What Teens Teach Parents, What Parents Teach Us

teen roles, setting examples, motivation, role reversal, life lessons, inspirationMaria is a 16-year-old who lives in Texas. Her pastimes include reading, writing, playing video games, and playing soccer. She hopes to one day publish her book, which she has been working on for four years.


Most nights I sit frustrated at the seemingly jumbled numbers on my Algebra homework, trying to figure out if my teacher is out to get me by making me learn an alien language. As I slam by book, considering if it is worth paying $60 dollars to destroy it in the blender, I hear someone else in a similar dilemma. I head for the source and discover it’s my father. He’s sitting on the kitchen table wrestling with his own calculations. I glance at his paper. I discover that he’s again struggling with his addition. Instead of continuing on hurting and scratching his head, he asks me to do it. I fill in his blankness by showing him again how to do multiplication with several numbers. I go ahead and fill in the rest of his diagram—overrun by erase markings—while glancing at the rest of his day’s notes. I stay to fix the misspelled words on his paper. My mother soon comes up and asks me to make sure if she wrote the amount on a check right. She tells happily that she is finally learning how to spell numbers in English when I tell her it is right. I leave the kitchen. I decide to head for my room and work on fixing the rhetorical analysis I’ve been procrastinating. A long night of moving back and forth from tutoring my parents and my work is typical. And I sigh when I pray to myself that they will be fine once I leave for college.

(I recognize the fact that I’m not living conventionally, and will I rant in incoherent drunkard fashion in this article about how sometimes I wish I was.)

I never had the parent to fall back on for assignments. Frustration overcomes me every so often.  Still, they were there when it really matters. We share a mutual respect after learning something from each other.

But, the education a teen/parent learns from each other goes deeper than the instructions based in the classroom.

Probably the first thing that comes into your mind is your teen teaching you the nuts-and-bolts of new technology. That iPhone you have, yeah, your teen was probably the one who taught you how to scroll through pictures and how to not panic when that little voice comes seemingly out of nowhere.

Most parents will admit being a parent is a full time job. Teaching your kid not to put that fork in the power outlet, and to not place food in places on their body where they don’t belong is enough to make parent’s nightmare of yanking their hair out their head true.

Usually a teen’s job is to listen, stay quite, and learn. But sometimes parents are ones placed in their chairs patiently and told to pay attention.

For many years I had encountered a dilemma. My father’s drinking. Any opportunity to get together with his brothers and sisters was an occasion to drink. Getting home was an opportunity to drink. Watching TV was an opportunity to drink. And at the end of the night my brother and I would have to lead him back to bed, making sure he wouldn’t ram his head into any door like he had so many times before.

His drinking at times went farther than the house. I specifically remember one time that my brother, an inexperienced boy of 15, had to take the wheel and steer us home because my mother (who, by the way, never learned how to drive) found it safer for him to drive than my not-so sober father.

It finally hit the fan when our neighbors, who heard my father in a heated argument with my mother, called the cops.

Shortly after, my siblings got together and gave our word to help my father through his alcoholism. A few years ago we had to do the same with my mother’s diabetes diagnosis.

Sitting at the kitchen table is the perfect example of the abnormal hold I have to have over my parents. (You can find out a lot about a person by the way they handle themselves at the kitchen table.) Of course, my father, out of his own desperation and need to be accepted, no longer has a golden field of liquid before him. Nor does my mother have the unhealthy food choices she once had—since we had to reprimand her several times. Still, on occasion, I have to pry the beer can out of my dad’s stubborn grip.

I recently realized I found myself in the same precarious position my parents were years ago. I had to take my family member by the hand and try to make sure they don’t encounter any obstacle. Anytime my kin found themselves in the dangerous position of hurting themselves needlessly, I needed to steer them back.

But, patience. That’s what I truly needed in my family’s situation. Somehow I was able to grow with it—even though my siblings acquired it through other lessons. I perfected the stern composure as I waited for my father to go to bed at 2 AM. I grew sets of distinct calm with my parents as they waded through their respective conditions.

And, every time my parents ask me one more English/Math related question I no longer huff at them with my annoyed look. I help them work through the problem…like they do with me.

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