, Newburyport, MA

May 1, 2013

Parent Pill: Communicating with teens

Newburyport Daily News

---- — “My girls are teenagers now, and that means that they spend lots of time picking up around the house, telling me what’s going on in their personal lives and reading books.” This is a statement that you will never hear from any parent in the history of the universe — ever.

Mine is no different than any other family that includes those sullen creatures we call teens. There are clothes strewn all over every inch of the floors, bottles of nail polish in every drawer and iPhone chargers plugged into every available outlet. In fact, the cords in our house could wrap around the earth 357 times with just enough left over to strangle myself with when I see the number of texts my girls send and receive each month. There is no data plan for this. There are not even any words … just emoticons with those scrunched-up little mad faces.

Teenagers are actually quite adaptable. They are like little chameleons who can blend into the woodwork when it’s time to fold laundry or load the dishwasher but quickly materialize when it’s time to go to the mall, the Apple store or anywhere that involves an iced caramel latte. Especially when they are not paying for anything associated with these outings. Hey, they are just along for the ride, oh and maybe a fro-yo if time permits. And it always does.

My pet peeve, though, is the lack of follow through. Why don’t teens ever finish a job? When my girls are asked to clear the table after dinner, they remove the plates. I have to tell them that cleaning up includes putting away the condiments, wiping down the table and sweeping the floor. When they empty the trash, they don’t put a new bag in the trash can. I have made it ridiculously easy to do so, by putting clean bags at the bottom of the can. They simply have to reach down, pull and stretch over the edges. Fool proof! Nope, still too much effort. If they fold laundry, they don’t put it away. If they empty grocery bags, they leave them on the floor. If they vacuum, oh wait, they never vacuum. That’s a machine that needs to be plugged in and yet you can’t use it to text or send Instagram photos of yourself — useless!

Here’s the thing: When I call them out for their oversights, I am told that I wasn’t specific enough in my instructions. As in, “Please lift the trash out of the wastebasket, secure the bag tightly, step toward the garage door and open it, bring the bag into the garage and place it in the larger garbage can, walk back in the house and close the door behind you, find a clean trash bag, open it, place it in the wastebasket and secure the edges. Don’t forget to close the cabinet door!”

Some things I thought were just implicitly understood; but that would be assuming there is a measure of common sense involved, which we all know is absent in the teenage mind.

My favorite recent example of this is when my youngest daughter helped me unload groceries out of my car. Simple enough, right? Well, a few days later I got into my car and noticed a foul smell wafting forward from the rear of the vehicle. After a very short investigation, I discovered a dozen eggs, still in the grocery bag, slowly rotting and turning into what looked like a science experiment gone very wrong. That is an odor that doesn’t leave you quickly, I don’t care how much Febreeze you spray. And it doesn’t blend well with the smell of sweaty ballet shoes.

Since she was at school when I had to clean my car and attempt to eliminate the foul odor, my daughter found the story quite amusing. Rotten eggs? Oh hilarious. So funny in fact, she was quick to get on her phone and text her friends with all the malodorous details. They all had a good laugh.

But I can wait for the payback. Oh, I can wait. In just a few years, she will have a car. And I’m sure she won’t mind if I store a few food items under the seat on a hot summer day. When she finally discovers the source of the odor, I’ll be kind enough to show her where the trash bags are.


Sue Tabb is an account director with Thomson Communications and a freelance writer. She lives in Newburyport with her husband and two daughters. You can visit her blog at