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(Jupiterimages/Getty Images/Pixland)
(Jupiterimages/Getty Images/Pixland)

Those polished teens? They're aliens Add to ...

“Gabriel, would you help me bring in the groceries from the car?” his mother asked.

“I can’t. I’m tired.”

“How was school today, Gabriel?”

“Wha?”

A little later – as per usual – she could hear the sound of her son in the other room swearing at his video-game console.

“At least I know where he is,” she thought.

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But then an old friend of Gabriel’s mother, who had moved out of the area years before, came to visit along with her nicely dressed, well-mannered teenaged son, Andrew. The difference between the two children was starkly apparent.

“Nice to meet you, Mrs. Belanger,” Andrew said, smiling, looking directly into Gabriel’s mother’s eyes. “Mom has told me all about you.”

“Not all, I hope,” she said.

Andrew laughed pleasantly.

“Gabriel, say hello to our guests”

“Brnnk,” mumbled Gabriel, his eyes, fixed on the floor.

At dinner, Andrew talked enthusiastically about the upcoming provincial election and his volunteer work at the literacy centre. And as soon as everyone had finished, he jumped up and started clearing the dishes.

“I hope you don’t mind,” he said.

Gabriel kept his eyes on his plate the whole time.

“What’s going on?” thought Gabriel’s mother. “Is Andrew for real? He’s so perfect. Unlike you know who.”

Once the guests had left, Gabriel’s mother lapsed into a depression.

“What am I doing wrong? Why can’t my Gabriel be anything like Andrew? Where have I failed?”

“Why are we out of frozen pizzas? I’m hungry. Why are we out of frozen pizzas?” Gabriel said the next day.

“What happened to my little Gabriel?” his mother wondered. “He used to be so cute, so loving.”

An image flashed into her head of Andrew giving his mother a random fast kiss on the top of her head, something he did a couple of times during their visit. Her funk deepened.

Who are these perfect children? Where do they come from?

I have always felt that these perfect specimens may be evidence of evil spirits at work in the universe, who plant these children on Earth with the express purpose of making parents of normal teenagers feel woefully inadequate.

“Why can’t he be like that nice Andrew? Where did I fail?”

Most teenagers are far from perfect. And most of them are noticeably less warm and loving toward their parents than when they were little kids. The result: Parents of teens can at times feel upset about the product of their parenting and upset about themselves as parents. But comparisons are always a mistake: Teenagers hate them and they rob parents of confidence.

How can you stop yourself from making these comparisons? Three points to remember.

One, most teens have a far more polished side to them (so long as they’re not in your presence, and this is often true when they are at other people’s homes). When confronted by the here-and-now version of your teen it can be hard to believe this is true. But it is so.

Second, the great majority of teens do – as part of normal development – become nice, co-operative, far more respectful, and even loving, by the end of high school – if not before. That metamorphosis is very much the norm, not the exception.

Third, it is really good to talk to other parents of teenagers.

“You won’t believe what Teddy said to me this morning.” Sharing war stories is very reassuring.

“Maybe I’m not as bad off as I thought,” Gabriel’s mother mused later that day. She was opening a letter as she walked through the room where Gabriel lay sprawled on the couch surrounded by a circle of taco chip crumbs. The enclosed note read,

“Thank you so much for your warm hospitality and for inviting us into your lovely home. You were a wonderful hostess.

Yours affectionately,

Andrew.”

“Maybe he is a bit much,” Gabriel’s mother thought.

She looked over at her son.

“Are you in there? That once sweet child and that future far nicer and more mature version of you that they promise me is going to come? Tell me you’re there.”

“Hunh?” said Gabriel. But maybe there was a flash of the cute little smile he always used to have.

A mistake in parenting a less-than-perfect-at-home teenager is in trying too hard to change him. It can’t be done. Nor maybe will you need to. The trick of parenting an adolescent is thinking about the once and future them while looking at their current state.

And of course, at all costs, keep away from those evil perfect children.



Clinical psychologist Anthony E. Wolf is the author of six parenting books and runs www.anthonywolf.com . E-mail your questions to awolf@globeandmail.com.

 

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