5 Arguments Parents Have (Never Won) With Their Kids
Think back to the most frustrating, heated arguments you've ever had with your parents, and chances are that most of you will remember something from the heart of your teenage years. And if you're old enough to have kids of your own, most of you are going to remember those arguments as petty and laughable. Then you're going to cringe when you realize that you'll be repeating that same stupid bullshit from the other side when your kids reach that age ... and there isn't a goddamn thing you can do about it.
You have to keep in mind that it's not their fault. The most volatile arguments you'll ever have reach the point of suppressing punches because they are impossible for either side to win. And as long as you go into these conversations with that "win" mentality, the following arguments will face-fuck your patience into a flickering memory.
"You Don't Understand Me! It's Not Like When You Were a Kid!"
"How can you possibly tell me that you understand what I'm going through? Back when you were a kid, if you got stressed out you could just pay five bucks to fill up your gas tank, listen to grunge music and smoke pot with your slacker friends, and it was totally expected. We have virtually nothing in common. You like different movies, music, TV shows. You have a completely different sense of humor from me. The world has moved on, and today's kids aren't like they were back when you were my age. We're more technology-minded, we know more about how the universe works, we have different styles and sensibilities than your generation. It's impossible for you to understand, so stop telling me that you do. Hey, you know what else? Fuck Pearl Jam ... yeah, I said it."
"Don't look at me like that, I'm trying to have a talk with my dad."
Why It's Unwinnable:
The kid's reasoning is perfectly sound based on the information available to him. Who the hell is the parent to say that he's spending too much time on the Internet when the parent didn't even have the Internet as a kid? It sounds to the kid like an unfrozen caveman is lecturing us on the dangers of wearing shoes instead of wrapping our feet in a nice hollowed-out mammoth scrotum. What is impossible for the teenager to understand is that the larger lesson Dad is trying to get across (i.e., that learning to manage your free time is the difference between success and failure as an adult) hasn't changed in 10,000 years.
But you can't blame the kid for that. Teenagers have just learned to use reason and logic on an adult level, but they have virtually no practice. They're being trained to think critically, but until real-world scenarios pop up that put that tool to practical use, it's like being handed an F-15 fighter jet, getting a crash course on how to fly it and then being shoved directly into battle against hardened vets. They're in a very odd stage of life where the adult part of their brain is starting to kick in, but the kid side is still hanging around like a meth head's last tooth.
That latter mentality is the side that's judging the world around them based on the surface things that matter to teenagers: music, styles of dress, level of socially acceptable bigotry. Because at that point in their lives, that's what they've been exposed to -- two cliques that wear different clothes and listen to different music might as well be from different planets. What they can't do -- what is physically impossible for them to do -- is something every adult can: compare their own generation's teenage years with those of current teens.
No, not those fucking idiots. I'm talking about actual teenagers.
How can they? Those people don't exist yet. And in turn, teens haven't lived long enough to witness with their own eyes and ears (not just listen to a lecture about) the perpetual cycle of identical thoughts and feelings among that age group, regardless of their differences in pop culture or what style of cloth they use to cover their floppy parts. It's why many teenagers fall into this line of thinking, and why most adults laugh it off with a condescending "Oh, man, when you're older you are going to feel really stupid." It's enough to make kids want to reply, "Yeah, when I'm older, I'm going to beat your ass for saying that."
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"You Have No Idea What You're Talking About!"
"Everything you just said to me is so far removed from my life that I'm genuinely baffled as to why you even said it. I decided long ago that I was going to wait for marriage before I had sex, yet here you are with a condom and a banana, looking like the lecture you're about to give will get your name on a government watch list. I told you I've never done drugs in my life and that I never intend to, but I can't go one week without hearing about how bad crack is. You're talking about politics as if I give a crap, and virtually everything you're saying is the exact opposite of what I believe. What works for you isn't going to work for me, and every time you talk about these types of things, you sound like you're just making shit up as you go along."
"And that's why you don't want to have unprotected sex: dong goblins."
Why It's Unwinnable:
This works both ways, and it's equally frustrating on both ends because, yes, there are plenty of people out there who don't in fact have any goddamn clue what they're talking about. And yet they talk. By the time you're in your teens, you've figured out that a lot of what adults say is ridiculous scare-mongering ("Everyone who smokes a joint is five minutes away from blowing a homeless man for crack!").
So it's kind of a Catch-22 for an adult, because obviously the time to tell kids about drugs, STDs, etc. is before they run into them in the real world. But that means that everything that's being told to them sounds like a worst-case hypothetical. They hear, "One day, there's a possibility that people may ask you to do things that are against your beliefs. They may try to get you to do things you said you'd never do." And since they've never had that happen to them, you might as well be saying, "Now, when you fight Metallica, make sure to favor your left side."
Oh, Lars ... you have no idea how long we've been waiting for you to say that.
They can't see it as "This will absolutely happen because it eventually happens to everyone," because they haven't been through it. For most of them, even your real-life examples are just stories -- anecdotes that happened to other people. The reason it perpetuates the argument is because in the end, it always boils down to "That was them. They are not me. I made my decisions, and I'm sticking with them. Frankly, I'm insulted that you think that little of my resolve. I am a strong person, not some shallow, weak idiot who caves at the first sign of peer pressure. I dictate my own actions."
And once again, everything they've seen in their lives so far says they're right. Their record up to that point may be spotless outside of a couple of groundings and detention; it's not like there are a lot of 12-year-olds out there who know what the crushing weight of regret feels like. So if what they're doing has been working so far, why should they listen to you?
"You've Just Got to Let Me Be Me!"
"I'm sick of you trying to mold me into another version of you. You're trying to dress me in your clothes, make me talk and act like you ... I am not you. I'm my own person, and you have to let me express myself in my own way. If I want to cut my hair a certain way, I will. If I want to send my boyfriend topless photos of myself, that's my right. I'm not a kid anymore, and I make my own decisions! You have to let me be me. Now please leave me alone so I can finish learning to comb my hair the way my favorite band combs theirs."
"I'm into punk. Or mid-'80s pop. I really can't tell anymore."
Why It's Unwinnable:
This is one of those times when the kid is actually right, but not for the reason she thinks. The teenage brain thinks either "I have finally become the amazingly cool, awesome, sexy badass I was always destined to be" or "I have become the tortured, oppressed, dark genius adults fear," but both amount to the same thing: "I have grown into something amazing and complex that you boring grown-ups can't understand." They're not right about that part, of course. But they're right that they have to go through that ridiculous phase in order to come out the other side as a well-adjusted person.
There's no way around it. Looking back on our teenage years, most adults could pick out a couple dozen ridiculous or embarrassing things that they'd love to erase from existence. Like the time you went to that protest wearing nothing underneath your giant fish costume. Then when it caught on fire and you had to escape, the whole world saw the Gin Blossoms tattoo on your ass.
But the truth is that having the ability to look back on those things with a cringe is the reason we don't repeat them. Well, mostly. The fish thing happened seven more times, but that's another article. As a parent, it's hard to get past our biological demands to protect our own kids from the world's bullshit, but there is absolutely a time when we have to. The problem is knowing the line. Yeah, it's probably a good idea to flat-out prevent them from tattooing racial slurs on their face ... but it may be to their benefit to just let them find out on their own that speaking like a gang member when they're trying to be taken seriously isn't going to work out in most social non-gang settings.
"Sup, bitches? I'm here about the fuckin' summer job. Recognize."
It's incredibly easy to sit back and say, "If you'd just listen to what I'm trying to tell you, you could avoid so many stupid, preventable mistakes in your life." But no one wants to live their life based solely on the words and warnings of another person. Especially at an age when we're literally programmed to rebel against those warnings. It's a case of push and pull where, no matter what you say, the argument is always going to come back to "Fuck you. You can't control me. This is my life, not yours."
And they're right -- they have the steering wheel now. All you can do is offer directions and say "I told you so" when they don't take them and end up in a Mexican prison.
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"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.
"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'.