These words are for parents, not their teens

March 31, 1998|By Susan Reimer

RECENTLY, I turned over this soapbox of mine to a group of teen-agers who found a great deal in my work to criticize.

Generally, they were offended by the frustrations I expressed as the parent of teen-agers and angered by what they considered to be ageist generalizations made by me.

Their letters, reprinted in part here, said firmly that many, if not most, teens were courteous to their parents, diligent in their education, did not drink, smoke, experiment with drugs or sex, and kept their rooms clean.

Whatever dignity I injured appeared to be repaired by this goodwill gesture, until I wrote soon after that the Maryland General Assembly should pass legislation that would increase the amount of practice time between a learner's permit and a driver's license.

That produced a new round of outrage as teens wrote to say that they, personally, had no infractions or accidents in six months of driving and, in fact, it was the grown-ups on the road who were the nuisance and the threat.

Now, like any parent who has too long entertained the opinions of her children in the interest of dignity and self-esteem -- theirs -- I have had enough.

This conversation is over. Go to your room.

Like any child who spies on grown-ups and listens to them talk, these teens have had their feelings hurt. Serves them right. I wasn't talking to them, anyway.

Mostly, I was talking to their mothers. Sometimes their fathers were listening, too. But what I had to say was not meant for their ears. It was meant for the ears of parents who find raising them a mixed blessing.

I am not writing an advice column in Seventeen magazine or YM. I am writing a column in a daily newspaper, and I am looking for advice more often than I am giving it.

I know my reading audience and it is not kids who, surveys show, don't read a newspaper anyway because of the ink it leaves on their fingers.

So, to all of you out there cranking up to paper me with fresh outrage: Speak when you are spoken to.

I am talking to parents, and the kids will be sent out of the room if they continue to interrupt.

Kids find my candor hurtful and I understand that it might be. What they don't realize is that raising them is a roller-coaster ride of good days and bad days and if mothers didn't commiserate with each other, we would very likely take it out on them. Or we would be reduced to sudden tears and violent door-slamming, and just think how unstable home life would be then.

Undoubtedly, we complain too much about our children. I know I do. More often than they will ever know, I look at my children with wonder and unrestrained adoration. I am amazed at every tiny accomplishment and I am foolishly, happily in love with the person they are becoming.

Usually, they are asleep when I feel this way. But I am sincere.

And neither of my middle-schoolers is in trouble with the principal, let alone the law, and I am grateful. But if they don't stop challenging every request I make of them on constitutional grounds, I may enter the witness protection program just to get some rest.

The letters I received from teen-agers all sounded like they were auditioning for a part on "7th Heaven" or "Touched by an Angel." I am sure that is how they see themselves: junior pillars of the community. I would have liked to have heard from their mothers at the end of that same week.

And I am sure that I have again angered and offended the next generation of newspaper subscribers. If you feel compelled to put pen to paper, write your congressman.

Just don't write me.

Pub Date: 3/31/98

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