God has a sense of humor. I know this because God invented teenagers. According to Genesis, before God invented teenagers, He created Adam and Eve. He gave them a beautiful place to live, a garden, animals and He visited them in person every day. In return, again according to Genesis, He asked them to obey one (count it, one) simple rule—do not eat the fruit from one particular tree. So, of course, they had to eat the fruit from that tree. If I had been their parent, I can see shaking my head and muttering to myself, “One simple rule. All they had to follow was one simple rule.”
So, of course now, we who are parents have little people we adore who can’t follow rules, either. For example, we say, “Don’t drink from my drink,” and that focuses the toddler’s attention on the drink and guarantees that they’ll drink from it. We can handle that from toddlers because they don’t know any better and we expect them to learn. Teenagers do much the same thing; the difference is that they know better, and they do it anyhow.
My 19-year-old has taught me a lot about rule following (or the lack thereof.) Understand, I am a compulsive rule follower. I feel like a wild rebel just ignoring the driving lanes in an empty parking lot. The 19-year-old doesn’t have that problem. For her, a rule is not even a guideline; it’s more of a suggestion. She has learned that certain rules lead to greater punishments if she breaks them than others. Because she loves her car and cell phone, those rules she obeys. She seems to consider the rest optional. For example, we want her to keep her room (relatively) clean. We try to stay out of it, but when the dog that has slept with her since she was 10 refuses to go into her room anymore, it’s bad. That incident caused her to be grounded until she thoroughly cleaned her room. Another example involves the screen on her window. When she was seven, during naptime, she got scissors and cut the screen out of her front window because she wanted to pick roses through her bedroom window. Even though she was disciplined, it was also cute. When she tried the same stunt at 17 in a bid to slip out at night after bedtime on a school night, not so much. (Another grounding and loss of phone.)
A teenager’s priorities are skewed, as well. If a 17-year-old was skipping school when she witnessed a murder, making her a target for the killer, I’m willing to bet she would be more worried about her parents catching her skipping then she would be about the killer pursuing her.
But here’s the thing—fundamentally my daughter is a good kid. She’s a teenager, and teenagers do dumb things, but she’s also funny, good at fixing things and using tools, loves animals, and sticks up for other people against bullies in situations where she wouldn’t stick up for herself.So what do I do with that? Well, besides growing gray hairs and possibly an ulcer, as a writer, I use her behavior to ask myself questions. What if a kid decided to take a car for a joy ride, only to discover a toddler in the child seat in the back? What if the child was left in the car deliberately by a parent in the middle of summer? What does the teenager do when they realize the parent was trying to murder the child? How on earth does the police detective assigned to work the kidnapping sort all this out? I’ll have answers to those questions one day and build a story out of those answers. And maybe give my teenage protagonists extra grief to aid my sanity as I deal with the live teenager who keeps my days interesting.