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“When I Was Your Age…” My Teens Are Completely Different Than I Was

As much as I want to see everything through the memories of my own teen years, they’ve got ideas of their own.

Back in my day, I had a pretty good time in school. Loved elementary school, tolerated middle school, loved high school. So, by my way of thinking, whatever I was doing must have worked, and therefore, whatever I did would obviously work for my kids as well.

Clearly, I am a fool’s idea of a fool.

Case in point #1:

Friday night was coming up. And when you’re in high school, what do you do on Friday nights in the fall? You go to the school’s football game! Duh.

On a recent game night, I said to my son, who’s a freshly minted freshman at the school, “Ready to go?”

He said, “Sure, okay,” without nearly the amount of enthusiasm I would have expected.

We get to the game and there was a big crowd. The student section was packed. I told my son, “Go find your friends. I’ll be right up there in the bleachers with all the other parents. You can meet me after the game.”

He said, “That’s okay,” and pulls up a seat next to me. Outside of wandering off a couple of times he spent pretty much the whole time right next to me.

I pointed out the student section again, “You sure you don’t want to hang with your buds?”

Nope. He stuck close.

The next day I commented to my wife that our boy didn’t seem to enjoy himself that much at the game. She then proceeded to tell me that he only went because he didn’t want to see me go alone.


First, I was touched that he went purely on my behalf. But I couldn’t fathom the idea that he wouldn’t want to go to the game. Not go to the game? That’s crazy! I always went to the games on Friday nights when I was in school; that’s where everyone was. It was a huge social event, and from what I could see, it still is.

So, I asked my son about that and he admitted he wasn’t really interested in going to the games. Same went for his friends. Just wasn’t their thing.

Case in point #2:

My daughter just made the leap to 7th grade. She’s a little intimidated by the jump in school size, and to top it off, she’s a bit of an introvert. She has only a couple of friends. It’s like the old saw about how it’s easy to be lonely in a huge city.

I drew on my old school experiences and put my best fatherly advice forward. “You know, when I was in school… (Could I possibly sound any more cliché? Nope.) I did a lot of school activities. I was in band, orchestra, the magic club, on the tennis team, involved with drama. This way I was part of communities. That’s where you’ll meet more friends.”

“I don’t need more friends.”

I couldn’t believe it. “What?!! You always need more friends!”


I found this utterly baffling and promised myself to give this some serious thought.

Upon reflection, two inalienable truths became apparent: First, my teens are not me. Second, this first truth bugged me.

How can you not want to go to ballgames? How can you not want more friends? But it was clear that I was viewing their lives through the prism of my own life experiences.

I have come to the painful realization that the best I can do is tell them what worked for me and offer suggestions here and there. But, for the most part, I have to sit back and let them be the teens they want to be.

I think one of the reasons why it bothers me is that it’s one less thing I have in common with them. In my perfect parent world, they would love the exact same things I do and love them with the same amount of passion. But I have to own up to the fact that they aren’t me, and 50% of their DNA isn’t mine.

For more personal stories of growing up:

So, from this point on I’m doing the only responsible, mature thing I can: I’m blaming my wife.

Bryan Johnston is a freelance writer, author of several books, and the Creative Director for a creative agency in Seattle, Washington. He is married, has two teens, and one large goldendoodle. He loves baseball and movies and thinks A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles is the most enjoyable book he’s ever read.

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