My oldest is 12 and a half and let’s be real, I’m scared. I am about to have a teenager, and I’m not sure exactly what to do with that.
And it’s not the lack of hygiene or how disinterested he is in… well… everything that frightens me the most.
It’s thinking back on my life as a teen and all the stupid things I did between 13 and 19 that keep me up at night.
And yeah, I know. I was a teen in the 90s, and my son will be a teen in the 2020’s, but there are some universal truths here. Regardless of the era, all teenagers think they have it figured out. There’s this false sense of confidence that everything you are doing is new and exciting and perfectly safe, when the reality is something very different.
I did some stupid things as a teen, which is why I’m scared of raising teenagers.
I experimented with drugs.
I experimented with drugs as early as 14 and some of those kids that hung out next to that parking structure just outside of our high school with me, well… they didn’t all turn out okay.
Some of them have been in and out of jail. Most of them didn’t graduate high school. Some have been in rehab. Some of them are dead. I’m 37 years old. Sure, that feels old, but it isn’t all that old to be losing friends from high school.
Then there’s sex.
I don’t know what it is about sex that makes every teenager feel like they invented it, but the first time I knocked boots was as a teenager.
Around my junior year it seemed like everyone was figuring out it out, and while we all joked and laughed and bumped fists, by senior year a handful of my friends were already parents. And listen, if you had a child in high school, this is not me dogging on you. It happens.
But what I can say is that it really changed these people’s lives, and not all the fathers stepped up. Many walked away.
There were fistfights.
There were the stupid things we did with cars that really should have killed us all, but somehow, we got lucky. Some kids got sent to alternative high schools, and some figured it out just in time for graduation.
Some kids got permanently injured trying to be that superior athlete, while others were just clowns with zero motivation or interest in bettering themselves and going to college.
Everything I described above could easily be applied to any generation of teenagers.
I’m sure things will be different in some ways with my son. He has a much better home situation than I did. My parents were divorced and my father was in and out of jail. I hung out with a hard group of kids. His friends are just dorks.
But at the same time, his temptations and struggles will be similar because there are so many universal elements of teen life. The reality is, I’m entering some troubled water with my oldest, and I’m not sure what to expect.
I was thinking about all of this as I was out to lunch with my son the other day.
We were sitting at a table waiting for our food. Tristan was in sweat pants and a zipped up hoodie. He had a hat on backwards. He was still the slightly awkward preteen I’ve known, but he was also starting to come into his own. Starting to look and act more like a teenager.
We were planning to go home and watch a movie together. I suggested movies, and he looked them up on my phone. One of my suggestions was rated PG-13. “I’m not old enough to watch that,” he said.
I never would’ve said that at his age.
“You’re a pretty good kid,” I said.
He gave me smile full of braces and I lightly punched his arm.
“Listen,” I said. “You are, and pretty soon you are going to be a teenager. I don’t know what to do with that.”
He shrugged and I went on, telling him that we are about to reach a stage where he will be able to do a lot of his own things.
I mentioned that some of his friends are going to make some bad decisions, and they are going to ask him to make them too. “All I can really do is hope that I’ve taught you how to make good decisions, because you will need to lean on that,” I said. I told him that I want him to feel comfortable coming to me for advice, regardless of what it is.
I stopped talking for a moment. Our food arrived. He was eating when I finally said, “I guess what I’m trying to say is, right now you are a good kid.”
“I mean that,” I said. “You are. That tells me that I’ve done something right up to this point. Now I’m asking you to keep being a good kid.”
He nodded and said, “I will.”
I believed him. So help me, I believed him.