Do not try to engage or bond with them over anything young people like.
I have a TikTok account, and its sole purpose is for watching TikToks that other people send me; I will never be participating in a single challenge or posting a video of myself of any kind. I know to leave that to the experts: beautiful teens with no screen-time restrictions. I did download the app because I don’t want to be “the old woman” watching TikTok on a browser, especially since I was already “old” not knowing how to make TikTok videos, and I got roasted by some teens at the playground. Kids YouTube? No idea what they are doing over there! I am sure there are other platforms kids use that I have no idea even exist and I like it that way. They should have their shit and I should not have to learn new shit. Let me save you from the heartbreak caused by the withing look on your child’s friends’ faces when you attempt to make small talk about anything invented in the last ten years: don’t!
Never earnestly ask for their opinions on literally anything you enjoy.
Have you ever been watching the most incredible movie of your life? The kind of movie where you are saying to yourself, “I can’t believe they made this movie. It is so perfect. I love it so much. How did I get so lucky to find this movie.” You call your best friend about it, and you text your other friends about it so they start watching it and for a time you make this movie your entire personality because that is how exhilarating you feel about it, and then a kid walks by the television and glances at it for a millisecond, then goes, “Ew, what are you watching? Ha, it looks like it suuuuuucksssss,” and you suddenly feel like you just took a shotgun blast to the chest? Yeah, me neither.
Do not mention their body ever, in any capacity, and try not to notice that they even have a body.
Yes, teenagers need to bathe or shower but don’t tell them that. Also, they know their hair looks like that. Don’t say shit about it, because the look they will give you in response could melt steel, just know that they know and they are choosing for it to be that way. I can pretty easily access my most hurt teenage feelings, and I remember someone telling me that my makeup and choice of clothing looked bad. Also the black “20 cm Buffalo” plateau shoes. What was I even thinking? My parents told me they suck. Did I listen? The way they dress is supposed to be confusing and upsetting to you, and the only way to deal with it is to pretend they are a hologram.
Repress your need to argue and/or be right.
They will never submit. You will never make your point. They will never concede your victory. They will write off your arguments as old-fashioned and claim that everything you know came from a textbook written in 1950, even though you just learned it five minutes ago from a pastel-coloured social media uplifter your friend shared online on Instagram. Their information is FRESH and CURRENT and their ideas are NEW and HOT and are courtesy of a young man on YouTube YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW ABOUT BUT HE’S THE TRUTH. Reconcile yourself to this now: all the ways you do things and everything you believe is old and wrong, and your best year was 1997 before they were even born so hang it up and let them lead the way. Kids have endless amounts of energy, especially the ones with no real problems. What I am going to do is walk away and remind myself that all these years I wandered this earth, my experience, and my twenty plus years school eduction and endless degrees are apparently completely outdated before screaming into a pillow, then biting into it while swallowing some feathers.
“McDonald’s? Sure why not!!!!!”
JUST SAY THAT.
Pretend you are not bothered by noise.
I bought these fancy iPod earplugs that are “discreet” and claim to reduce noise by twenty-five to twenty-seven decibels. And no, I don’t know what those words mean, but the science doesn’t even matter, I just need to hear less. Less Minecraft, less punching, less arguing, less Naruto, less starting a rock band, less begging for Nintendo coins, less shrieking, less “Mom?” -ing, less door slamming, less ringing phones, less text messages, less people at the door, less crying, LESS EVERYTHING. Unless it is something I want to hear, like a door closing when people leave. Okay, but here is my advice: yes, I have tried noise-cancelling headphones, and I have a couple of pairs of the good ones that actually work, but the thing about them is if people see them on your head they are like, “Oh, she is just listening to some dumb eighties metal song. It is fine to interrupt.” The key is, even if you want to stab your own ears out, it won’t work. That’s why you need to spend 4,000,000 million euros on good earplugs. So that you can sit unbothered through an actual hurricane if need be while looking like you don’t have a care in the world, especially if that hurricane is named: “Opa bought me a drum kit.”
Do not give them any books or ask if they read books.
You will be disappointed every single time. Even if you hand a teenager a book called “Mc Donalds is the healthiest food on earth” or whatever shit kids care about, they will look at you as if you are offering them a steaming pile of your own excrements. But it is just a book. When I was fourteen, I would have taken a book a grown-up gave me and carried it around like a talisman until it disintegrated in my hands but this was in the time before cellular phones, and no one knew what binge-watching was yet.
Do not expect thanks for literally any kindness you show them.
If a tree falls on a teenage boy and you walk by and lift it off him, saving his life, just walk away without saying a word and buy yourself a beer, because the acknowledgement or gratitude you might expect will never come, and if you stand towering over him, and ask for it, you will look like an insolent ingrate.
Don’t talk to their friends!
Unless they talk to you first. I asked one of my sometimes in-home children if they enjoy talking to adults, and the answer was a resounding NO. That gave me such a gratifying feeling, knowing that my silence and gentle hostility was a welcome reprieve from all the “Hey, how was school? Did you guys learn anything cool?” conversations forced on them by other adults. The neighbourhood kids were eating dinner here one evening and I heard one tell the other in a hushed, reverential voice, “Don’t be so loud, Joel’s mom is in a bad mood.” I don’t think I had said more than hello to this kid in weeks and yet: deference and respect for my tight-lipped, hateful exterior that day.
Swallow that story about how “it used to be.”
The most surprising thing I have learned about myself is how quickly I find the phrase “when I was a kid” trying to claw its way from between my anxiously clenched teeth. I know that when your parents hit you with the “back in my day…” your eyes would roll up to your brain and your ears would seal themselves shut, and you swore that once you were an adult, you would never even think about saying something like that to an impressionable youth, but I am going to come to your poor mother’s defence and say that a kid will look you dead in your face in a room that you work a soul-deadening job you hate to pay all the bills to tell you that you couldn’t possibly understand how hard their life is. How hard can it possibly be to do some extra maths or grammar lessons or read a fucking book for pleasure? At least that’s what I think, but I don’t say that, because you know what? They don’t care and it’s fine. That trauma is meant to ruin the rest of my life, not some innocent’s, so why waste my breath recounting the torment of trying to do division longhand when I could just go talk to some grapes about it?
Play your music loud in the car.
Play whatever it is you like listening to at a skull-fracturing volume, especially if the parents of the kids you are shuffling between swimming lessons and basketball lessons are no-music-in-the-car-people. I always feel so much pressure in a quiet news car, like okay, we are going to sit at this red light pretending we care about the latest we-are-sorry-but-the-Cvaccine-was-bs news? No way, turn that easy listening up. Even bumping your soft shit at the very least makes you cooler than the people your age who don’t. I am not kidding, I pull up to a sleepover blasting the new Rammstein album and the kids stare in awe like, “FUCK!!!! Joel’s mom is cool!”
No easier way to look like the front singer of Sons of Anarchy than to cover yourself in skulls and tombstones and other garbage that makes you look like you don’t care if you live or die, which, I am sorry, automatically makes you cool as hell. I am not sure how many tattoos I have, either 42 or 349. All kids see and need to know is that I am carefree and reckless and willing and that they will destroy their future employment prospects when getting a face tattoo. Have you ever met some uptight person but then found out that they have tattoos, and that makes you want to be their best friend? That’s the power of randomly picking a piece of shitty body art off a wall and having it stabbed into your skin, where it will remain for the rest of your life: you can make friends, terrify your enemies, and one day overhear a seventh grader say, “She won’t make eye contact with me or listen when I talk, but she looks really scary and cool.”