Tormenting the Tormentors

This was originally posted in  The Unlikely Housewife as a guest post.

Facebook anyone?  If you do, you know that Facebook offers you a daily “Pick 5,” in which you get to rate something, such as “Your top 5 things that the world would be better without.” (Popular answers were Terrorism, Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus, Oppression, and Homework).  I’ve also seen “Top five favorite toys from childhood”, people whose pictures you had hanging in your teenage bedroom, Places you want to visit, etc.  What I have yet to see, however, is a chance to list the “Top Five Things Parents can do to Drive their Teenagers Crazy.”

Perhaps Facebook has wisely realized that their primary market is teens and twenties, and allowing parents to monitor teens’ cyber-behavior is one thing, but providing them a network with which to torment them is another.  But it would be fun.

Isn’t dealing with aggravation at the hands of their parents just a step in their maturation?  Isn’t that how they learn to give withering looks?  I remember every time I stumped my toe on the fireplace hearth growing up, my dad would always ask as I howled in pain, “Did you hurt the brick?”  I’d do my best to whither him with my eyes.  In addition, kids can adopt an internal sense of superiority saying to themselves, “When I am a parent, I’ll never….”  We all learned that way.  Who doesn’t remember promising themselves that they would never, ever, utter the words “Because I said so?”

The Tormentors

The Tormentors

My parents did pretty well by my sister and me, but I did make a few notes along the way and swore to myself that I would not follow in certain footsteps.  I remember saying tersely through my teeth as I waited incapacitated, “When I have a house of own, I will NEVER run out of toilet paper and my kids won’t have to bear the humiliation of being stuck in the bathroom for what seems like an hour and five minutes bellowing for help while the rest of the household searches for a usable substitute.”  As soon as I had my first job, I joined a warehouse club. (I also had boys, which also reduces the complexity of the issue.)

But I digress. I’m not suggesting tormenting your teen for torment’s sake.  I’m suggesting that humor and imagination can be employed to yield a very effective method of behavioral modification. We’ve all read for years about ‘natural consequences’.  Isn’t parental insanity a natural consequence of hormone induced teenage behavior?

Just in case there is anyone out there that needs some help, here are my top picks for irritating teens and tweens.

Number 5 of my top five isn’t even something that I do, it’s something that happens.  I own and drive a 10 year old mini-van that has something loose somewhere.  (So does its driver, but that would be another digression.)  When it idles, it rattles, sounding like the internal combustion engine has been replaced by a hamster in a squeaky rusted out wheel.  If my freshman son is not ready and waiting at the curb when I drive up to the high school, I have to put the car in park, which results in an idle and the corresponding clank and clang of the invisible hamster doing his calisthenics.  Conversations stop as kids look over to see what has driven up.  If he then gets

Mom's Car

Mom's Car

into the car, he has limited deniability of his relationship with me, and by extension, my heap.  So, when I drive up, my son is looking for me and has generally hopped into the car before I reach the sidewalk.  (I say ‘generally’ because the unlock button doesn’t work on the passenger side door and I have to remember to roll the window all the way down so that he can reach in an open the door.  If I reached over to open the door, I’d have to put the car in park, resulting in the aforementioned idle, etc.)

Number 4 actually just happens too.  I exist.  Actually that’s too harsh.  It’s not my existence that irritates, it’s the physical manifestation of my existence, like my showing up at school and GOD FORBID getting out of the car.  My middle-schooler thinks that any business a parent might have with the school should be transacted while their student and all of his or her peers are safely eschewed in their classrooms.  If you are seen in the hall you will likely be greeted with a “What are you doing here?” whispered through the teeth while your child is acting like he’s reading the bulletin board. Track meets can be an especially unrewarding treat.  They last from 3:30 to 7:00 pm and you’re expected to go and silently, yet fervently, cheer for your kids.  Yet, if you forget your place and speak to said child as he walks by, you’re given the “Mom-don’t-you-remember-I-told-the-other-kids-that-I-hatched-from-an-egg?” look.

Number 3 only worked for a while, but it was good while it lasted.  My kids thought they could fool me into thinking that they were using the computer only to diligently work on their homework when they were in actuality chatting with friends and switching to a math quiz page when they heard footsteps nearby. Luckily, I made them accept me as a “friend” on FaceBook.  In the evenings, while they were supposedly working on schoolwork and not chatting online, I would go to the “Online Friends” tab where they were listed and open up a chat, telling them to get off, go back to work, go to bed, etc.  Unfortunately they figured out that if they mark themselves as being offline, I can’t open a chat window with them.  Of course, neither can anyone else… (No, I did not giggle maliciously!)

Number 2 is more like a category. It’s the things I require, suggest or forbid that no other parent in their schools requires, suggests or forbids, and probably no other parent on the planet requires, suggests, or forbids.  It includes things like putting away clothes, cleaning up their room once a quarter whether it needs it or not, no video games during the week, homework before “The Office” etc.  Not to sound gullible, but they assure me that no one else has these rules.

Number 1 is truly just torment and it works great, especially if you are trying to elicit a desired behavior or extinguish an undesired one.   My husband and I used it with our kids on a long vacation to Yellowstone and Grand Teton.  Anything we wanted to say, we found a song with which to say it.  For instance, if we needed the salt, we’d go into the chorus of Jimmy Buffet’s “Looking for my lost shaker of salt.”  When they’d order us to stop, we’d go into our personal rendition of the Supreme’s “Stop! In the name of love…”  My husband would even throw in a twirl.  We’d do it in the car, in restaurants and on hikes.  It took about one day for them to start bargaining, after of course, a couple of weak bluffs about calling Child Protective Services to intervene on their behalves.  What can we do to get you two to stop?  Answer:  No bickering.  It was the best vacation ever!  And they didn’t even realize we were just about out of songs before the negotiations started.

What’s your Top 5?

© Laura Hedgecock 2009


2 thoughts on “Tormenting the Tormentors

  1. Pingback: Car Memories and How to Write About Them - Treasure Chest of Memories

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