More parenting, less judging needed, says Beth Harpaz, author of '13 Is the New 18'

Beth Harpaz

Beth Harpaz

In promoting her funny-but-terrifying book 13 Is the New 18, writer Beth Harpaz wonders why we don't see as many helpful and encouraging books for raising teens like you do for babies, a What to Expect treatment for the serious stuff parents deal with when their tots turn into teens.

Instead parents struggle in silence, she fears, not wanting to admit what they are dealing with because to do so makes you a Terrible Mother.

In a telephone interview from her office in New York, where she's the Associated Press travel editor, Harpaz talked of ways we can support each other — and how bribery really works wonders.

This book reminds me of some of the toddler books, but opposite. Instead of the toddler going through separation anxiety, the mother does.

Oh yes, if you notice I wrote it in such a way that you really don't know what the child is thinking. I tried really hard to write from the point of view of the mother.

At this age the child is separate from you suddenly in ways they haven't been before. Separate physically, and off in the Internet into a separate world. It's not like when they were 7 and they were with you every place you go and you knew every person they came in contact with.

When they become physically and emotionally independent, you actually don't know what's going on in their head.

And even more so now that they are so much more sophisticated at this age than we were. . . . It's the glamification of awkward adolescence.

Didn't your son resent you writing about his life?

I asked him that straight out, and it came down to three things. He said, 'I trust you not to embarrass me,' and second, his friends think it's cool, and as a teenager that's all you need in life.

And the third thing was when I got my advance I stood in line at the Nintendo store for hours to get him a Wii.

Ah, bribery! A great tool

Oh yes, children are easily bribed. My next book is going to be Bribery: It Works!

Even though what he goes through is perfectly normal, I kept thinking of you as brave for being so truthful. Few parents would admit this stuff.

All the people my age that went to Grateful Dead concerts, they pretend their kids don't do anything like that.

It's out there, and we have to acknowledge it. I grew up with kids who wasted a lot of years smoking pot, and that's why I think it's a bad idea. That's what I tell my kids. You can't control much of their movement, so set your standards and hope at some level it sinks in.

What do you hope people take away from your experience?

I hope that we can stop judging each other. When you have a baby crying people are very supportive, everyone wants to give advice on potty training. But when you have a great big teenager screaming at you, people really judge you as a parent.

There was a news story last year in Nebraska where they have a safe haven law for newborns to be dropped off at fire stations. There was no age limit so people were dropping off teenagers. (The law was later changed with an age limit after it was used to abandon more than 30 children at state hospitals — many of them preteens or teenagers as old as 17.)

To me, that story is a symptom of the fact that when raising a teen, we don't get a lot of support. There's a lot of denial.

Sharon Kennedy Wynne is a Times staff writer and blogger on the parenting site Go Momma, at moms.tampabay.com. She can be reached at swynne@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8595.

More parenting, less judging needed, says Beth Harpaz, author of '13 Is the New 18' 03/16/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 16, 2009 9:02am]

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