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How To Fit In: Teen Loves Broadway. Mom Worries About Her Social Life

What happens when a teen feels one way about a particular issue or problem and the parent has a very different take? At Your Teen, we understand that sometimes you need to look at a problem from multiple perspectives. It can also be helpful to hear from a neutral third party. That’s when we bring in a parenting expert to provide the practical advice you need to bridge the divide and help restore harmony.

Here, a mother and daughter don’t see eye to eye about music, but it’s not what you think. 

MOM | Beth Swanson

The music of “Carpool Karaoke,” the Broadway episode, fills the car. The four passengers, all seasoned theater performers, identify “Seasons of Love” by the first chord with matching sighs.

That car ride would be my daughter’s dream, a picture of her adult life—but it’s not the reality. For now, she’s content to sing alone. On every morning ride with me, she belts out songs from “South Pacific,” “Funny Girl,” “Hamilton,” “Mean Girls,” and a hundred other shows. She finds joy and meaning in the four-part harmonies of Broadway.

Meanwhile, her non-theater friends are downloading Billie Eilish, talking about concert dates, and laughing over lyrics. Lines from songs become catchphrases and inside jokes.

The problem with inside jokes? Someone is always left on the outside.

What if her wholesale rejection of pop music limits her shared experiences with friends, both now and in the future? What if she’s missing out on her generation’s cultural touchstone, their version of MTV, George Michael, or New Kids on the Block?

I’m worried over nothing, she says. Every teen problem can be distilled down to a Broadway lyric, and her friends appreciate the perspective she brings to everyday problems by spouting lyrics from musicals (which were occasionally written in 1957). She believes that her friends should, and do, love her as she is, quirky musical taste and all. They love her because of her ability to bring Broadway into the everyday, not in spite of it. And that’s an ending fit for a Broadway star.

Beth Swanson is a freelance writer in Washington state. She writes about parenting and life with a hidden disability. Follow her on Twitter at @write4chocolate.


DAUGHTER | Natalie Swanson

I always choose to listen to Broadway music in the car, while my mom wants me to listen to more modern music. I think that she should let me listen to Broadway because it makes me happy. It’s not that modern music is bad; it’s just I prefer Broadway, where there is at least one song for every emotion.

My mom’s argument is that I need to be able to connect with my friends over music, but I think that my friends understand my taste in music, and that they aren’t going to shun me because of it. My friends don’t have to like the same music as me: We still like the same sports and movies, and we agree on deeper things like human rights.

My friends like me for who I am, and I don’t need to connect with them only through music.

Broadway is a huge part of my life, and while I know that my mom isn’t trying to get rid of it, I just wish that she could see that it is the soundtrack to my life. I don’t want to have to change a part of myself to have people like me more, just like I don’t want other people to change the things they like about themselves for me. We all bring something special to a friendship, whether it is different taste in music, a sunny personality, or a unique way of seeing things.

Natalie Swanson is a 13-year-old in Washington State. She enjoys dance and singing, as well as playing soccer and skiing. She would love to be on Broadway someday.


EXPERT | Phyllis L. Fagell, LCPC

Beth and Natalie turn the stereotype of an angsty middle schooler on its head. More often, I see young teens suppressing any trait that makes them different from their peers, while their parents urge them to embrace their quirks. I advise those parents to fly their “freak flag,” model nonconformity, and reassure their child that whatever makes them “weird” is probably their secret superpower.

That advice is not needed here. Natalie is a 13-year-old with enough self-awareness to know what brings her joy, and she has the confidence to pursue nontraditional interests.

Beth, you’ve clearly given your daughter the gift of authenticity. I think you appreciate her approach to life, too, but need some reassurance.

I hereby give you permission to stop worrying!

Your protectiveness is misplaced. Whenever you hear that nagging inner voice, I want you to ask yourself, “Whose anxiety is this?” Rather than shield Natalie from social rejection, use that mental energy to congratulate yourself on raising a daughter who “brings Broadway into the everyday” and knows how to choose nonjudgmental friends who appreciate her uniqueness.

Meanwhile, I promise that Natalie’s non-theater friends have their own weirdness, too. And with each belted lyric of “Seasons of Love,” Natalie will embolden them to be their true selves, too.

Phyllis L. Fagell, LCPC, is the school counselor at Sheridan School in Washington, D.C., a therapist at the Chrysalis Group in Bethesda, Maryland, and the author of Middle School Matters (August 2019). She blogs at phyllisfagell.com and tweets at @pfagell.