The Joy of Raising Teenagers (by Marla Sharpe)

Parents of teens know that trying to win a fight with them requires a law degree~

Someone once asked me about the joy of raising teenagers. Joy… teenagers? It seems like an oxymoron. Challenge might be a better word. Insanity is a second close.

Like any good parent, we discipline our two teenage sons – Ben, almost 18 and John, 16 – with the hope that they will learn to live within the boundaries we set. This is to protect them and help them make wise choices when they grow up. But no matter what age, discipline is never a fun for a kid.

When I started having children, people warned me about the terrible twos. Personally, when it comes to discipline, I would rather have 20 two-year-olds than two teenage sons. First, most toddlers are less than a metre tall, which makes it easy to move them over your knees into spanking position. Secondly, you don’t have to explain to a toddler why you are punishing them – you need to blurt out a sharp “No!” and whack their little hand or behind. Thirdly, toddlers can’t talk back, thanks to their limited vocabulary.

Now consider my sons: one is 1.83 metres tall and the other is 1.78 metres tall (including spiked hair). Picking them up and putting them in spanking position is out of the question. In fact, they could easily pick up my 1.6-metre frame!

Whacking their behinds? I might break my hand on their gym-honed buns of steel!

Even worse, they want a precise, logical explanation why they are being punished. I’m beginning to think a year of law school might be good training for mothers of future teens.

Finally, they can talk your head off, turning every stone as they argue why they should not be punished. For every point you make , expect five in reply from them. Before you know it, you’re mentally exhausted and can’t remember why you were discipline them in the first place.

Give me those toddlers anytime!

Just recently Ben and John came home two hours after their curfew. At the breakfast table the next morning, my husband Doug told them that their actions could not go unpunished.They would have to be grounded. No sooner had Doug broken the bad news to the kids than he took off for work, leaving me behind like Daniel in the lion’s den.

“Mum, how long is our grounding?” asked Ben.

“Well, I wanted it to be until you’re 35, but Dad thought I should be more merciful so we decided one month is enough,” I told him.

“What! For coming home late only once!” Ben could not believe his fate.

“Actually, that covers all the times when you should have been grounded in the past but we just let it go.”

“Mum, isn’t there a verse in the Bible that says you can’t do that?”

All of a sudden Ben, who doesn’t read the Bible unless we force him, has become a Biblical scholar. I remember when he was five, I asked him, “What does the Bible say you should do when someone hits you on the cheek?” Ben answered, “Hit him on the other!” I should have recognized the warning signs early on.

Now, he wrinkles his forehead, trying to remember a verse.

“Do you mean the 11th commandment?” I said helpfully. “The one that says, ‘Parents, thou shalt not punish your children for more than one sin at a time.’ Sorry, that verse doesn’t exist.”

“I know – it’s don’t keep a record of sins!” Ben replied triumphantly.

“Hmm, that does not include parents,” I concluded. Parents have to remember their children’s sins so they can punish them.”

If he didn’t know where to find his verse in the Bible, I had the right to interpret it anyway I wanted.

“Mum, one month is not fair!” John blurted out. This son has a bright future as a trial lawyer or a police interrogator. Many times I long for the days when he was one year old and all he could say was “Mama”.

“John, life is never fair so live with that,” I told him philosophically.

“Is that in the Bible?” he asked.

“No, it;s from the School of Hard Knocks!”

I looked at my sons and wondered if I had really given birth to them. I was an obedient child, so how did I end up with two rebellious boys?

I began to fantasize: maybe my sons were switched at birth! Somewhere out there, my “real sons” are obedient kids who never break their curfew, study without being nagged, fill their notebooks with actual notes and not idle scribblings, receive every academic award in school, never run out of allowance, and are kind and considerate to their sisters.

My reverie was broken by a kiss on my cheek. “I love you mum,” said Ben.

“I love you too, son.”

A little later, I heard John call out, “Mum!” I held my breath for what would come next. “Give me a hug,” he said. I stretched out my arms and we embraced. John gave me a kiss on the top of my head.

I smiled and told myself: until I am reunited with my “real sons”, I think I’ll keep these two. They may not be so bad after all.


Reader Marla Sharpe, who contributed this story, passed away form cancer in April of 2011.

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