#2. "You're Only Punishing Me Out of Spite!"
"I was sitting here playing my game, minding my own business. I wasn't hurting anyone at all. Then you come in and tell me that I've played long enough and it's time to turn it off. What the hell? What did I do wrong? Does it just drive you crazy to see me happy? Are you really that jealous? You have a job and responsibilities as an adult, and it just pisses you off when someone else gets to have fun, doesn't it? There's going to be a time very soon when I'll have to move out on my own and enter the workforce. This is literally the only point in my life when I'll be able to spend this much time just enjoying myself. Why can't you just let me enjoy my damn childhood by making cartoon titties bounce in Dead or Alive Beach Volleyball?"
Why It's Unwinnable:
From the teenagers' point of view, they're doing an unprecedented amount of work. They're being asked to do more homework than ever before (and more difficult work), they may have a part-time job, they're being asked to help out around the house more often. From their end, their productivity has skyrocketed from the days when life was just eating and playing and sleeping. What the adults know, but can't convey without sounding crazy, is how incredibly hard things are about to get.
The grown-up knows that there are incredibly important lessons that have to be taught at exactly this age that are almost unfathomable to a teenager, because up until this point, they've been not only allowed to have unhindered fun ... they've been encouraged to do so. "You're a kid. Go out and pretend to shoot your friend's face off of his stupid, misshapen head." Then the teenage years come along and they suddenly have to learn life's most difficult lesson: mastering self-imposed limits.
And it counts even when it's about balancing one type of fun with another. For instance, spending six hours on a video game is six hours' worth of eye-to-eye social contact that gets thrown out the window, along with crucial lessons on not only how to speak around other people, but how to read and give off body language -- that is, the social lessons that will go further toward dictating success in life than any schoolwork will. And that's before we even get into the obvious stuff about balancing work and hobbies. How many adults do you know who still haven't mastered that?
"It'll get done when my druid hits 90."
But pressing the importance of it sounds like scare-mongering. How does a grown-up explain that if the teenagers don't learn those social skills, work ethics and basic family interactions, they could literally end up homeless in pretty short order when they get released into the wild? Even if it's carefully explained, the rebuttal just crushes the whole exchange: "You think I don't understand that? I'm a rational, thinking human. I know I can't do this forever, which is why I'm doing it now. Just back off and let me have some damn fun for once."
"I don't want to hear another word about this 'soap' that you keep mentioning."
And that's how the first Xbox was stomped into a thousand tiny shards.
#1. "No Matter What I Do, It's Not Good Enough!"
"I busted my ass studying for this test because you told me I had to get my grades up. Then when I ace it, all I get is 'Awesome, keep it up!' That's it? I mean, I'm not asking you to do back flips and hire the Vienna Boys Choir to sing my praises, but holy shit. Is anything I do good enough for you? I get a double in baseball, and you tell me that if I had opened my stance like you taught me, it would have been a home run. I show you a drawing I'm proud of, and you try to tell me how to make the eyes look more realistic. Can't you ever just be satisfied by my accomplishments and let me enjoy the success? If, after I finish having sex for the first time, she acts the way you do, I'm giving her the finger and demanding my money back."
"So sex is just touching each other's faces? I was sure there would be more to it than that."
Why It's Unwinnable:
How do you convey to a 14-year-old that the world doesn't care about him? That in the real world, you will be judged only by what you've produced, and not by how hard you tried? Hell, most adults don't even like admitting that to themselves.
So one of the hardest parts about being a parent is knowing when to say, "That's great," and when to add, "but you can do better." On one end, you know you have to show support and give praise when they've done something awesome. On the other, you know the part of the real world that you've been protecting them from. The part that will only see them as a cog in a machine and won't give two shits about their feelings. The part where, even when it gets perfect results from its mindless little drone, there are no thanks. No pat on the back. Just "You did what you were paid to do. Now get the fuck out of my office and continue doing that. Otherwise we'll just pull you out of the machine and plug in another cog that actually works."
You know that it's extremely easy for a person to become content with a certain level of success and stop pushing to be better. Because when you've reached that level, it feels extremely good. It's easy to want to sit in that feeling and soak it up like a urine-tainted hotel hot tub. In that position, you're the best there is, and as long as you stay there, nobody can be better -- you're the top dog. It's why some people spend 20 years in a minimum wage, zero-effort job where they excel head and shoulders above everyone else. Moving on to something more difficult means they're right back to being another face in the crowd -- another average guy, trying just like everyone else to be the best.
"Hey, look, in today's memo, he stopped calling me 'faceless jerkoff.'"
But as a parent, if you press the "you can do better" issue all the time, you're a hardass perfectionist who's never impressed by any level of your kids' success. You're the jock's dad from The Breakfast Club. If you don't do it enough, they can become stagnant and stop growing. To a kid, no amount of explanation can take away from the fact that your reactions make you sound like an impossible-to-impress asshole.
Of course, the common thread that runs through all of these examples is communication: Simple talks that keep parents and teenagers connected. Not necessarily on the exact same wavelength -- that's damn near impossible. But at least connected enough to respect where the other is coming from. No, you're still not going to win any of these arguments. But the point is that it wouldn't benefit either of you if you did. The only way you come out ahead in these conversations is to go into it without the idea of "winning" in the first place.
Because here's the good news: Having this kind of open discussion means that you have both already won. The kid may still get tripped up by the thing you tried to warn him about, but it will mean a lot when he's staring through the bars of that Mexican prison and realizes that, hey, Mom and Dad tried to warn me about this because they care about me. The second you realize that having the discussion is the goal and stop treating them (on both sides) as competitions, you're going to find yourselves a whole lot happier. That and a whole lot of help from luck and fate, and maybe you won't raise an annoying douchebag piece of shit. Maybe.
For more Cheese, check out 5 Internet Life Lessons Parents Need to Start Teaching Kids and 5 Things Modern Kids Don't Understand About Being a 'Nerd'.