Here’s the best proof of alien body-snatching: teenagers. One day you’re the proud mother of a sweet, slightly muddy but still semi-logical child. Then bam! You wake up and you’re living with a stranger. Clearly, he’s been brainwashed. He has absolutely no recollection of house rules—particularly the ones involving curfew and taking out the garbage—and only a surface grasp of the English language. He knows simple phrases (‘I need money’ and ‘What’s for lunch?’) picked up from the alien version of Fodor’s Guide to Earth, but when you talk to him, he stares blankly or flares up.
Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do, until your child reassumes his normal human form (possibly in his mid-twenties). Meanwhile, here are the rules for happy relationships.
1. Don’t be their friend.
First of all, you can’t be. You’re the mom, and no amount of hanging out can ever cross the gap of uncoolness. In fact, if you start talking like his friends, he will officially freak out and ask why why you can’t be like the other normal parents.
Plus, your child needs a mom: a dependable, responsible role model who sets the rules and keeps things stable at home. (Don’t worry if he says, ‘I hate you!’ That’s alien speak for, ‘I know you’re right but I don’t like what you’re saying so leave me alone so I can pretend that it was my idea.’)
2. Don’t get sucked into a debate.
Teens love to debate. It’s their favorite hobby, next to spending your money. Just say ‘No.’ A lot. Firmly (but in a supportive way). Especially when the requests involve drugs, alcohol, or any decision that may affect their long-term reputation. They may like to pretend that they’re adults but they aren’t—their brains aren’t going to be fully formed until they’re 25—and allowing them to drop out of school to join an artist’s colony (or, in the case of Twilight, trading their soul to marry a vampire they met two years ago) is, shall we say, not prudent.
Oh, and they’re going to say that you’re ruining their life. But as a word of advice, they’ll say that anyway. About 86.45% of the therapy industry is based on people blaming their parents for their past, so you’re in good company.
3. Keep them busy.
Sign them up for theater, sports, yodeling class—whatever it takes. Kids who are in after-school programs and competitive activities have less time to get into trouble. Plus, you know where they are and who they’re with, and you have another adult (a coach or mentor) who can talk some sense into them. Which brings us to the next tip…
4. Ally with other adults.
Be nice to teachers, coaches, club moderators, parents of your teen’s friends. They’ll look out for your child and let you know if something’s afoot. Plus, since they see your child in other settings, they can help you decipher his personality and find out if he’s just being moody around you or if you’re dealing with something more serious, like teen depression.
5. Never embarrass your teen in front of other people.
He will never forgive you, and 25 years from now, at some holiday reunion when everybody’s had too much eggnog, he will unearth this little episode from his turbulent teen years, and tell you how you ruined his life (see tip # 2).
So if you get mad at him, do it behind closed doors. If you’re with his friends, stick to safe topics and try not to say anything too weird. If you’re in his school and participating in some family event, try to look good. And never, ever show his baby pictures to his prom date.
6. Remember what it was like to be a teen.
This is your karma.
7. Tell yourself: this will pass.
The hormones will settle. The angst will dissipate. Your teen will grow up and your will enjoy a deeper, more fulfilling relationship as adults. And then he will have kids, who will become teens, and you can sit back and snicker.
Because that’s his karma.