Where in the world is Teen Spirit?

for The Brooklyn Paper
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On Saturday night at 10, Smartmom got a call from a high school friend with a bad case of parent-of-teen angst.

Her son, a ninth grader, seems to have jumped into the swimming pool of adolescence rebellion with great abandon. Her friend is just hoping he can swim.

To Smartmom it sounded like standard-issue teenage problems: smoking pot, lying, not getting good grades, and going to parties at unsupervised apartments.

Who didn’t do all that stuff when he or she was a teenager in the 1970s? And who isn’t freaked out by it when the teenager happens to be his or her kid in 2008?

Smartmom barely knew what to say. She definitely didn’t have any easy answers or sure-fire solutions. It’s not like she has a parenting column in a local newspaper or anything…

Telling her friend to fasten her seat belt and get ready for a long, bumpy ride probably wouldn’t be the most comforting thing, but Smartmom ached for her friend, who sounded so scared.

What if he becomes a heroin addict? What if he can’t get into a good college? What if he ruins his life?

Smartmom tried to quell her friend’s hysteria.

“Whoa,” she said. “You’re going from 0-60 like an Audi TT. Get back in the used Toyota for a second. Stay calm. Take it one day at a time.”

Sure, Smartmom was spewing meaningless cliches and platitudes. But what else was she going to say — “Yeah, you’re right, he’ll probably be smoking crack by week’s end”?

Sure, there are plenty of people who would react that way. They’d quote the experts, give you the name of shrink, suggest NA or AA.

Maybe that’s why her friend called her. She knew she’d get a more laid-back approach. That’s not to say that Smartmom isn’t realistic:

“One thing’s for sure, you’re going to have to be tough, set limits and accept that your kid isn’t going to like you very much for the next few years,” she told her friend.

“He already hates me,” she laughed. “I’m used to that.”

But Smartmom knows that these kind of problems are nothing to laugh at. Smartmom remembered how scary it was back when Teen Spirit was in ninth grade. Her fears and anticipatory anxiety ran rampant.

Turns out, she didn’t have too much to worry about. He was in a prep school in Bay Ridge and wasn’t doing anything too terrible.

Still, the anxiety percolated: Is he drinking? Doing drugs? Sex? Running around the city? Will he get hurt?

As Smartmom listened to her friend talk about all the drugs and sex at various public and private schools, she realized that she really doesn’t know what’s going on with her very own Teen Spirit.

At 17, he’s a very independent soul. Often, Smartmom has only the vaguest idea where he is.

It’s a terrible feeling. How can she protect him from the problems if he barely wants to talk, let alone take her advice? And the hardest part is discerning whether your kid is going through a phase or if he or she is settling into a life of substance abuse, slackerdom, a career as an artist, or worse (worse than a career as an artist? Scary!).

Smartmom and her friend talked about the kids they knew in high school who were big drug users. One guy actually did become a heroin addict and died a few years ago.

But another guy, who dropped acid hundreds of times in high school and college, is a lawyer who lives in Westchester with two kids in college.

So you never know.

Smartmom and Hepcat weren’t druggie teens (a little here, a little there), so they’ve taken a wait-and-see approach. Frankly, they don’t know if their son has ever tried the stuff. Maybe they’re in denial, maybe they’re just dumb.

As they talked on Saturday night, Smartmom heard her friend negotiating with her son. He had a friend over and they wanted to get some air. She let him go out, but she told him to stand on the street where she could watch him from their eighth-floor window.

Control. Or the illusion of control. That’s what it’s all about. You can ground them, spy on them, and drug test them, but you’re just putting off the inevitable: the time when you have no control over your children at all. And that’s the hardest thing of all.

You hope you’ve encouraged them to be smart, cautious and totally in sync with everything you care about. But who knows if it takes?

Indeed, even as Smartmom was encouraging her friend to keep an eye on her boy, she herself didn’t have a clue where Teen Spirit was. Probably some club in Bushwick.

She told her there’s no shame in calling him every half-hour even if she herself hadn’t communicated with Teen Spirit in hours.

Every day that you keep a good eye on your kids, you’re one day closer to the day when they’ll have more sense and maturity (one hopes). And one day closer to the day when you’ll have less control.

Smartmom can hardly wait.

Louise Crawford, a Park Slope mom, also operates “Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn.”
Updated 5:10 pm, July 9, 2018
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