Tag Archives: teenagers

Straight From the Mouths of Teenage Drivers


I’m teaching my third child to drive. It’s making me crazy. Certifiable. Nuts. I don’t remember it being this hard with the boys. In honor of this special bit of parenting craziness, I’m posting a list from my fourth book, I’ve Had It Up To Here With Teenagers. Feel free to yuk it up at my expense. As usual.

Straight From The Mouths of Teenage Drivers:
1. “I’m not speeding! I’m going exactly the speed limit!”
2. “That dent was already there.”
3. “I’m not too close.”
4. “That car needs to stay out of my lane.”
5. “I know what to do. You told me that a hundred times already.”
6. “I did come to a complete stop.”
7. “This is harder than it looks.”
8. “That was close!”
9. “Merging is hard.”
10. “I forgot about crosswalks.”
11. “I’m never going to parallel park, so I don’t need to practice that.”
12. “You don’t have to yell at me!”
13. “Sorry. Is that going to be expensive?”
14. “I drove well this time. Didn’t I, Mom? You didn’t throw up once.”


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20 Things Students Say That Drive Me To Drink, Make Me Long to Smack Them Over the Head With Heavy Objets d’art, Urge Me to Slide My Feet Off the Proverbial Ledge and Jump, and Cause Me to Regret Sacrificing My Youth and Three Dress Sizes to School Scores of Ungrateful Wretches


1.–“As long as the grammar is correct, you don’t care what I say, right?”

2.–“I didn’t know you were so serious about deadlines.”

3.–“Sorry I was absent. I’ll come by your office so you can catch me up.”

4.–“I didn’t think anybody used apostrophes anymore.”

5.–“Why can’t my thesis be a fact?”

6.–“How many paragraphs do I need to make an A?”

7.–“All my high school teachers thought my writing was great!”

8.–“Are you telling me I can’t turn in a short story for my essay assignment?”

9.–“What do you mean I will fail with ‘perfectly punctuated nonsense’ as easily as content that is ‘incoherent’ due to a ‘numerous grammatical and mechanical errors’?”

10.—“Were you talking about me when you said: ‘The ability to distinguish run-ons and sentence fragments is a basic test of literacy in our society’?”

11.–“I didn’t think you’d care about punctuation in the rough draft.”

12.–“I was going to add my research to the final draft.”

13.–“Why do you write notes in the margins of my paper like: ‘Good grief!’ ‘Really???’ ‘Lord, help you,’ ‘Oh, please,’ and ‘Have you lost your mind?’ when I make teeny-tiny mistakes with words like:  its/it’s, everyday/every day, and  compliment/complement?”

14.–“Why do you make such a big deal about MLA format?”

15.–“Why are you so obsessed with handbooks?”

16.–“Sorry I missed class. I was busy finishing my essay.”

17.–“Are you saying I can’t turn in a one-paragraph essay?”

18.–“I made an A in creative writing!”

19.–“What do you mean spoken English is different than written English? Texting is writing; isn’t it?”

20.–“Are you this mean to your own kids?”


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Straight From The Mouths of Teenage Drivers


  1. “I’m not speeding! I’m going exactly the speed limit.”
  2. “That dent was already there!”
  3. “I’m not too close.”
  4. “That car needs to stay out of my lane.”
  5. “I know what to do. You told me that a hundred times already.”
  6. “I did come to a complete stop.”
  7. “This is harder than it looks.”
  8. “Wow. That was close!”
  9.  “Merging is hard.”
  10.  “I forgot about crosswalks.”
  11. “I’m never going to parallel-park, so I don’t need to practice that.”
  12. “You don’t have to yell at me!”
  13. “Sorry. Is that expensive to fix?”
  14. “I drove well this time; didn’t I, Mom? You didn’t throw up once!”

Posting this excerpt from my last book, I’ve Had It Up To Here With Teenagers, as I teach my third child to drive this week. It’s like labor and delivery, one forgets. . . .


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Pre-dawn Mopping


Is it wrong to mop at 5:30 am? What if it’s the only time I have to mop? Does that make a difference? Is pre-dawn mopping a sign of mental instability? After threatening to do so for years, am I finally, truly, losing my mind?

I hate summer. I do. I don’t care if all the rest of you love it. I dread it. It’s one long, hot, humid slog for me. Sure, I can summon up a vodka-and fruit-juice-induced smile when I have to, but my heart’s not in it. I don’t like to be hot. Even as a kid, I never liked baking in the sun like a beached whale. I like schedules, a bustling routine, and the threat of wind, cold, and the warmth of hearth and home to look forward to when the sun goes down early on winter evenings.

I know I’m in the minority on this, maybe a minority of one. Heard it. Don’t want to hear it again. When all my kids are home for summer, it’s a madhouse here. Nobody gets up at the same time. My kids have camps, activities, and summer jobs with weird hours. My teenagers believe they are entitled to stay out til curfew every night and then come home at midnight, turn on their stereos, shower, chat with friends, and watch movies til the wee hours—never mind that my husband and I still have the same work schedule as always. There are so many seatings for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that I feel like the cook on a cruise ship.

I tell you this to explain how I ended up mopping at 5:30 am like it was a perfectly reasonable, sane, smart thing to do.

Every day, my goal is to do a bit of cleaning, about an hour’s worth, whenever I can fit it in. Mondays, I dust and clean glass. Party on! Tuesdays, it’s sweep and vacuum fun. Mopping and cursing on Wednesday. Thursdays are the worst: bathroom atrocities. Fridays are kitchen duty. Fridays are horrendous if I clean the stove and do a major fridge clean out, or they can be a slacker day with a mostly countertop clean. Depends on my mood. I like to keep Fridays flexible. It’s the beginning of the weekend, after all.

OF COURSE, I have to skip some days. The price for that: double dip with chores on another day. It’s not a perfect plan, not by a long shot, but it’s something—a bone to throw to the cleaning gods. I like to say I clean like the maid. In other words, I do a so-so job. I don’t clean like I live here and personally care about how clean things are. I clean like it’s my job to do it, and I do the least I can get away with and still get paid.

I’ve tried all sorts of mind games with house cleaning over the years, like splitting jobs with my husband and kids and hiring outside help when I could afford it, but I’ve never really found anything that worked for our family. The truth is: I’m a neat freak. My husband is neat, too, but only because he’s been married to me for 26 years. He does it to make me happy, but he doesn’t NEED the clean like I do. My kids are messy, filthy, disgusting creatures who feel no natural inclination toward cleanliness at all and who don’t care one bit what I think about that.

Therein lies the inevitable conflict. Although I awoke with joy to Wednesday morning mop day, I knew from experience that my kids would be racked out in bed until noon. I could wait around all day on their rooms to be vacant. I don’t know how this happened, honestly, but I have somehow been reduced to the status of highly educated hotel maid. I wait around every morning for the occupants to check out so I can clean their rooms, gather laundry, pick up trash and half-eaten food items, collect glassware and assorted flotsam and jetsam, and generally wonder how anyone who shares my DNA could leave a dribbling pudding cup in the bathroom.

I sat on the stairs to contemplate my options: Would I get the chair or life if I went in my kids’ rooms and knocked them into next week with my mop? Would it be worth the hassle of rousting them out of bed and getting them to pitch in, which is certainly the lesson a responsible parent would teach? Nope. I’m just too tired for that, I decided. Suffice it to say, even though I probably should have been, as usual, counting my blessings, I was not.

And, yes, I even make myself tired sometimes.

Then I had a mopping epiphany. My three teenagers sleep like the dead. (Which is another thing I blame them for, even though it’s illogical and unfair. They can sleep through anything: a noisy burglar, 4th of July fireworks, and tornado sirens. I battle insomnia on a nightly basis, and I’m convinced I could be a nicer parent if I could just get more sleep.) I knew without a doubt that I could open those bedroom doors, cruise in like a woman with a plan, mop, and the ungrateful wretches WOULD NEVER KNOW I WAS THERE. The floors would be dry before they poked their entitled tootsies from under the covers.

Grabbing my mop and bucket, I decided to go for it. I charged into my son’s bedroom, a woman on a mission with a space-launch-worthy deadline. Sure, it was a little early, but I was up, and I wanted my jobs out of the way. I made it all the way around the bed without waking the 6’3”, 185-pound lump sprawled diagonally across the bed. I finished the bathroom in between my boys’ rooms and was just about to retreat gleefully when I accidently slapped my soaking mop into the side of a long arm dangling over the edge of the bed.

An eye peeled open. I decided to brazen my way through the early morning interaction. I didn’t have a lot of choices.

“Mom?” my son growled.

“Good morning, son! It’s a beautiful day!” I announced.

One hairy eyeball slid from the top of my mismatched exercise clothes down to my hot-pink house slippers, over the mop I held defensively in front of me like a sword from Braveheart, and finally landed with a blink on the bucket of dirty water I clutched tightly to my side like I’d just baptized someone with it in the Jordan River.

“What are you doing in here, Mom?” my teenage son asked.

I decided to go with a cheery response.

“I’m mopping, of course. It’s Wednesday. I’ll be out in two minutes,” I responded.

“Seriously, Mom? It’s 5:30 in the morning. This is totally whacked. You know that, right?” he demanded in a sleepy voice.

“Well . . . yeah. Possibly. I’m doing the best I can, son,” I admitted with a sigh.

Sadly, this is who I am. I’m afraid my well-deserved epitaph is going to be like the ones we chuckle over while standing in line for the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney World: “Here lies Mel. She did the best she could,” or maybe, “Here lies Mel. She meant well.”


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The Virtue of Neatness in the Midst of Life’s Hot Mess


I am by nature a neat and orderly person. I have always been this way. Blame it on my genes. I was folding receiving blankets in the hospital nursery shortly after my birth. I feel a primal urge to straighten, neaten, organize, and tidy clutter of any kind—in my house, your house, even department store dressing rooms. I think my natural neatness is a charming facet of my personality. Not everyone agrees.

Occasionally, I feel the urge to tidy-up real live people. When I encounter young men wearing low-riding pants, for example, which display their underwear to grandmothers, nuns, and preschoolers alike, I feel a strong compulsion to tuck their shirts in, pull their pants up, tighten their belts, and generally boss them around a bit.

I don’t, of course. It would embarrass my children. Also, I might get shot or arrested, and that would interfere with a number of fun social outings I have planned with my friends. The point is: I think about doing it.

Just this week, while I was having my hair cut, a woman came in to the salon to apply for a job. Like every other Southern woman in the joint, I openly eavesdropped on her interview with the owner.

It didn’t go well. First of all, the woman was smacking a huge wad of gum when she walked in the door. She was really enjoying it, too. When she blew bubbles, it was apparent to all that she could use some dental work. I did not feel optimistic about her chances of being able to afford that, based on her salon interview.  She had chosen a T-shirt urging others to “get a life” to wear to the interview. Her hair was piled haphazardly on her head and secured with a chip clip. Clearly, she was not worried about first impressions.

I wouldn’t have hired her for anything. All those messy details are a sign from God. If this was the effort she expended for a job interview, I can’t imagine what she’d do on days when her kids are sick, her car won’t start, it’s raining so hard the kids are wearing life vests, and her husband is needling her last nerve.

It took every atom of self-control I’ve amassed in my life to remain under that cape in my salon chair with my mouth closed. I’m telling you—I could have changed her life if she’d solicited my counsel. However, she didn’t ask for my opinion, and I have nice manners, so I didn’t offer any pearls of wisdom. Not everyone has been taught to interview properly, you know. I was tempted to offer to mentor her myself, but, instead, I minded my own business. I’m not sure I made the right decision.

I could have changed her life—just by tidying her up. I don’t know why some people are so disparaging about neat freaks. Messy people are plenty excited when neat freaks like me know just where to find: the security code to silence a blaring alarm, a copy of the flood insurance when the water starts rising, batteries for the television remote right before the SEC championship game kicks off, a Living Will when there’s talk of pulling the plug, emergency cash to bail someone out of jail, and shotgun shells for . . . whatever needs shooting. My neatness obsession benefits my family and friends—even perfect strangers.

Invite me over to vent about your cheating husband, and I’ll advise you AND organize your kitchen spices. When I am worried, I clean out my bedroom closet. It gives me a sense of control over something in my life, albeit a small thing. Try it. There is nothing like instant gratification to give your brain a tiny adrenaline rush of satisfaction; it’s the same feeling you get when you pop a chocolate truffle in your mouth.

I believe that we are who we are from birth. I come down on the side of nature in the nature v. nurture debate. I think the “nurture” part is just what well-mannered humans do to manage our natural tendencies to resolve our differences by bonking each other on the head. Nevertheless, DNA is no excuse for bad behavior.

Unfortunately, I live with three teenagers who did not inherit my neat-freak trait. I have tried to overcome Mother Nature’s hardwiring with a variety of time-tested social conditioning tools—fussing, nagging, yelling, begging, bartering, cajoling, and bribing—with little success.

As a result, we have a volatile mix living under one roof: messy kids and a neat-freak mom. Nothing good comes from that. Every day, when I wake up and wade through the detritus of my children’s rooms where half-eaten sandwiches, empty water bottles, candy wrappers, dirty socks, cell phone chargers, smelly shoes, hair ties, athletic equipment, musical instruments, half-finished homework assignments, and other items, which do not belong on the floor but seem to end up there on a regular basis anyway, it infuriates me anew.

The whole neatness conversation makes me want to take to my bed with a cold cloth on my forehead. Life doesn’t have to be this messy. Sadly, it usually is—literally and metaphorically.


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Chance Encounters, The Chaos Theory, and Jesus

Have you ever noticed how our smallest encounters with other people, even perfect strangers, can be life-changing? These days, my life seems to be moving at Mach speed. The visual metaphor that pops in my mind to describe this pace is the military’s new high-tech wave rider which promises to get a person—or a bomb, I presume—half-way around the world in less than ten minutes. Have you seen the footage on CNN? It looks like a toy Batman or James Bond would play with. Imagine: Europe in under an hour—traveling at nearly 4,000 miles per hour. Talk about jet lag!

This week, I dropped off my firstborn at college, registered my other two kids for a new school year, tried to work a bit on a new book, fought the good fight against steroid-engorged dust bunnies, cooked, washed clothes, sang in the choir, and attended to the usual births, deaths, and cultural milestones in the lives of friends traveling life’s path beside me. My forties have been busy, let me tell you. I don’t like rushing headlong through my day. I feel like I never finish a thought. If I were a dog, a squirrel would undoubtedly dash across my path every few minutes. It makes me wonder if I’m losing my mind. Seriously. I might REALLY be losing my mind this time. My brain feels leaky—like an overflowing colander.

Because of this frenetic pace, I often fail to stop and savor moments like I should. Do you do this, too? I don’t want to live the rest of my life this way! I feel like I just barely keep my nose above water. After watching the Olympics, let’s just say that if I were a water polo player, I’d be dead.

At the most inconvenient moment possible, when the washing machine is overflowing, and the cat has escaped out the front door into traffic, and my daughter can’t find her cheerleader ribbon, and my mother-in-law is talking to me on the telephone–all at the same time–that’s the moment when I usually experience an epiphany, or as I prefer to call it:  a smack down by Jesus.

A smack down by Jesus is the Southern colloquial equivalent of the standard literary term, “epiphany.” I am like the grandmother in Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find.” I, too, “would of been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” Yep. That’s me, or to be more grammatically precise: I am she.

That doesn’t sound right, does it? I know, but it is. Trust me. This is the kind of useless information I have embedded in the wrinkles of my brain. If you want to arrange flowers on the cheap, feed a bunch of hungry boys, write a quick essay, sing a little, or check your grammar, I’m your woman. I’d have been a heck of a catch a few centuries ago. Here–not so much. Try making a living with my talents. I dare you. I’m not a prodigy by any stretch of the imagination. My gifts don’t make for deep pockets.

End of digression.

Where you sit on a plane, the time you walk into a building to go to work, where you choose to see a movie—any of these random events can change your life forever. I have a friend whose parents were scheduled to tour the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001–at 11:00 AM. I know someone who met her husband on the side of the interstate when he stopped to help her change a tire.

What if . . . that’s the question. Chance. Fate. Kismet. Predestination. Luck. Pick a reason. All of our lives can change on a dime—for good or for ill.

The Chaos theory in economics says that there is an inherent order in the seemingly random nature of the world. Just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Most religions claim there is a divine plan or a benevolent God overseeing it all, at the very least. If I didn’t believe that, I don’t think I could get out of bed in the morning.

The meaning of life is a debate above my pay grade, to say the least, but I’m determined be more open to the small, seemingly insignificant events unraveling around me. I believe with all my heart that the greatest joys in life lie in the smallest details—ordinary moments that are easily overlooked.


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Ask Melinda: Teenagers and Selective Hearing

Question: Why can’t my teenager hear me when I’m talking to him?

I have to say upfront that I wasn’t sure this reader’s question was real. I may have actually snorted out loud when I read her message to me on Facebook. Really? She’s actually worried about her teenager’s hearing? No way! Then I remembered something. When my middle child was three weeks old, I took him to our pediatrician and said, “I don’t think this baby can hear.” To demonstrate, I dropped a huge book, Black’s Law Dictionary, on the floor of the exam room. He didn’t startle at all.

“You’re probably right,” she said. “We need to check that out.”

Turns out, his hearing was perfectly fine—THEN. (He is sixteen now. Like his siblings, he only hears what he wants to hear now in order to maintain plausible deniability later.) After we got the good news, the specialist asked:

“Do you have any other children, Mrs. Thompson?”

“Yes, a son, he’s almost two,” I responded, with a what’s-this-got-to-do-with-anything look on my face.

“My guess is he makes a lot of noise, right?” he asked.

“Well . . . I think he makes about as much noise as any other two-year-old,” I answered, a little affronted.

“I think your baby is just accustomed to a high noise level,” he suggested, tentatively.

Yes, indeed. My older son was so loud that his brother got accustomed to the noise pollution while still in utero. Today I decided to answer this reader’s question, straight up, without rolling my eyes or scoffing. Even though the answer seems obvious to me, it might not be to her. I really am a nice person.

Here’s how I see it:

First of all, your teenager CAN hear you. He simply CHOOSES not to acknowledge your question/request/demand/harangue/comment/advice/dire warning/sarcastic remark . . . whatever. Teenagers have selective hearing. This is a well-known phenomenon. I am sorry if you missed the memo. I thought everyone knew. Let me reassure you that you are not alone—ALL teenagers have selective deafness. It’s a subtle ailment. Most teenagers cannot hear: requests to clean their rooms, put away laundry, hang up their wet towels, do their homework, or get out of bed for school. They can, however, hear and immediately identify the sound of a cookie sheet being pulled from the oven, their cell phones ringing or vibrating at any hour, day or night, or the distant whirr of an ATM cash machine spitting out money two blocks away IF it is allowance day.

Bottom line:

Today’s question seemed like a gimme to me. I almost didn’t answer.  I reconsidered because I realized that although I am old and mean, there are still some young, sweet mamas out there who might actually be worried that they are the only family experiencing problems with selective deafness. Here’s the scoop: selective deafness is as common in teenagers as diaper rash in the baby set. Welcome to the show, sweet mama. I hope you’re ready to play in the big league. It’s a whole new ballgame.


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Ask Melinda: Teenagers, Photographs, and Mom’s Potty Mouth

Okay, I skipped a couple of Friday “Ask Melinda” columns this month. Deal with it. I have a new book to promote, a high school senior, and a stack of good books to read. I’ve been busy.

Question: How can I get my teenagers to cooperate when I’m trying to take pictures?

I plucked this Friday’s “Ask Melinda” question right out of the queue because I encountered this dilemma myself this week. I am freshly empathetic to how frustrating this task is. Teenagers rarely cooperate in endeavors that do not benefit them personally. I’m pretty sure I’ve covered this ground before. Ergo, you must find a way to make your photography session important to them. Duh.

Here’s how I see it: You can try straightforward shame first, something along the lines of: “Mother’s Day is coming up, and all I really want is a decent picture of my children which wouldn’t cost any of you a DIME.” If that results in nothing more than eye-rolling, try an appeal to their selfish natures: “Do you want your friends to see a horrible photograph of you on Facebook, my blog, on our Christmas card, or in the paper?” It’s a well-known fact that teenagers care more about what their friends think than anyone else. It’s all about clear skin, fabulous hair, and straight teeth. The problem is, if you have more than one teenager like I do, they never agree on which photograph is “the one.” Each teen chooses the photo in which he or she looks best—regardless of whether a sibling has his or her eyes closed, mouth hanging open, or fly unzipped. This debate can degenerate into all-out warfare in a hurry.

Solution: Teenagers are too old for feather duster banter with the photographer. They are no longer motivated by candy rewards. You have to shock teenagers into spontaneous grins and non-petulant, sulky body language. I did that this week by uttering a vile word—truly shocking profanity–in the middle of our photo session, a word my kids have never imagined coming out of my mouth. I shouted it in front of God and everybody—loud and proud. Immediately, gasps, giggles, and spontaneous laughter erupted all around me. It worked. I got the photo I needed.

ImageBottom line: You have to be quick-witted to get what you want from teenagers. You have to adaptable and wily. If posing with my kids in a Sunday dress and pearls, with my arms wrapped around the ungrateful wretches, in an effort to immortalize our happy family on film requires a little gutter dwelling to get me the photograph I want, I’m willing to do it. You can’t be too prideful if you want something from teenagers. Trust me on this.


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Ask Melinda: The Classic Coat Battle

Question: Why does my daughter refuse to wear a coat when it’s clearly needed?

At first glance, this Friday’s “Ask Melinda” seems simple, a real softball question. When it’s cold outside, isn’t it logical to assume that every warm-blooded, non-brain damaged human would know, without being told, that a coat is necessary? Do we parents really have to remind our teenagers that hypothermia is an issue? Could anything be more obvious? And why does a gentle reminder—“Don’t forget your coat, sweetie, it’s 30 degrees outside!”—provoke surly responses like “Nobody wears a coat anymore, Mom!” “Oh, yeah? Since when?” I ask, “How is the weather and the necessity of warm clothing somehow my fault? I am not in charge of the weather!”

Did you think you were the only parent with this problem? Did you worry that your teenager is the only one inexplicably refusing to wear a coat? Nope. My in-box has three variations on this question THIS WEEK. One was a sweater complaint, I admit, and another specifically mentioned gloves and a hat, but the point is the same.

Here’s how I see it: You must accept the following premise as a given: Teenagers do stupid things—all the time. Count on it. If you are looking for logic and reason, you are barking up the wrong tree during adolescence. If you ask them to explain why they refuse on principle to wear a coat, they probably won’t be able to articulate a coherent response. That’s because, like so many other things teenagers do/say/believe, there isn’t a good reason for it. Teenagers are impulsive. Their brains aren’t fully baked. There are some serious studies out there to back up that statement. Look them up if you don’t believe me. I don’t need to waste perfectly good money funding a study. I live with three teenagers. I know what I’m talking about.

Bottom line: You do have a duty to alert your teenager to the weather occurring right outside the front door if you think there is a good chance he or she is oblivious to the twenty degree overnight drop in the mercury. Go ahead and give them a heads-up when you wake them or see them at the breakfast table. That’s a nice thing to do. This newsflash gives your daughter an opportunity to dress comfortably for the weather, as opposed to simply wearing her favorite sundress in January because she knows it will irritate you. In the end, whether or not teenagers choose to wear seasonally appropriate attire is up to them. What’s the worst that can happen? They’ll be cold and look stupid, right? Not your problem.


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Ask Melinda: The Art and Science of Teenage Allowance

Question: How much allowance should I give my teenager?

I have been looking forward to this all week! I am so excited about writing the first “Ask Melinda” Friday post. There’s nothing I enjoy more than serving up some free advice. Step right up! Bossy women like me are always convinced we have a plan that will work for you—and everyone else on the planet. Keep those questions coming! I will get to you all eventually. I promise.

It will surprise no one in my family that the first question I have chosen to respond to involves teenagers and allowance. I am a cheap mom. I have to be. We are always on a budget around here, and the bills never seem to match up with the incoming green. Every month, there are unexpected expenses. Just one month I’d like to see a sweepstakes windfall or the Prize Patrol at my door. That never happens. I feel certain I’d make a lovely rich person, but I can’t envision any scenario in my life where that might play out. I don’t have any rich relatives. I’m not a good poker player, and I’m not devious enough to make a living as a professional criminal. I’m a writer (How many rich writers do you know? Some of the greats nearly starved to death. Look it up. I’m telling you the truth.) I have 3 teenagers. They suck up every dime I dig out of the sofa cushions.

Here’s how I see it: The amount of allowance you give your teenagers depends on what you expect them to pay for using those funds, obviously. If it’s just an entertainment budget, as in they don’t have to pay for a car, insurance, gas, groceries, drug store items, clothing, gifts, or anything else except treating themselves to café lattes and movie tickets, I say that number can be fairly lean. The trick is to make sure they have enough cash on hand to get out of a parking deck somewhere but not enough to buy contraband. Being a broke teenager is not a bad thing. Not at all. Too much walking around money leads to trouble.

The truth is that money isn’t real to a teenager until they earn it themselves. When my oldest son got his first paycheck last summer, I said, “It took you a whole hour to earn enough to pay for one of your fast food lunches. Get it?” “Yeah,” he said, disgruntled, “And who is FICA, and why is he getting half of my money?” “Welcome to big boy world,” I said, “I hope you’re not counting on that income for your retirement, by the way.” You can yak to your teens all you want about money; nothing speaks louder than minimum wage.

Bottom line: Give your kids an allowance–whatever you think is fair. (If you need to make adjustments later, you can, of course. The rate isn’t set by the U.S. Treasury Department, you know.) Teenagers have to learn to manage a budget. They will make mistakes. Count on it. Don’t bail them out of their poor choices! That’s how they learn. Don’t micro-manage their allowance either. That undermines the whole arrangement. Stay out of it—even when they blow every dime on concert tickets the first week of the month. When they run out of money, they run out of money—just like in the real world. Better they miss out on a fun outing with friends now than a mortgage payment later. And remind them that they are the biggest financial investments of your life. If they win the lottery, you expect a percentage.


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