The heartbreak that comes from parenting a teen

He’s in his room just now, playing some game with his friends. It’s the weekend, and they are having fun, blowing off steam. They alternate between fiercely competing against each other, and just as fiercely defending each other, switching between the two extremes according to some arcane teenaged methodology that I cannot come close to fathoming. All I know is it works for them and so we let them at it. It is after all, the weekend.

During the week, however, we’re all business. The school he attends is hard. They pride themselves on the number of kids they send to Berkley, so its an “all hand on deck, everyone mans a gun” work load. I have some quibbles with this approach, but it also gets results. His writing has rapidly improving, the stuff they discuss in class is top notch. If it wasn’t for the pitiful peach-fuzz on his face, and his complete inability to do anything for himself, you’d swear he was in college.

As parents we spend our time alternating between being happy cheerleaders and cruel taskmasters.  “Great job on your paper, son,” we say. “Can you think of something more to add?” we say. “Did you finish all your homework?” we say. That last one is on heavy rotation on our house. I must say it fives times a week. Usually at the same time I tell him its time to go to bed. Finishing all of his homework is a thing.

But there are some things I say even more, and with more fervor. One of these is, “Did you remember to save?” Since I work exclusively on computers, I have a lot of horror stories associated with not saving files. Believe me, I could go on for hours on the topic, and have. Unsaved files are the bane of my existence, and thus I cannot abide it when my son does the same. Every time I walk into his room and see his five nicely written paragraphs of homework, something he has slaved over for the past two hours, and see that the title of the document is “Untitled 1” I want to fly into a rage.

Of course a rage does not work with him, anger just shuts him down, so I have to try and be calm about it. So I end up saying the same stupid words over and over, “Dude, you need to save your files.” He hears the words, but he doesn’t listen. That being the prerogative of teenagers everywhere, for all time.

And sure enough, this Friday on a single essay test that was worth a healthy portion of his grade for three different classes, he decided type madly for 40 minutes before attempting to save. This in spite of constant and fervent admonishments on our part, and some strong language from his teachers that very morning. By now you can probably guess where this is going; sure enough the program crashed, and he lost all of that hard work.

To his credit he didn’t cry or whine. He started up the program again, and started typing furiously. This is how I know some of the things we teach him are sticking; he got right back on the saddle. But he didn’t think to raise his hand and let them know he had a technical issue, and its doubtful the school would have done anything anyway. Their pretty fierce at this school. They expect the kids to listen to reasonable demands, and they don’t have a problem punishing stupidity.

So while he’s playing in the other room I very much want to fold him in my arms and tell him everything is going to be okay. But we have also taught him to be honest about the world and his chances, both good and bad–fortunately that lesson has stuck–so he knows everything is not going to be okay. He’s going to have to live with the consequences of his actions, and so will we.

But now there is something I can no longer say to him. Never again will I mention file saving. Oh sure it would feel righteous to say, “I told you so,” but since when has that helped anyone? It would only cause him more pain, and frankly it’s unnecessary. If fucking up his grade for three classes isn’t sufficient to change his behavior, then there is nothing I can do.

So I love him, and I listen to him play, and I say nothing. And that my friends is a kind of headache that is almost too sweet to bear.