anything healthful. When we complained to other parents, they expressed their sympathy with these soothing words: “Wait until you get to the teen years! That’s when it really gets hard.”

Well, the teen years are here and let me tell you, it hasn’t been that bad. I still have a few strands of hair on my head.

It helps, of course, that I’ve been preparing myself for the teen years like a soldier prepares for war. I’ve been keeping myself in shape – doing push-ups and sit-ups – because of the advice I heard from an Army general: “Never let the enemy think you’re weak.” The enemy is always looking for any kind of weakness that they can exploit.

For example, my 13-year-old daughter, Divya, knows that the best time to ask my wife, Malathi, for permission to do something is when Malathi is absorbed in Facebook. So Divya just stood behind Malathi one evening and said something like this: “Mommy, I want to go to my friend’s house for a sleepover. I know you’re busy, so if you just hit ‘like’ on the next post, I’ll take that as a ‘yes.'” And Malathi, of course, just kept hitting ‘like” on various posts and we didn’t see our daughter for the next month.

That’s why Malathi has been off Facebook. And that’s why it’s important to prepare for the teen years – so you don’t get blindsided. Teenagers are much smarter than you think. While you’re reading books titled “Surviving the Teen Years” and “How to Give Your Teenagers a Great Foundation for Life,” they’re reading books such as “Surviving the Parenting Years” and “How to Give Your Parents Intense Migraines for Life.”

Aside from reading books, getting advice from other parents is a good way to prepare for the teen years. Just make sure you find parents who look like they’ve survived something awful, such as an earthquake, hurricane, or visit to the Embassy of India. Avoid getting advice from parents who look like they’ve just returned from a cruise to Jamaica. Such parents probably have teenagers who are extremely well-behaved and extremely responsible, the type of kids whom other teens would describe as “extremely abnormal.”

My wife and I have two teenagers in our household, Divya and her 15-year-old sister, Lekha, and we are dreading the day when our son, Rahul, turns into a teenager. Thankfully, that’s almost two years away, but the thought of having three teens under the same roof scares the living daylights out of me. I’ve considered sending one or two of them away to boarding school, but it would be easier on my kids’ emotions and considerably less expensive if I just moved away.

Perhaps I could do something far less stressful for a few years, such as becoming a prison guard. At least the inmates will listen when I tell them to turn the lights out and get in bed.

If I seem overly stressed about the teen years, just imagine how I’d feel if we were raising teenagers a few decades ago (like my mom did). A recently published study in the journal “Child Development” shows that today’s teenagers, compared to teens in previous generations, are less eager to turn into adults. Fewer of them are participating in adult activities such as drinking, dating, having sex, and driving. In other words, they’re not growing up as quickly as they used to. A 15-year-old today acts like a 12-year-old in 1980 (but still frowns when I play the Bee Gees).

So I need to be thankful that Divya is more obsessed with her cellphone than with boys, Lekha hasn’t yet asked about driving lessons, and both of them are still willing, now and then, to be seen in public with me.

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through Amazon.com and McNallyRobinson.com You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.

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