3 Ways to Get Along With My Teenage Son

I've learned that how they dress and act does not represent who they really are. Funky clothes, an aloof attitude and big headset do not mean they don't want to talk or they don't care.
09/25/2013 11:05 am ET Updated Nov 25, 2013

I smiled with mixed feelings when I heard the dialogue between Matt King (George Clooney) and Alexandra King, his daughter (Shaliene Woodley) in the 2011 comedy-drama The Descendants.

On a surprise visit to pick up his daughter from boarding school, Matt caught Alexandra drinking with friends. Here is the discussion they had the next morning.

Matt: "Good morning. [No answer.] Does Mom let you have Coke for breakfast?"

ALEXANDRA: "I'm pretty sure it's after eleven."

MATT: "How are you feeling? Hungover, huh? Why am I not surprised? I don't know where to start, and we probably shouldn't in front of Scottie." [Note: Scottie is the younger sister]

SCOTTIE: "I don't mind."

MATT: "I thought you were supposed to be getting your act together."

ALEXANDRA: "I have gotten my act together. I was just drinking. I've been doing really well, but nobody ever seems to notice my grades are better, and how I was in that stupid play you guys didn't bother to see. Do you even remember the name of it?"

MATT does not respond.

ALEXANDRA (con't): "That's what I thought. So what if I got drunk on the ONE night you happened to drop in? So the f*ck what?"

MATT: "Hey, hey, hey. Watch your language in front of Scottie."

SCOTTIE: "I'm okay."

If you have teenage children, does that dialogue sound familiar?

My younger son and I have similar intense dialogues on a regular basis. I have been complaining about his constant texting and busy social calendar. Oh, yes, don't get me started on his headset. The headset is practically part of his ears and the music needs to be on almost all the time. I am constantly wondering if this boy has time to learn or do anything productive.

Exhausted from working and fighting the traffic to come home to take him to the haircut appointment he requested, I walked in the door and saw him sitting in the living room comfortably watching TV, listening to his music and texting his friends. My rage rose up and I started yelling at him about not doing his homework. He started yelling back that he just got home and needed a break from school. I started complaining about his texting, his headset and his multi-tasking... He started arguing that the behavior issues I am concerned about are not an issue. He went on and asked me if I noticed that he is doing well at school. He has been making an effort to eat well, practice more tennis and has even begun working on his piano skills again. He asked me if I have noticed the changes. Alexandra and Matt's dialogue reminded me so much of this wrangling with my boy.

Here are the three lessons I have learned through our numerous 'discussions':

Don't judge: I've learned that how they dress and act does not represent who they really are. Funky clothes, an aloof attitude and big headset do not mean they don't want to talk or they don't care. When you get to know them, they are actually pretty talkative and passionate. The trick is to find the right timing or the right topic to bring up. I don't need to like what they like, but I need to understand what makes my son tick.

Listen: Most of the time, they don't talk. When you ask them about anything, their usual response is "fine." That's OK! I didn't remember this. My mom reminded me that "fine" was my typical response when I was a teenager, which I adamantly denied, of course. I don't take "fine" as an answer, I still ask him questions about his school, his friends and his stuff. Sometimes he will talk, sometimes he won't. I go with his flow.

See from their lenses: We all see what we want to see. My son loves the movie Pacific Rim and even went to see the movies twice in the theater (yes, seriously!). He invited me to see it and I complied. Walking out of the theater, he asked me what I think.

My response: "I can't believe that I actually 'paid' for this film."

My son started laughing: "Mom, you don't get it. It's bro-fest. It's so bad and that's why it's so good." I started laughing with him. Yes, it's so bad that's why it's so good. He reminds me of Yogi Berra.

I asked my son if he cares to read this post. His response is "no, thanks." Initially, I felt a little rejected (a typical feeling one gets when you have teenage kids). Frankly, my response probably would be the same if my mom asked me to read her blog post about me.

Please share your insights into getting along with your teenage children.

Side note: If any teenager reads this post, please also makes an effort to understand from the lenses of your parents. Trust me, they are trying just like me.