Who is Driving This Flying Circus?

Someone please take the wheel.

If you have toddlers, you are certain (keep telling yourself) teenagerdom cannot be worse than the Terrible Twos. If you have teenagers, you have no doubt why some species eat their young. Quite frankly, only one question comes to mind: Who is driving this flying circus? Since I am acutely aware Terrible Two behavior is a predictor of teenage behavior, it comes as no surprise to me parents with Diablo as a toddler are likely candidates for rubber rooms (or solitary confinement) during their bundle of joy’s teenagerhood.

Choices, Choices, Choices

Whether you have read T3 or you are winging it, you know toddlers are exercising their independence when they make choices. Some of their most profound choices are the ones where they choose NO as the answer. What does that have to do with teenagers? Teenagers (and some of your co-workers) are large toddlers with bigger vocabularies, even if you are convinced the words are not in your native tongue, or theirs. Look at some of the toddler choices first:

  • Clothing (to wear or not to wear)
  • Food (taste or starve)
  • Activity (join or tantrum against)

Do you remember any of these potentially epic battles? Now, think about the teenager choices:

  • Clothing (to reveal or to cover)
  • Food (eat at home or fast food)
  • Activity (ridiculed virgin or accepted tramp)

They do not look all that different because they really are the same choices. The only difference is toddlers are bonding with you, but teens are bonding with their peers (and the people they believe will never desert them), which in theory is against you.


Coming or going?

Even if you are convinced the pseudo-adult living in your home is the progeny of demons and your mother-in-law, the fact is this teenager is your toddler almost grown up. The choices are no different, but the extent of your control over their choices is much more limited. When your child was a toddler, you were able to circumvent really bad choices by merely exerting authority. Did you choose time out? Maybe, you chose the ever popular Because I said so. Whichever your choice, you were the parent. We are back to the original question: Who is driving this flying circus?

Get a Grip

Somewhere during the metamorphosis of puberty, you succumbed to the eventuality your child would one day make decisions without your input. Why, precisely, did you choose to allow them to do it before they moved out of your home?

How harsh do they need to be to teach the lesson?

Yes, yes. So, they could try out the choices before they were going to be 100% bound by their consequences. In fact, you have missed the boat. Yes, you should allow them to have some more influence in the decisions which impact them than they had when they were still in pre- and elementary school. No, you should not cede your authority to them. No, you should not shield them from all consequences of their actions. What happened to you during puberty? Not your own puberty…your child’s.

Look Back

When the hormones first began to flare, you noticed the symptoms of budding angst. You may have flashed back to your own adolescence and remembered, with the clearness of hindsight, what you were thinking and plotting at that age. At the moment the decisions began to resemble adult choices, you handed the reins to your teen. This is laudable (for the most part) for such decisions as dress and food, which will give immediate social and physical (easily understandable) repercussions. Other choices are not the domain of the child, but should still be mandated by the adult. Some are mandated by the law:

  • Alcohol
  • Curfew
  • Driving
  • Living arrangements
  • Sexual activity

All five of these are mandated by the law. The reasoning behind the laws is the teen’s still developing brain is not fully equipped to properly process the long term ramifications of such behavior.

But no does not mean no

It needs to always mean “no”.

Cinch that belt tight because this may hurt: This is your fault. Do not beat yourself up too much because you can change this. No stopped being no when the consequences no longer were in direct proportion of the infraction. How did that happen?

You began picking different battles. When you gave the toddler the choice between peas or beets, there really was no wrong choice to make. Both vegetables were healthy choices. Your teen is coming to you with a number of questions hauntingly similar in quantity to those terrible years.

Teens need a similar amount of information as they did as toddlers, but the quality and far-reaching nature of the answers are different. As the questions continue, you subconsciously (or completely consciously) recognize the parallel and beginning choosing your battles. You let Teen win on the clothes, even if you think the clothing is completely inappropriate for a school function. What you expect in return is compliance on the (extended) 11 p.m. curfew. Why are you surprised when Teen arrives at 11:75? (Do the math. It is funny…but infuriating.)

The Real Lesson Learned

Let’s have an excerpt from T3:

You are drawing in coloring books with your child, and he dumps the crayons onto the floor. Sweeping him to the time-out chair with admonishment while you retrieve the crayons does not compute the way you think it might. What your toddler learns is: If I dump the crayons on the floor, I get to see Mom crawl on the carpet like the dog.”¹

In choosing your battle on the choice for allowing your child to leave the house dressed like a Vegas show performer, what you teen learned was you will relax the rules. “If I got away with chaps and a vest to leave the house, how could they possibly get upset if the curfew was a little stretched?”

Plant your feet and stand your ground.

When teen choices leave the opportunity for ridicule and abuse by their peers, you are no longer providing the safe choices you did when they were toddlers. Consistency must rule the day. This is not carte blanche to be authoritarian (because I said so). This is a perfect teaching opportunity to discuss judgment, social standing and the appropriate choice of moderation or abstinence.


1. Taming the Terrible Twos: A Parent’s Survival GuideAnn Marie Dwyer (2009), p. 73


What is the difference between being an authoritative parent and being an authoritarian? This series will delve into the common parent-teen issues. The lessons apply equally to toddlers and just may give you insight into the behavior of your co-workers…or siblings.


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  1. Having seen the consequences of bad parenting – imprisonment of Pat’s son Dominic and Neil’s son Warren – it can be a nightmare to try and clean up the mess!!!

    All the kids I looked after, apart from Dominic who was actively defended by his mother no matter what he did, turned out OK because I was put in the place of the parent and set guidelines which didn’t involve physical violence to get the message across and which the kids respected.

    Today they are parents facing the same problems and now wish that I was in a fit state to help because grandmother Pat is now having to look after the babies and is being rushed off her feet! 🙂

    Once the kids hit puberty they were pushing the boundaries and I was always careful to keep everything in balance, but sometimes the result was chaos as the girls in particular tried to kick over the boundaries!

    Truly I do not envy these new parents as they face the same challenges I had to face as they grew up… 🙂

    Love and hugs!


    • Despite laments to the contrary, the parenting game has not changed all that much. The issues are still the same, only the devices have become better and more expensive. The bottom line is respect. If children do not learn it and give it, there will always be problems.

  2. Oh the stories I could tell …. some laugh out loud funny.

    My mother use to tell me some day I would have a daughter, she would be just like me then I would pay for all my wrongs. I though as I grew old enough to understand, I have been cursed. I should never have children because should I actually have a daughter and should she be half as bad as me, I will kill her and bury her in the backyard.

    Then, I had boys. They weren’t mine, no shared DNA. I thought, hah, dodged that bullet. Then they began to act like me. Mouthy, sarcastic, to smart for their age, snarky even. They even looked like me in weird ways, when out with me and their natural mother I was always complimented and told how much my boys favored me. I thought, oh no the curse is alive and well.

    I decided I would pick my battles wisely. I remembered the things really yanked my chain that had no real bearing on anything really important, taught me no real lessons, created no real danger. These things I decided they could “own”. Clothing choices, hair choices…didn’t care even when it offended me greatly (though I often talked badly about their choices). I simply took lots of picture for future humiliation.

    Manners, ethics, morals these things mattered. Education, health, safety, this mattered. Choices about sex, this mattered.

    Was everything perfect? No, I wasn’t their only influence, but they are pretty good adults now and I would like to think I helped get them there.

    • When you take the chutzpah to tackle the tough subjects, you always do help them get there. Teenagerdom is still the same fight you have when they are toddlers, but bigger toys, clothes and allowances. Funny thing about it (in that face-palm kind of way), it occurs just as frequently with other people’s children…especially the inhabitants of the cubicle farm in the office.
      *Pictures your daughter. Wicked maniacal laughter*

  3. Interesting topic. As a father of young children and a youth pastor, I get to be involved in both worlds. There are many similarities, as you pointed out here. I have seen parents who have been overly protective of their children (hello get out of the helicopter and get a life already) or have done nothing to set boundaries for the kids. In both cases, there are serious issues. I have also seen parents who want to be their child’s best friend, but they forget the whole parent thing. This is disastrous. At this point in my parenting life (kids at 7,4,2,less than 1) I am trying to soak in as much as I can so that when my kids get to the teen years, I at least have learned from the mistakes of others.

  4. It’s… (is John Cleese the pilot?)

    Great post, Red! nothing like some teens to turn the hair grey and put more on the floor than on the head!

  5. I was a teenage nightmare. Believe it or not. But the one thing that has stuck with me is that my parents lived long enough to see my kids drive me crazy. I hated it when they pointed and laughed at me. Good thing I lived long enough to put them in a home!!!!!!!!! Payback’s a bitch, isn’t it mom????? Just kidding! Mom lives with my sister’s kids. Just as good as a home and free too! BAH HA HA HA!

  6. I was a single mom with a teenager daughter. Never thought I’d make it out alive. For an only child though, I was tough on her. She called me a bitch and I actually thought I must be. When I said no, I meant it and stuck to it till it hurt but she turned out fine. She now has two girls and SHE’S the one telling me this is her payback time. Yep. Both are like she was. Ha ha ha.

    • I love it. Revenge is such a sweet dish! You know you did it right if she can see what they are doing wrong. The most perfect validation of parenthood. Good job!

  7. I bumbled through child-rearing just doing the best I could and tried to admit my mistakes. There were a lot of them.
    Recently my kid told us, apropos to nothing, “You’re great parents.” I was dumbfounded. I have no idea what we did right. We were “there” a lot…maybe that was it.
    This was a well-stated post. I’m so glad you’re examining the topic

    • None of us get the child-rearing manual. Best we can hope for is some of the younger ones listen to us. You got the best validation!

  8. Okay. So when I found my daughter (almost 2 years) with cream cheese from the frig slathered all over her body……? Future dancer?

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