Adults think they remember what it's like to be a young person, but the reality is: they don't. Times change hard and fast, and what people in their 30s/40s/50s recall as "youth" has been extinct for a long time now. Sh*t gets harder, not easier.
Remember sock hops and muscle cars and drive-in movies? Hell no, you don't remember that stuff. Because it's ancient. People who remember The Doors on Ed Sullivan or even Nirvana on Saturday Night Live, they have no idea what it's like to be a teenager today. It's simply the way life works: Parents think they have a clue, and in turn, think their teens are wrong for thinking they don't have a clue. The truth? When it comes to most aspects of being a young adult, parents mostly have no idea what's going on.
So in that vein, I thought it'd be cool to look back on my own teenage years and talk about things I feel a little ashamed to telling my own three kids about someday. On one hand, I want to portray myself as a dad who "gets it." I was hoping the stuff I'm about to reveal might somehow be helpful to my own kids in years to come as they begin stumbling their way through the mad maze of being a teenager. But in the end, I have to laugh because my youth was a joke compared to kids today. I had it easy, man. And what was considered "wild and crazy" back when I was 16, well, those things seem pretty innocuous now. For example:
1. I smoked a lot of cigarettes.
Oh, behold the filthy habit. Go ahead, snarl and curse. In my teenage years, cigarettes seeped into teenage consciousness the same way getting excited about someone scoring wine coolers and hiding them in a cardboard box in the woods behind the mall did.
I started smoking when I was 14 or 15. I'm not proud of it. I've quit a few times since I had kids, but in the end I've always found my way back to the little b*stards (the smokes, not the kids.) Smoking's bad; everyone knows that. It's bad for your health and, even worse, it's bad for your damn image. People tend to look at smokers like they're crackheads. They smugly walk by them, thinking to themselves, "Stay away from me, please! Please don't ask me for $1.77 for the bus ride back to Weehawken."
But smokers don't care. Screw you. I started smoking cigarettes because I wanted to feel cool about myself. I was a husky, long-haired quiet type/not on any sports teams/no real girlfriends except one my senior year who only liked me after my younger, better-looking brother showed disinterest. I was into Johnny Cash and Springsteen when other kids were into Top 40 and the birth of hip-hop. I was kind of gross-looking. I had fat braces.
Of f*cking course I started smoking cigarettes!
Cigarettes made me feel like I could finally identify with people. I fell in with the smoking crowd. We smoked outside the lunch room. We smoked in the forest. We smoked and we talked and we bonded and we understood each other as we lit each other's smokes. Adults would look at us and frown and we felt massive and badass.
I plan to make sure my kids understand that smoking cigs is the worst, that it will stunt their growth and kill them quickly and make their peckers shrivel up into a wad of Sunday morning bacon. But if they do somehow end up smoking, one thing's for sure: I won't spazz out on them. I'll probably steal their smokes and smoke them with a glass of chianti on the backporch some night. But I'll never shame them. Because there's bigger things to worry about.
2. I lost my virginity fairly early.
I lost my virginity to my super-hot 30-year-old 9th grade music teacher one November afternoon after she asked me to stay after school because she wanted to talk about Motorhead with me after she saw me wearing a Motorhead t-shirt that I bought at Sam Goody's. We did it all over her desk and on the student desks and we even ended up doing it standing up, like a synchronized sex waltz, as we both headed out to her car in the parking lot after two hours of heavy sh*t.
Okay, that's a lie. Just a fantasy, I'm afraid. Got you all revved up though, huh? Ha! Nice.
I had a little sex in high school. Nothing major, mind you (remember, I was not a very sexy young man) and thank goodness nobody got pregnant. But like pretty much every teenage boy whose entire physical system is built upon a foundation of lust (and the yearning desire to get off as many times a day as humanly possible) I did a little dance/made a little love. And who cares? Teens are programmed biologically to want to experience life. They're programmed to shove their faces in the gushing river of existence and let it drown their skulls with the intense feeling of being alive.
I hope my kids avoid having sex when the time comes. I'll tell them how much can go wrong and that they need to associate sex with love and respect and not with a stolen bottle of Canadian Club and someone's vacationing parent's California King bed. But I know the deal. I've got three kids who will all be teens at the same time someday. At least one of them's gonna get freaky. At the end of the day, I just really want them to be safe and to treat the other person with dignity and class.
Being a teen is weird. Sex as a teen is even weirder. Parents who mishandle this topic and freak out about this very normal stage of life, well, they usually end up messing a lot of stuff up. Mind you, I'm not endorsing the sex I had as a high school meatball. (God save that sweet, sweet angel who must've damn near died at the sight of me.) But it wasn't the worst thing I've ever experienced. And as far as teenagers go—and maybe I'm way off the mark here —I'd rather deal with condoms than semi-automatic weapons any day.
3. I was a pretty big into "Bob Marley Cassettes" (if you know what I mean).
I use the term "Bob Marley Cassette" here instead of certain other words, as not to have an adverse effect on my career. But the main reason is I like saying "Bob Marley Cassette" instead of w**d or p*t or gr*ss.
I can't remember who came up with the term; I think I muttered it to my friends as we walked around in the wilderness staring at rabbit tracks in the snow while other teenagers were having sex, but I can't remember. I was baked, dude.
But here's the thing: Kids these days are in a lot of trouble. They're surrounded by other kids who are losing their way, minute by minute, victims of a world where the pressure to be hot and cool and successful and self-confident has reached a fever pitch. (We can probably thank the Internet for most of that, but that's another story.) I look back at my Bob Marley Cassette years as pretty great years. Yes, I fried some brain cells, BUT I also grew other new brain cells—very creative ones, actually—that spurred me on to pretty cool things. Things like garage bands and intense friendships and seeing a black bear cub in every single tree in the mountains of Pennsylvania one night that to this day, I have a distinct love affair with black bear cubs.
Let's get real: Kids are going to experiment. I don't want mine to come anywhere near the insane modern dragon that is meth or the old cannonball around your neck that is coke. Even the LSD that runs in their veins from when you and I were the ones probably taking it, I don't want my kids anywhere near that wack sh*t, okay? Do I want my kids all up in Bob Marley Cassettes? Hell no. But it wouldn't make me weep or freak out, either. I probably won't spazz if my kids ever find out that I was a young, brace-faced, chubby, anti-hero in high school who happened to really enjoy his Bob Marley Cassettes.
Everything in its time and place, mama.
Everything in its time and place, daddy-o.
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