You don’t have to live in Toronto proper to know who Rob Ford is. That my family does live near Toronto, coupled with the fact that we own a television and speak a recognized human language, means even my teenager knows who Rob Ford is, and worse, what he’s done. His performance as a politician and husband are legitimately up for debate, and you can make valid points for his immediate termination of public office, but there’s one thing he’s great at—one area where he excels beyond any other current public figure—and that is that he makes a fantastic example of what NOT to aspire to. Sure, Justin Bieber is currently acting like a hormone-fuelled asshole with keys to the liquor cabinet and the Porsche, but he’s nineteen years old and so I’m cutting him a teeny-tiny bit of slack. Rob Ford? Notsomuch.
My daughter asks how Ford can still be the mayor of a large urban centre when he’s admitted he has used crack. Don’t adults face repercussions and face consequences like kids do? Like Bieber will? I have no explanation to offer her other than to invoke complicated political terms in a half-hearted attempt to explain how bureaucratic red tape means his dismissal isn’t a given, despite his breaking the law. What can I tell her? The “celebrity” of Rob Ford is concerning, and this is where I start the discussion about “Ford vs. What’s Fair” with my daughter. Seeing that Rob Ford has repeatedly conducted himself in the manner bereft of impulse control, he makes a great reference for discussions with teens about addiction, drug and alcohol use, and how the internet doesn’t forget, folks. Teenagers aren’t the only ones who get caught acting like assholes on Vine or Instagram, and we need to stop acting like they’ve got a moratorium on momentary stupidity. Explaining to your teen how even adults conduct themselves like idiots is uncomfortable at best, especially when you’ve got a jaded kid like I do. So far, she’s made no major indiscretions with technology (that I’m aware of), and so Rob Ford’s latest drunken escapades captured on video while he dined at Toronto-area restaurant, Steak Queen, was great for me as a springboard. What it did was allow me (another) in to talk about how anything you say and anything you do now has the potential to be recorded and captured forever.
I’ve taken screen shots of racy tweets I’ve seen in my own timeline to demonstrate how even after the author deletes them—even after they think they are *gone*—they are still there. Ford’s drunken rant at Steak Queen isn’t shocking in itself. Who hasn’t spoken out of turn in a fast-food restaurant after a few too many? I point towards my own experience, going way back to the blissfully ignorant days of July 1992, to what is now known in my circle of friends as The Great Olive Incident. It happened in a Mr. Submarine restaurant after a night of vodka-lubricated debauchery, and all I can say is thank God no one had the balls (or the urge) to lug around an eight pound VHS video recorder in those days. The other difference is that before Steak Queen, Rob Ford made a huge show of saying he’d never drink again. He said it—and it was recorded. (I never made such a claim, but I can almost guarantee I won’t make a Mr. Sub clerk cry again.) We can play Ford’s impassioned speech back to him—we can roll back that footage. Privacy, whether deserved or not by public figures or private citizens, is a thing of the past, and trying to teach that to a teenager, when we adults are learning how to navigate a digital world ourselves, is difficult.
And yet, despite his shortcomings and failures in both private and public spheres, Rob Ford is not a joke. He has real, serious, potentially fatal flaws and I will not make excuses for him. But I care more about my child than I do him, and so I will use him as an example.
Your teenager is probably a morning person in the same way that Alec Baldwin is a people person.
Sure, there have been accounts of teens who rise with the sunshine, but I put those mythical creatures in the same category as I do things like “unicorns,” “self-cleaning oven,” and “successful NBC sitcom.” Real teenagers like to sleep — a lot. My 15 year-old daughter is a great kid, but the girl likes to sleep in. To me — someone who hasn’t slept in since September 25, 1995 — I find this infuriating, and I have no problem admitting it’s simple jealousy on my part. Pre-pre-pre menopausal hormones coupled with my need to get shit done preclude me from sleeping past dawn most days of the week. Because I get up early, I also like to go to bed at a decent time. Last week I had eaten dinner, cleaned the kitchen, packed lunches and was winding down on the couch when I decided enough was enough and the time had come to turn in for the evening. It was 6:14pm.
At 6:14 pm most teenagers (mine included) are just getting started. I have no idea what time she actually turns in for the night because I am out like a light by then and so I’ve had to institute a few rules regarding bedtimes which apply in absentia. All tech (including iPhone) must be turned off by 10 pm and be charging in a location outside of the bedroom, and lights are off by 11pm on weekdays. “But I can’t sleep!” she complains. Well, I can’t dance or cook or do simple math and I’m not crying. Life sucks, my dear, and your body needs rest whether you understand that or not. High school starts at 8:20 in the morning and she’s on the road by 7:55, so limits during the week are necessary.
I’ve always been a “pick-your-battles” parent, and so I’m a more lenient on weekends, especially since she's often playing catch-up with slumber. But I don’t run an all-night underground rave club, so there had to be some concessions. I’ve read all the studies and I know that doctors and geeks in lab coats who study human brains conclude that the teenage brain is wired to stay up late and sleep in and that’s fine, as long as I’m not the one paying for it. I approach the need for sleep with my teen this way: Follow my rules from Monday to Friday, and on the weekend you can set your own level.
I’ve told her that I will not be held hostage to a bad mood when she chooses to watch all eleven seasons of the original Beverly Hills, 90210 in one weekend because “those clothes are goddamn hysterical.” And every single one of her responsibilities must be met before a decent hour and there will be no 10:30pm meltdowns over wrinkly uniform pants or lack of printer ink for an assignment started 15 minutes after Staples closed. The rest of the family will not cease regular activity so she can sleep through Sunday and yes, I expect kind treatment come morning. Holding firm with these rules works, and as does her making sure she has everything ready for school the night before. I can’t magically make her a morning person, but I can insist on respectful behaviour, or at least silence if she can’t muster even that. And I’m not rushing around to accommodate an oversight; if she misses the bus because she overslept, that’s her problem.
I can’t win against biology and if her brain is wired to spark to life at 8pm, we need to work with that limitation for now. Putting her in the bedroom farthest from mine and instituting no noise/tech works well, and I just relegate her to the basement on weekends. I remember the allure of staying up until all hours when I was her age and so I know it doesn’t last forever. Pretty soon she’ll be 40 years old and wishing someone could convince her to hit the sack by 7pm.
Without fail, every few months national magazines and news programs feature stories about, “The Cost of Raising a Child.” It’s usually parents of small children who pay the most attention to these features, because they’re new to the game and are still gathering information about the enormous responsibility children are—emotionally and financially. And sure, babies can be pricey—what with diapers and clothing and $3000 diamond-crusted 4-wheel drive strollers—but as kids round the corner on their first decade, things level out a little. There are still costs, like sports equipment and shoes for feet that grow overnight, but there’s a window of time when kids don’t care so much about having everything brand new or brand name. This stage is what I refer to as the We-Can-Actually-Afford-Red-Meat-Again Years. This is also the time to plant a money tree, if you can get a line on one.
Or maybe talk to your financial adviser about funneling a little something into a fund for the second decade of your kid’s life, because even if your child gets a part-time job to help with upcoming expenses, you’re going to need back-up. Here’s a little of what you can expect between twelve years old and they-finally-left-the-nest:
My daughter pays for her own make-up, other than what I’ve purchased to get her started. But I still need to buy shampoo and conditioner and deodorant and other items that make the experience of living in close proximity with a teen tolerable for the senses. If you have boys, then you know the goat-odour of which I speak. People snark on Axe and Old Spice, but there’s something to be said for a product which can turn what is essentially a barnyard animal in an Aeropostale t-shirt into something you can sit next to in a minivan.
Do you have a second car? Sell it. Sell your first car, too. You’ll need the money for gifts, because we celebrate everything these days and our teenagers know it. Gifts include (but are not limited to): birthdays, Christmas, Hanukkah, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Valentine’s Day, Confirmation, graduation (Grade 8 and High School), Easter, report cards, first periods, first date, first time . . . nope, she’s on her own there.
Not only do we give gifts for every event, we also celebrate with a party—parties for which your teen will need extensive costumery and matching shoes, prom, Spring Formal, Spring Semi-Formal, Almost Spring Semi-Formal, It’s Not Quite Spring Fling Flon Dance-a-athon, etc. Forget about suggesting a second-hand shop, unless you have achieved expert eye-roll avoidance techniques. This shit is NOT for beginners.
This category includes cell phones, internet use, tablets, laptops for homework, iPods, and anything else which enables us to track, trace, stalk, watch, observe, or otherwise be aware of where our teens are and what they are doing. I’m not a proponent of GPS tracking devices specifically for the purpose of knowing our teenagers’ every move, because they deserve the freedom to make mistakes and have some fun that we shouldn’t know about until it comes out at a Thanksgiving dinner 30 years later, in a “Wanna hear a funny story about the time I told you I was at the cottage with Jane’s family, but I was really a roadie for Nine Inch Nails?” conversation, and ONLY after we’ve taken our heart pills. Techie stuff costs money and your teen is going to want them all, and some of them they do actually need, so you’re likely going to at least subsidize their cost. Expect to upgrade annually from ages 13-18. Expected cost during dependent years for internet access, routers, new iPod screens, phone plans, etc? Four kabillion dollars.
I’m not buying a car for my child. I drove my father’s huge purple Econoline van with a sunset painted on the side and that was good enough for me. It was pretty awesome, actually. It had no backseat and there was lots of room to lay down a blanket and you could . . . on second thought, perhaps I will get her a car, but something small, like a Smart Car or a Chevette—something with no head or leg or laying-down-on-a-blanket room. But I want her to drive safely regardless and so she’ll need Driver’s Ed, and at last check that cost half a kidney, your firstborn, and seven magic rubies. And until they drive, they’ll need bus passes and chauffeur services courtesy of you.
These have an entire sub-category unto themselves, because dental care is crazy expensive and not everyone has insurance coverage. Here’s a handy formula to help you determine if your child will need braces in the future, so that you can start saving now if necessary:
If the answer to this question is “yes,” then your child will need braces. Expect to pay upwards of an entire year’s salary. If you’re super lucky, like our family, you will also hear awesome orthodontic phrases, like “jaw surgery” and “extensive tooth extraction” and “We’re not sure why but you were born without adult molars but hahaha don’t worry we’ll give you implants on a one hundred year payment plan.”
(Sticks fingers in ears . . . I CAN’T HEAR YOU . . .)
So, parents of toddlers and school-age children, you may want to reconsider buying that additional Wii game or $200 pair of snow pants this year. Teenagers are expensive to keep and I haven't even touched on extracurricular sports, like hockey and horseback riding, and soccer, and school-costs, and . . .
Put that money into a savings bond or start dropping hints to your kids about maybe “getting their own place” before they get too comfy in suburbia.