The Joy of Raising Teens Like, Whatever

An optimistic look at handling the drinking, drugs, sex, and discipline.


What would you do if your teenager told you she was going to join the Mormon church? That question hadn't occurred to me, but a new book on raising teenagers, Like, Whatever, has given me a new perspective on how to make faith, and questioning it, a bigger part of our family life.

That's just one of the surprising finds in this parenting book, which I came across via the suburban mom mafia, having met editor Rebecca Kahlenberg through another journalist mom at my daughter's preschool. Rebecca's the experienced mother of four, ages 19 through 6, but she says that she learned new tricks in the process of editing the book—including the science of why it's critical that kids get at least 100 hours of driving practice with a parent in the car before heading off on their own, which she's now in the midst of with her 15-year-old.

The book's chapters are written by parents, and in the first person, but it's heavily researched, with many of the writers being experts, not just moms and dads. It's also surprisingly upbeat, considering that it tackles tough subjects like drinking, drugs, sex, and discipline. "It's an optimistic look at raising teens," says Kahlenberg. "Looking at the magic and the mystery as well as the occasional misery. This is a time in kids' lives when you still have a big influence on them. Peers and media are also important, but you're still the parent." Some highlights:

  • Wondering how to explain why you aren't going to pop for a $150 pair of jeans? Janet Bodnar, author of the book Raising Money Smart Kids, tells in the money chapter how she went on Oprah and showed a family how to use Monopoly money to give their kids a grasp of where the money goes. The pile of family cash going to federal and state withholding taxes was a big surprise to the free-spending teenagers.
    • The majority of teenagers say a spiritual life is important to them, but many parents shy away from talking about religion. Ann Cochran writes about how as a born-again Christian (who had been raised Catholic), she came to terms with her son's decision to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
      • You can evaluate whether your child is really ready to learn to drive by considering their physical coordination, attention span, and level of maturity. If you think they're not ready, do nothing. Phil Berardelli, the author of Safe Young Drivers: A Guide for Parents and Teens, points out that every state in the union has laws that require parents to sign off before a child under age 18 can get a license.
        • Move the TV out of the kid's bedroom if you have a hard time prying them away. Another simple way to limit screen time: Don't buy a game system until the kid is 16, says Dana Kornfeld, a pediatrician in Bethesda, Md. By then, she says, teenagers are old enough to handle the excitement of gaming without disappearing from the real world.
        • "Don't just try to survive," says Kahlenberg. "Make the most of these years."