Tag Archives: teens

Stupid parents

I have two teenage kids, so couldn’t stop laughing when I saw this on someone’s wall earlier this year:

Tired of being hassled by stupid parents?
Move out, get a job, and start paying all of your own expenses.
And do it now, while you still know everything!

That shoe doesn’t fit all of the time, but it fits like a glove some of the time!


Teen driving: The Agony

I received a very distraught phone call from Our Daughter on a recent evening.  She just hit another car.  She was unhurt, for which we are most thankful, and she wasn’t too far, so I got to her in short order.  She dissolved into tears as I put my arms around her.

Sounds like a water bottle fell onto the floor by her feet while she was driving on a one-block-long residential street.  When she reached down to get it, she plowed our trusty van into a parked car (a brand new one that still had the dealer plates).  Damage to both vehicles was extensive – no time to hit the brakes before impact.  When I arrived, one of our van’s front wheels was at a 45-degree angle while the other was straight ahead.  Not a good sign.  The van’s rear end was still partly out in the street; moving it closer to the curb – with the front wheels turning independently of one another – required a fair amount of force and some painful grinding.  Can you say, “Tie rod ends?”  Now say, “Oooohh – those are expensive!”

We left a note on the other car, took some pictures, and headed home.
In the interests of full disclosure, I told Our Daughter about the time I was going 60 mph on the freeway when a water bottle rolled under the pedals of my car.  I reached to get it, glancing down briefly to see where it was.  That’s all the time it took to drift over and break the mirror off a car in the next lane.  The impact also punched a hole in my passenger-side mirror.  That was the only damage, but it could have been so much worse.  My heart didn’t stop pounding for a couple of days.  At 60 mph, a vehicle is moving 88 feet every second.  It’s almost impossible to comprehend how quickly things happen at that speed until something happens at that speed.
Our van is 20 years old, and has lived up to Toyota’s best reputation.  I put four new tires on it in September, and just spent a couple hundred bucks replacing the stop light switch.  Ugh.  We’re inquiring of local body shops and really hoping it can be repaired.  Or maybe we can rent out the house and live in the van.  I’m considering a lot of options at this point.
Wasn’t looking forward to hearing from the owner of the other car, but she was as sweet as could be.  Her first concern was that Our Daughter was not hurt.  Aside from the fact that no one was injured, her kindness, empathy, and understanding have been the best thing about this incident so far.
Would you carry collision insurance on cars that are 20 years old?  If not, thank you.  If you would, we’d rather not hear about it.  Our rationale, of course, is that we would have paid more in premiums than the book value of the cars.  True ‘dat.  But the dark side of the argument is that those cars have actual value to us (though maybe not to anyone else) because they are reliable and run well.  Now the cost of repair or replacement is borne by us.  Can you say, “Thank you, insurance industry?”
Replacing a car is not something we were considering at this point.  While we are quickly gaining a new respect for households that have chosen to operate with just one car, the outcome of this “crash course” remains uncertain for us.  My better angels (including Susan) remind me that this is one more in a long string of opportunities to see God provide for our family.  “Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!”

Zack and His Man-Size Appetite

A friend brought over some homemade hot cross buns the other day.  I looked forward to eating one of them for breakfast the next morning, but when I came out to the kitchen they were nowhere to be found.  Dang.  Zack and His Man-Size Appetite beat me to the punch.  Or in this case, to the hot cross buns.

It’s happening more and more often.  For a 14 year-old who is in the tenth percentile for weight and all but disappears when he turns sideways, this kid can really put away food.

* * * * * * * * * *

We used to be concerned if we got a call from Zack during the school day:

“What’s up, Bud?  You okay?”

Now we’re more likely to get a call like this:

“Hey Bud.”

“Hi Dad.”

“How ya doin’?”


“What’s going on?”


“Uh – you called me, didn’t you?”

“Oh yeah.  What’s for dinner?”

It’s the first thing he wants to know when he comes in the door.  And if he’s awake enough in the morning, it may be the last thing he wants to know before he leaves for school.

* * * * * * * * * *

A recent sports physical showed that Zack is in great shape but could use more calcium.  When the kids were little, dairy products seemed to inflame congestion or other respiratory ailments.  Part of the solution was switching to rice milk, which we’ve been putting  on our cereal for years.  But the kids never come home and pour themselves an ice cold glass of rice milk.  When asked about drinking regular milk again to boost their calcium intake, they both cast enthusiastic yes votes.

Zack had a couple of friends stay overnight during spring break.  Susan and I hit the grocery store to lay in some extra provisions, including milk.  Hate to admit this now that I’ve had a few days to observe actual consumption, but we initially thought a half-gallon might last for a week.  A momentary lapse in judgment.  We got a gallon – and were back for another one three days later.

* * * * * * * * * *

Zack was getting over a cold, and the last symptoms disappeared about the same time that first gallon of milk did.  He told us he’d been feeling much better “since he started drinking milk.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Today a couple of Zack’s friends came over after school.  One guy headed straight to the refrig and poured himself a big glass of moo.  A short while later he was back for another one.  Wow.  I only saw Zack (and Lauren) drink one big glass each today, but guess what?  We’re out of milk.

* * * * * * * * * *

Zack and His Man-Size Appetite have taken a special  interest in meat which roughly parallels the period in which he’s grown about five inches.  During one of Susan’s recent weekend cooking frenzies, she had a big batch of hot-and-sour soup and a bigger batch of white bean chili going on the stove.  Zack appeared in the kitchen as soon as she began browning a pork roast.  It was like those cartoons in which a wisp of smoke curls into a beckoning finger right under a character’s nose and draws them irresistibly toward the source of an aroma.  “Is that for dinner?” His hopeful (or was it lean and hungry?) expression turned to one of disappointment when Susan explained that it would be divided between the batches of soup and the chili.

* * * * * * * * * *

Homemade meals that used to feed four now feed three.  If there are leftovers after dinner, we don’t count on them being available for the next evening meal; Zack and His Man-Size Appetite can easily transform Last Night’s Dinner into This Afternoon’s Snack.  It’s not a given that Dad’s portion of a meal is larger than others.  In fact, it sometimes feels as though I’m competing for scarce food resources and may need to bury things in the yard if I want to eat them later.

Of course this phenomenon is not new to parents of teenage boys.  But when something like Zack and His Man-Size Appetite starts to appear in your own home, it’s a wonder to behold.

Teen brains

The following article aired on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition show on March 1, 2010.  For those of us with teens, it supplies some scientific explanations for what we know by observation and sometimes-punishing experience.  I appreciated some new perspectives on what’s “normal” and why my vast stores of wisdom, knowledge, and insight [occasionally] seem to be of no value.  If you have teens in your life, read on – and hang in there!

The Teen Brain:  It’s Just Not Grown Up Yet
by Richard Knox

When adolescence hit Frances Jensen’s sons, she often found herself wondering, like all parents of teenagers, “What were you thinking?”

“It’s a resounding mantra of parents and teachers,” says Jensen, who’s a pediatric neurologist at Children’s Hospital in Boston.

Like when son number one, Andrew, turned 16, dyed his hair black with red stripes and went off to school wearing studded leather and platform shoes.  And his grades went south.

“I watched my child morph into another being, and yet I knew deep down inside it was the same Andrew,” Jensen says.  Suddenly her own children seemed like an alien species.

Jensen is a Harvard expert on epilepsy, not adolescent brain development.  As she coped with her boys’ sour moods and their exasperating assumption that somebody else will pick up their dirty clothes, she decided to investigate what neuroscientists are discovering about teenagers’ brains that makes them behave that way.

Teenage Brains Are Different

She learned that that it’s not so much what teens are thinking — it’s how.

Jensen says scientists used to think human brain development was pretty complete by age 10.  Or as she puts it, that “a teenage brain is just an adult brain with fewer miles on it.”

But it’s not.  To begin with, she says, a crucial part of the brain — the frontal lobes — are not fully connected.  Really.

“It’s the part of the brain that says:  ‘Is this a good idea?  What is the consequence of this action?'” Jensen says.  “It’s not that they don’t have a frontal lobe.  And they can use it.  But they’re going to access it more slowly.”

That’s because the nerve cells that connect teenagers’ frontal lobes with the rest of their brains are sluggish.  Teenagers don’t have as much of the fatty coating called myelin, or “white matter,” that adults have in this area.

Think of it as insulation on an electrical wire.  Nerves need myelin for nerve signals to flow freely.  Spotty or thin myelin leads to inefficient communication between one part of the brain and another.

A Partially Connected Frontal Lobe

Jensen thinks this explains what was going on inside the brain of her younger son, Will, when he turned 16.  Like Andrew, he’d been a good student, a straight arrow, with good grades and high SAT scores.  But one morning on the way to school, he turned left in front of an oncoming vehicle.  He and the other driver were OK, but there was serious damage to the car.

“It was, uh, totaled,” Will says.  “Down and out.  And it was about 10 minutes before morning assembly.  So most of the school passed by my wrecked car with me standing next to it.”

“And lo and behold,” his mother adds, “who was the other driver?  It was a 21-year-old — also probably not with a completely connected frontal lobe.”  Recent studies show that neural insulation isn’t complete until the mid-20s.

This also may explain why teenagers often seem so maddeningly self-centered.  “You think of them as these surly, rude, selfish people,” Jensen says.  “Well, actually, that’s the developmental stage they’re at. They aren’t yet at that place where they’re thinking about — or capable, necessarily, of thinking about the effects of their behavior on other people.  That requires insight.”

And insight requires — that’s right — a fully connected frontal lobe.

Teen Brains Are Not Fully Connected

The brain’s “white matter” enables nerve signals to flow freely between different parts of the brain.  In teenagers, the part that governs judgment is the last to be fully connected.

The brain's

Source: Nature Neuroscience 2003
Credit: Elizabeth Sowell

More Vulnerable To Addiction

But that’s not the only big difference in teenagers’ brains.  Nature made the brains of children and adolescents excitable.  Their brain chemistry is tuned to be responsive to everything in their environment.  After all, that’s what makes kids learn so easily.

But this can work in ways that are not so good.  Take alcohol, for example.  Or nicotine, cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy …

“Addiction has been shown to be essentially a form of ‘learning,’ ” Jensen says.  After all, if the brain is wired to form new connections in response to the environment, and potent psychoactive drugs suddenly enter that environment, those substances are “tapping into a much more robust habit-forming ability that adolescents have, compared to adults.”

So studies have shown that a teenager who smokes pot will still show cognitive deficits days later.  An adult who smokes the same dose will return to cognitive baseline much faster.

This bit of knowledge came in handy in Jensen’s own household.

“Most parents, they’ll say, ‘Don’t drink, don’t do drugs,'” says Will, son number two.  “And I’m the type of kid who’d say ‘why?’ ”

When Will asked why, his mom could give him chapter and verse on drugs and teen brains.  So they would know, she says, “that if I smoke pot tonight and I have an exam in two days’ time, I’m going to do worse. It’s a fact.”

There were other advantages to having a neuroscientist mom, Will says.  Like when he was tempted to pull an all-nighter.

“She would say, ‘read it tonight and then go to sleep,'” he says.  “And what she explained to me is that it will take [what you’ve been reading] from your short-term memory and while you sleep you will consolidate it.  And actually you will know it better in the morning than right before you went to sleep.”

It worked every time, he says.

It also worked for Andrew, the former Goth.  He’s now a senior at Wesleyan University, majoring in physics.

“I think she’s great!  I would not be where I am without her in my life!”  Andrew says of his mom.

For any parent who has survived teenagers, there are no sweeter words.


As the parent of a teenage daughter, I can get bogged down with daily details of school, schedules, footwear, laundry, phone use, clothes on the floor, lunches, and retainers.

But now and again I see the radiant young lady who dazzles me in practically every way, and I can hardly believe that I get to be her Dad:


worth a thousand words...

Space between the ears

Zack (13) and I were in the kitchen when I noticed him reaching into the bottle of vitamins – again.

“Didn’t you just have some of those a few minutes ago?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” Zack replied, replacing the top on the bottle.  He flashed me a slightly sheepish grin.

“Won’t it be nice when your brain starts working again?”


“Do you miss it?” I wondered.


Even better than we thought

When we last visited the issue of selecting a high school for our Lovely and Capable Daughter (LCD), the Wise and Mature Parents (WMP) had made a bold decision that did not initially sit well with LCD.  The WMP anticipated and prepared for some ‘blowback.’  It came, and we gained valuable experience in standing firm.

Knowing that LCD does best when she feels connected to people around her, WMP signed her up for August crew camp with others from her new school.  She began meeting and making new friends right and left, and even wore the school’s sweatshirt in public.  By the time classes started, LCD knew dozens of other students and was already identifying with the school.

Now with a few weeks of classes under her belt, WMP happily report that LCD loves school.  She continues to form new friendships and has an outstanding group of teachers.  Solid study habits she established in middle school enable her to keep up with homework and assignments.  WMP even heard her adjuring Zack not to let schoolwork pile up until the last minute.

I feel as though I am watching my LCD in the midst of a major bloom.  As with earlier blooms, this one reveals more of her capability and beauty and competence and grace and strength – stop me here.  LCD is doing an exceptional job of navigating a big transition in  her life, managing her time, making new friends, keeping track of old friends, and rising to all kinds of new challenges.  Room’s a mess, but in the important things, I couldn’t be more proud of her.