Being a teenager means realizing your parents are dicks. It's not just that they set rules, it's that sometimes the rules are clearly wrong. And instead of discussing things with you like adults, they just shut down and tell you to go to your room. They forbid you from seeing the girl who is the pure love of your life. They overreact to every little thing.
Well, being a parent means finding yourself doing all of that shit, from the other side. Yes, compared to the way I grew up, I like to think of myself as a fairly normal, level headed parent. But I also let my kids get away with a lot more than most, trying to base their privileges around whatever ability they've shown to handle them. I do it, because I remember when I was growing up, the reason behind being told "no" was, "Because I fucking said so. Now get me a beer before I punch your goddamn soul in half."
So as the guy who tries daily to be the cool but responsible parent, here's why your parents pull dick moves like...
#5. Telling You to Shut Up, Rather Than Discussing It
From a Kid Point of View...
My dad was so good at this. We've already established that he was a violent man, so the biggest rule in the house was to never, ever do anything to even remotely affect his mood. That always ended badly. But as teenage biology demands, eventually you rebel, and even the terrifying atmosphere of that house couldn't keep the dam intact when the waters finally rushed in.
Here's one particularly stupid example: All of us in the house were huge Chicago Bulls fans, and my uncle and I were watching a game when my dad chimed in with, "God, I fucking hate Michael Jordan." I asked why and he responded, "Because he's married to a white woman."
I forgot to mention that my dad was a racist. You should also know that he was six feet, five inches tall and weighed around 240 pounds. He got into bar fights once a month, and it was usually against more than one guy. I was two inches shorter and one hundred pounds lighter at the time, and the extent of my fighting was with playground bullies half his size. So it was probably unwise of me to correct him.
"No he's not." All of his attention immediately swung my way. He stuck to his "interracial marriage = bad basketball player" argument, but I didn't let it go. I pressed that her name was Juanita Vanoy, and if she was white, she had one hell of a tan. And then I asked why that would even make a difference. He lost his shit, going off about "unnatural relationships" and using a slew of racial slurs that would make Hitler blush. Finally, he cut me off mid sentence, glared into my eyes and threatened, "Say one more fucking word about it."
A tumbleweed blew across the living room.
Now that I'm a Parent...
In an effort to be absolutely the polar opposite of my own dad, I had always promised to never do that "shut up because I'm bigger than you" thing. Good parents want to be like Cliff Huxtable, always talking things out on the sofa, working through the logic of every rule, patiently explaining their side in every disagreement. But there are limits. And as a parent, you will find yourself doing the, "And I don't want to hear any more about it!" thing. There are three reasons this comes up, and if you're a teenager reading this, you're going to love the first one...
Some of the time, yes, it's because we have realized that we're wrong and our ego has been bruised. You have to remember that even though we're parents and we're considered authority figures, we're also still human. We have egos just like you do, and we want to win, and to be right. Once we realize that we're on the losing side of an argument, or that we have in fact been unreasonable, the easiest way to back out is to launch the argument nuke that is, "This conversation is over. Go to your room!" Boom. Instant win.
"NOW YOU SHUT YOUR MOUTH, OR I WILL SHAVE YOU BALD!"
But don't stop reading there, kids. Because the second reason we do this is that the child is using a tactic that they know often works: Making so much noise, for so long, that we just give in. These are pointless arguments that are designed to never end. No matter what I say, they automatically say the opposite because to them, that's what an argument is. It's not an attempt to bring the other person around via any kind of logic, it's just a test of stamina. And ultimately, the kid has more time and energy than the parent. So for us, it's just a choice between shutting it down, or giving in. And the thing the teenager wants us to give in to is often stupid as hell.
And then there is that third reason, the one you have to be careful of depending on what type of parent you have. Sometimes we cut off the argument because we can feel it escalating into the red zone. No, I'm not talking about gluing shards of glass to my hands and punching my kids like Jean Claude Van-Damme in Kickboxer. I'm saying that for every parent, there is a level of anger that is dangerous -- you'll say something, or do something, or show something that's not good for anybody involved. When the kid gets to be a certain age, it can work the other way, too -- you can see that the argument is winding the kid up to a level where they're not in control any more. In cases like this, the argument nuke is saving you both.
#4. Forbidding Relationships
From a Kid Point of View...
I had just graduated high school, but I was dating someone who was younger than me. She was nine.
Well, no, not really. But she was still in high school and legally underage, and we weren't having sex for that reason. My parents knew about the relationship and it pissed off my father, even though both of us were white. Dad and I had full-blown arguments about it. This is a man who wanted to get me a prostitute for my twelfth birthday because he was clinically fucking insane.
"Oh, you're so cute, I could just eat you up! For fifty bucks, I'll put my tongue in your ass!"
Anyway, my girlfriend came over to visit one day while my dad and I were outside, working on his car. Which meant I would bring him beer while he yelled "stupid cocksucker" at an engine. When she arrived, he sent me back inside for another beer. When I came back out, she was gone. Which was strange because we were around each other pretty much every day, and we were closer than any relationship I had ever been in at that point in my life. We never left without at least saying goodbye.
It turns out that dad had sent me inside on purpose, and while I was away, he said some pretty brutal things to her -- which to this day, I have no idea what they were. But they were bad enough to have scared her off, and we pretty much never saw each other again. I didn't find out for quite some time, but when I did, I hated him for it.
He wears a hood to hide his soulless eyes.
Now that I'm a Parent...
Understand that with my father, there is every chance in the world that he did it to be malicious because I'm convinced he was half demon. And the way he handled it was about as mature as a fifteen year old cheerleader calling another girl fat until she cries in front of the whole class... just because. But I believe that there is a part of him that truly worried about what our relationship could mean for me if anyone pressed the age issue. He probably assumed I was lying about the sex thing, and that's not an unreasonable thing to assume about an 18 year-old male.
And that's the thing. Every teenager thinks that any kind of parental disapproval instantly means their romance is goddamned Romeo and Juliet, a forbidden love too pure for the world to understand. It's easy to sit back and view the parent as a black-hearted, bitter shell of a person, jealous of what you have (the "You've never felt a love like this!" situation). And trust me, no parent enjoys having to intervene and put a stop to a relationship. You don't do it unless you're really, really worried about it.
"No, you're not going out with a guy who legally changed his name to 'Buttfuck McCoy.'"
And sometimes we have reasons to worry. It's easy for a kid to forget that, yes, Dad has dated his share of ladies. Including crazy ladies. Dad has also known many a douchebag male, and can see their type coming a mile away. Dad can spot a meth addict at a glance.
And no, you can't always just let them learn from experience. Obviously I'm not going to hand-pick a girl for my son and arrange a marriage against his will -- if he winds up with a girl or guy or transsexual who I don't personally like, but who makes him happy, so be it. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the kind of relationship that can ruin a person's life. The addict, who wants company in their addiction. The manipulator. And yes, I may some day have a conversation with my daughter about The Creepy Guy Who is Too Old For You.
And they'll hate me for it. Because I've been down those destructive roads, and they haven't, they don't have any context for what I'm saying. Tell them that the butterflies in their stomach shouldn't trump the fact that the object of their love is a meth dealer, and they'll simply interpret that as, "Dad doesn't believe in love." They won't truly get it for years. Most likely until they're parents themselves. But more on that in a moment.
#3. Punishments Way Too Severe for the Offense
From a Kid Point of View...
My parents never cared if I drank. Being alcoholics and drug addicts themselves, maybe they thought they'd be hypocrites if they stopped me. Or maybe they just didn't see anything wrong with it. Regardless of their reasons, one school night when I was fifteen, I decided to go out. Mom didn't see much harm in me replacing my dinner with vodka and Keystone, but I had to be back home before 2am. You know... responsibility and all. The night went exactly as you'd expect, and I walked through the door around 4am.
Bypassing my mother's road map eyes, I sprinted to the bathroom and threw up so much, I was pretty sure whatever I had been drinking was alive and reproducing like liquid Gremlins in my stomach. She followed me to the bathroom and slurred out a verbal smackdown as I calculated the monetary value of the booze that was filling our toilet.
We call this an "Illinois shotglass."
"...and all I ask is that you get your ass home when I tell you to. Well, you can kiss your partying goodbye for the next two weeks because you're fucking grounded!"
"Grounded? How can you tell me I'm grounded when you blarrrrrgghhhlllbbllgll!"
She stormed out of the room and left me to my misery. But the next two weeks were filled with nonstop fighting. I made all the points a normal, rebellious teenager would make. She drank, so why shouldn't I be able to? She stayed out late, why shouldn't I? I mean, I was younger and could actually handle the hangover and lack of sleep better than she could. How could she possibly give me shit about coming home two hours late when there were times we didn't see her for twenty-four hours solid?
Our mom was studying to be Courtney Love.
Now that I'm a Parent...
OK, if you're a kid, I'm hoping your example of "Mom is being unreasonable!" is more along the lines of her grounding you for a month for catching you with a single beer at age 17, or for being a half hour late for curfew even though you totally had a good reason. The point is, every kid has a time where it seems like Mom and Dad just threw out a punishment for the hell of it. Well, here's why they do it:
Fear, that we're not doing enough to teach our kids, fear that they're going to stop listening to us, and mess up their lives in some unfixable way. Remember, parents are trainers. Our job isn't to just keep you alive until you're legally allowed to get the fuck out of our house. It's to pass along as much knowledge as possible to ensure that you have every fighting chance of being successful when you're on your own. And this is all done under an extremely tight deadline. We're cramming 30-plus years of our own experiences and lessons into a tiny decade-long window between the age when you're actually old enough to listen, and when you're old enough to shut us out.
"Shit, two minutes! Quick -- learn finances!"
So to a parent, the clock is always ticking -- faster and faster every time you have a birthday. Our job is to make sure that we leave as little as possible for you to learn by trial and error, because the error isn't always something you can recover from (for instance, drinking and driving). So an out-of-the-blue punishment that seems way out of proportion to the crime is often due to that fear, that we're not getting through. If it gets to where the kid just factors in the punishments as part of the price of having fun, then we've failed.
So when you do something wrong, it isn't a case of us using the punishment as a weapon. Yes, we may be mad when we hand that punishment out, but that's not why we do it (hopefully). We do it out of sheer panic. Even if the grounding is because you refused to listen to us, the lesson isn't so much, "You'll pay for your insolence," as it is, "We don't have time for this. You have to learn that there are consequences for disobeying me because all of the other lessons you'll learn from me require that you listen."