The secret lives of teens

Over the last couple years, my husband and I have taken it upon ourselves to introduce our 15-year-old to some of things we loved when we were teenagers.

Call it a walk down nostalgia lane. We’ve had many a Friday night listening to music, hopping around Spotify to find our favorites. Inevitably, it always returns to the ’80s.

My son, who plays guitar, loves most of it. (Of course when it ends up at Spandau Ballet, he’s suddenly nowhere to be found).

I’d been looking forward to watching all of the John Hughes classics with him: We laughed through Ferris Bueller. I cringed a bit during Sixteen Candles. And I felt his shock at the sadness he felt after watching The Breakfast Club.

It all got me thinking about how rebellious behavior and teens have often shared the spotlight over the years.

Were the pressures we felt as teens — the things we wanted to hide from our parents — the same as what my son goes through today?

Technology changes the game

It can be hard not to have a bit of trepidation as we circumnavigate the teen years. Technology definitely adds another dimension to the child-rearing experience. We’re bombarded with the negative effects of our phones — terrible accidents caused by texting and driving, cyberbullying and sexual images that can be sent across the globe. 

I’ve tried to follow all of the advice out there to communicate these concerns.

I don’t text and drive. I hand the phone to whichever kid is in the front seat next to me, and I dictate my reply. My 15-year-old son gets rides from friends and is learning to drive himself, so he’s watching me.

I ask when he private messages friends to pretend their parents are sitting right over their shoulders reading what comes in.

I’ve warned him if he gets a questionable image to delete it immediately and not share it with anyone.

But what if we were to actually ask what they’ve been exposed to on their phones? That’s a whole other scary conversation.

Drugs, sex and rock ’n’ roll

We all know what we were exposed to. How do we start these awkward conversations with our teens?

We want to be relatable to our teens. I think we have the mindset that if we seem more open to things then maybe they’ll be more open to share. 

I’m pretty lucky. My firstborn is a chatterbox. He gladly shares the details of his day with me. He talks about funny conversations with friends and teachers. But he’s still a teen figuring out what’s safe to share with us and what isn’t.

Out of nowhere the other day, he talked about how a girl asked him if he wanted to “vape” (e-cigarette) when they were sitting at the back of class. He told her no. He couldn’t believe she just pulled it out of her bag in the open.

But he didn’t tell me that day. It sort of worked its way out on its own. I was glad to be able to tell him good job on saying no to something he wasn’t comfortable with. 

Jumping into the fray

More recently, we saw an alarming text from a friend on his phone.

Yes, we spot-check his phone to see what’s going on. In most cases it’s innocent, but this text seemed more like a cry for help: I felt obligated to call the parent directly, given the situation.

Instead of getting upset with me, like he could have, my son actually felt relieved, I think.

So we worry sometimes, we lecture sometimes, we give space sometimes and sometimes we get nosy. We remind our teens that we’re here for them.

For our family, it helps, I think, to sing our hearts out to old music — letting our old adolescent emotions fill the room and intertwine with our teen.

Jennifer Wizbowski is a freelance writer who — if she isn't driving her kids around — is likely reading a book, or walking her dog. She lives in Excelsior with her husband, daughter and son, ages 12 and 15. Send comments, questions and story ideas to