‘I knnnnooow, Mom!’

There was a bumper sticker around some time ago that read, ‘Hire a teenager now, while he still knows everything.’

Of all the infuriating things a parent has to deal with when their kids become teenagers, this is perhaps the most irksome: living with a person with no practical life experience at all, but who nevertheless professes to know all there is to know about life, the universe and everything.

And teenagers communicate their vast knowledge in the most exasperating of ways: mainly by rolling their eyes; and sometimes by saying, in a tone that leaves absolutely no doubt as to the unfathomable depth of your unutterably annoying stupidity, ‘I knooooow, Ma!’

It is very tempting, when trying to converse with a 15-year-old who has zero time for your opinions or advice, to say, ‘Okay, Mr Smarty-Pants, if you know so much, go ahead and …’ (here, fill in the details of any of the often astonishingly stupid schemes teenagers dream up).

But this isn’t good parenting. Our job, however thankless it may often be, is to guide our children through the rocky waters of adolescence and into the relatively less turbulent seas of adulthood.

Sometimes, however, even when you do calmly ignore the rolling eyeballs and try to push your advice on your child, she will still do whatever she wants – because she knows better, doesn’t she?

My daughter did this some years ago when she insisted that she wanted to go to boarding school. Now, some kids are cut out for this kind of communal living and some aren’t. My daughter, for various reasons, fell very firmly into the latter group; and her stated motive for her life-changing decision made it even more dodgy: she’d heard that the food at the boarding school she wanted to attend was ‘like a five-star hotel’s’.

‘Sweetie, believe me, it’s not,’ I said. ‘If there’s one thing most people who’ve been to boarding school will tell you, it’s that the food is humdrum at best.’

She rolled her eyes.

I clenched my fists at my sides and said, ‘Really, darling, if that’s the reason you want to go to boarding school, it’s not a very good one. Perhaps you should—’

‘You didn’t go to boarding school, you don’t know!’ she yelled. ‘Why do you always act as if you know everything? I also know stuff, okay??!’

Perhaps I should have put my foot down, but I was then several years into a very, very difficult adolescence with my daughter and quite frankly the idea of her spending a year away from home quite appealed. So I let her.

It was, not to put too fine a word on it, a disaster. Within a fortnight she was begging to come home. ‘It’s like being in prison,’ she moaned. ‘Lights-out is at 9 o’clock! We can only leave the school grounds once a week. The housemother is a bitch and I hate my roommates. And the food is awful!’

If learning by one’s mistakes is a feature of growing up, this was a doozy for my daughter. I insisted she stay for the year and she did, but she wasn’t a happy puppy. But, interestingly, by the time she moved back home the following year, she’d experienced enough ‘hardship’ to realise that there’s actually no place like home, and as a result she was a much more pleasant person to live with.

My daughter is now 18 and recently left home for university. On one of her visits home we were talking about that disastrous boarding-school year and she said, ‘You know, Mom, you were right about that. I should have listened to you.’

Because I’m a grownup and I do know more than her, I refrained from saying, ‘I told you so.’ I just rolled my eyes.

Why do teens think they know it all?

Read more by Tracey Hawthorne

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