There is a teenager living in my house.
I don’t know how or when he got here, but his voice is low, the top portion of his underwear is permanently visible, and he feels very strongly that Justin Bieber’s version of The Christmas Song should be played all year round. He can also rap all the lyrics to Jay-Z and Kanye’s Ni***s In Paris, which I would be much more concerned about if I couldn’t rap all the lyrics to N.W.A.’s Real Ni***z Don’t Die when I was 13. And he eats. Constantly. Even between regular meals, the child is always consuming fuel — fruit, string cheese, apple chips, Funyuns, chocolate-covered goji berries. I have added short order cook, dietician and 7-11 employee to my resume.
While the majority of his friends have Facebook accounts, my wife and I have limited his social media exposure to Instagram, where he currently has 20 more followers than I do. He also gets consistently more double-taps on his images, and after previously wanting to limit our father/son interaction, he now hearts all the photos I post. He does this because he feels sorry for me. I found this out yesterday.
I’ve also discovered that 90% of his feedback comes from girls, which makes me both proud and uncomfortable. When I tell other parents that he doesn’t have a Facebook account, the standard reply is a hearty “Not that you know of!” I can’t tell whether or not they’re implying a lack of oversight on my part or a surplus of deception on the part of my child. Perhaps it’s nervous humor to mask the mismanagement of their own child’s social media exploits. Or maybe they’re just trying to be funny.
When it comes to girls, I’ve adopted the Fight Club principle. “The first rule of Girls is you don’t talk about Girls.” If you’re lucky enough to be made privy to a particular scenario, don’t offer a surplus of feedback, and whatever you do, don’t use it as a conversation starter at the dinner table. You have been trusted with state secrets of the highest order. Disclosure of said secrets in a public forum is grounds for immediate removal from the Circle of Trust.
You must also learn to accept all the horrendous pop music they’ve grown to love, which is a bit easier to do once you’ve mentally catalogued all the horrendous pop music you chose to identify with as a child. (If you’ve forgotten who those groups were, call your parents. They remember.) The Great Musical Enlightenment will come eventually, perhaps from an older cousin or a friend. MP3s, iPods, and the disappearance of CDs make it infinitely harder on today’s parents to school their kids on what’s good. The amount of time you have to expose your child to quality music is in direct proportion to the time it takes you to drive them to and from school. There is no escape in my Honda. You will listen to the new Squarepusher.
All this month, my Facebook Timeline has been flooded with back-to-school posts. “Where does the time go?” “I can’t believe my little boy is all grown up!” “This is the outfit my daughter picked out for her first day of middle school. WTF!?” Kids grow up quickly, but the 730 days between 11 and 13 fly by at Autobhan-like speeds. It is a teenager’s duty to convince themselves that their parents — previously the coolest humans on the planet — are now out of touch and embarrassing. Our job is to let them think they’re right, only to prove them wrong when they least expect it.
Luckily for us, that’s usually when they need it the most.