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Last week, I reluctantly tuned into the new series "Parenthood".  I loved the movie version and no one can play a harried father better than Steve Martin. I especially loved the scene where Gil Buckman (played by Martin) comes home from work, hassled and fried, changing at rapid speed to get to his son's baseball game.  Gil's wife, watching his frantic movements as he picks up a VCR tape that has been completely dismantled by one of their several "precocious" children, says, "Do you have to go?"

Gil stops what he's doing, looks at his wife with a look of disgust and resignation and responds, "My whole life is a HAVE TO!"

Oh, any parent with children knew exactly what he meant.

But the parents portrayed in the television series, Parenthood, only look harried because they are perpetually bending over backwards trying to please their children, and the worst mistake of all, trying to be their children's friends.  These parents make the performers in Cirque du Soleil look inflexible.

One scene showed Mom (played by Monica Potter) frantically running after her teenage daughter who has blown off any morning greetings from Mom to get into her friend's car to go to school.  Mom is making a complete fool of herself chasing after said indifferent daughter with one shoe one, limping with a lunch sack in her hand to give to the daughter who has forgotten about her mother's existence.

Mom reaches the car trying to get the lunch to the apparently close to starvation daughter.  Daughter rolls down the window with her eyes rolled and looks at Mom with disgust and waves her off like an irritating fly.

The car speeds away as Mom is yelling last minute safety instructions to diva daughter, still clutching the carefully prepared lunch she has spent part of her busy morning making.

Watching this scene was reminiscent of watching the parents in "Thirty Something" a show in the late 1980's about marriage and parenting. The characters' neurosis and angst over every detail of their children's lives was nauseating to watch, and little did I know that this trend would continue for decades to the point where I can no longer tell who is the parent and who is the kid.

The generation gap seems to be becoming extinct and I'm not so sure this is a good thing.

We can blame technology for part of this.  There are cell phones being designed to have tracking systems in them so parents will know their teenagers every move.  I call this "stalking" but many would disagree with me.  

Back to TV show, "Parenthood":  Another single mother is shown trying to talk to her teenager daughter, who once again is acting like her mother is more annoying than a pop quiz in algebra she forgot to study for.  

And guess what?  That's fine!  That's what teenagers are supposed to do.  Their developmental task is to separate from their parents so that they can (please God) leave the house some day and preferably before the age of 30.  

But the parents portrayed in these shows can't seem to handle the normal tension and rife that is commonplace between parents and their teenagers.

I've seen this in my office as I work with parents who are trying to get a handle on their teenagers.  They drag them into therapy (the fact that they are actually able to do this gives me hope) but then they spend the hour making sure that the kid is okay with them, with being with me, with their life in general and the kids sit there looking completely and utterly bored, constantly checking their cell phones (which is inexplicably allowed by the parents) and shuffling their feet and yawning.

I don't blame them.

I start feeling claustrophobic myself hearing these inquisitions that are disguised as parental care.  But these kids need no help from me.  These teenagers are more than capable of telling their parents to back off and then go so far as to confront their parents on their own lack as a parent.  And I watch these parents tip toeing around their children taking extra careful measurements with their words so as to not hurt their child's "self-esteem".

One hip teenage boy, who at the tender age of 16 had snuck out of his home on a school night, had a couple of beers at a friend's house and was pulled over on the way home was hugely indignant that he might be getting any consequences at all.  He thought it SUCKED BIG TIME that the cop pulled him over, just because he was weaving slightly.  "Geez, what's dangerous about that?  No one else was even on the road!"  And then turning to Dad, "You better not take my car away from me Dad or you will never see me again!"

Dad, trying to inch closer to his son, pleading, "No son, I won't do that.  I understand how important driving your car is to you.  I've hired a really good lawyer, but you really shouldn't have snuck out.  But I really do want to know how you are FEELING about this."

The kid proceeds to give a diatribe on how unfair THE SYSTEM is as father patiently nods his head saying, "I hear what you're saying, I hear that you are upset" and I'm just looking at both of them and wondering if they're both drunk or on something stronger.  

The good news for this kid is that there is a legal system that is not happy about kids driving under the influence of anything at 2:00 AM and attorney or not, this 16 year is about to get introduced to Real Life.  It's unfortunate that it's not also coming from his parents.

And speaking of Real Life, as parents we have to ask ourselves, how are we preparing our children for the realities of life out there in the big bad world where most companies and universities don't give a rip about a kid's "self-esteem"?

So what exactly as parents do we think is helpful about befriending our teenagers as opposed to parenting them?  I had four teenagers at once, and you won't find any self-righteousness in me.  Four children equated to four under-age drinking tickets (a rite of passage for most teenagers in a college town), four totaled cars and various teenage pranks and shenanigans that landed them in detention or hours of community service and alcohol education classes (an excellent way for them to meet MORE kids to party with that weekend).

I was of that generation that started this whole "I need my children to feel good about themselves and I need to be their friend" philosophy that has led to shows like Parenthood that should really be dubbed "Desperate Parents Who Have Forgotten Their Power".

This stemmed from coming from a generation where parents didn't seem to care about their children's feelings.  When I grew up, feelings were never discussed.  There were expectations, chores, curfews, and the threat of being grounded and withdrawal of any allowance or parental affection.  I was a very good teenager but I longed for my parents to get to know me, listen to me, and care about my feelings.

So when I had my own children, and most parents of my generations were like me, we gushed all over them, gave them trophies for being on the little league team and brushing their teeth and brainwashed them into believing they were "special" which eventually turned them into spoiled entitled young adults with really good self-esteem!

There is a balance here.  You can be a parent who has a quality relationship with your child, listens to their feelings, hears them out and lets them know you love them unconditionally.  And, you can be the parent who sets the boundaries, the rules, the consequences, and the expectations.


So, if you have teenagers and you've laid down the law about something and you hear the inevitable "I HATE YOU, YOU'RE RUINING MY LIFE!" smile to yourself and think, "Yes! I must be doing something right!"

Member Comments

    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Vikki Hall wrote May 5, 2010
    • I caught myself chuckling a few times.....

      I’m one of those bad parents that when the child threatened I called them on it.....a la Clint Eastwood style “Go ahead make my day” squinty eyed and all.

      And it’s funny.... NONE of them (including the step)has self esteem issues!

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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Yana Berlin wrote May 5, 2010
    • Gosh...we had so  many rules in my house I would lose track of them sometimes, and it all began when my oldest at the age of 5 said to me

        - Mom, you are not the boss of me!

      Ask her now and at 23 she will tell you otherwise estatic

      Call me lucky, but I think my kids turned out okay because they always had consequences and they always knew that no matter what, parent first friend second.

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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Allinet48 wrote May 5, 2010
    • Because I said so that’s why.-(I became my mother shortly after having kids.)

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