On Being Fifteen

As Mr. Rogers would say, here are the people in my neighborhood:

As many of you know, I reared seven children, five of whom in one year were teenagers, aged 19, 18, 17, 15, and 14; one a pre-teen, 12 1/2 ,and one in elementary school, 9.  Yes!  Crazy, and that was hectic enough, but now all those teenagers are producing teens of their own.teen life

This is the year of the fifteen-year-old in Robertson-land.  Mason is 19 and a sophomore at UC Santa Barbara, Preston at 17 is a sophomore in high school and Sydney, 13, is in middle school.

There are four 15-year olds – COUNT THEM:  Ellie, Grace, Corinna, and Hayden, the only boy, and possibly the only sane one of the bunch.

Here’s a secret about 15-year-old girls that I never knew.

They are certifiably crazy.  They are drama queens.  They are filled with longing and angst which is far superior to any day-time drama on television.  They have social media up the yazoo so instead of scribbling in their journals, as my generation did, they pour their hearts out in tweets, instagrams and facebook complaints.  They are a conundrum to their mothers, a fear greater than death to their fathers, and a general menace to society, especially if you consider allowing them to have a learner’s permit or driver’s license.

One word:  DON’T.

Having reared only three delightful daughters (now ages 45, 42, and 40), I cannot speak personally to the general mayhem and disfunctionality of a 15-year-old girl.  But I do know quite a bit about their school behavior, having taught them for 20 years.

A hunky guy will make a bright girl stupid.  Attention will turn the calmest head.  Vicious words from a mean girl will bring down nations.  And that doesn’t even count scorn.  Hell hath no fury be damned!  The scorn of a 15-year-old will blast you to Hell.  Trust me.diverse-group-teens-13921538

Here’s a word of advice from the ranks.

1.   Give up the grades battle.  This is where you want natural consequences to happen.  Bad grades = failed classes = no high school graduation or a really crappy senior year = GED.  Not too bad; she can still go to community college and earn a living.  Or no GED and she can skip right to McDonald’s and lie about high school graduation; they never check.  Bad grades will not ruin her life forever.

2.   The only thing that matters now is character; i.e., responsibility, kindness and ethics.  Tie cell phones and social media to those traits.  Mean to parents and other siblings?  No cell or TV.  Sneaking out to see a boyfriend after hours?  No cell or TV.  And definitely no driver’s license!  Driving is the first important step in your daughter’s life (after sex, but we’re not going there today). She can actually kill herself and other people with a car.

3.  Learn to walk away.  Take your personal emotion and investment out of the equation.  Sometimes you have to be the bigger person, let your little used-to-be angel with the now-tarnished wings suffer the consequences of her own actions.  It will hurt so much you’ll cry yourself to sleep, but she will learn excellent lessons.  Let her fail at the small things – grades, muttered smart talk under her breath, making out in the school halls, and skipping school, but not the big ones – teen pregnancy, drinking, driving and drugs.

4.   Whittle your teen’s life down to core values.  You want her to be capable and safe and oh so smart, but you have to let her develop those traits herself.  Always remember the push-pull of growing up.  She wants to be grownup and independent, but sometimes she still wants you to tell her what to do; she wants her mommy.  It’s maddening!

Watcher, 200x302I see my daughters suffer with the behavior of their adolescents, and it’s not fair.  They are far better mothers than I was, and I never had a moment’s drama with my girls.  Boys?  Well, that’s a story for later.

When I was fifteen, I remember thinking, “If I got killed in a car accident, my parents would be sorry they treated me like this.”  I spent hours in my room (which I shared with my sister) thinking no one understood what it was like to be me.  I thought my parents were dumb and I was the only smart person in my family.  I listened to the same albums, back in the days of vinyl, over and over.  I just knew my dad wouldn’t let me shave my legs or pluck my brows until I looked like King Kong.FINALtheavenger200x300

Do you remember being fifteen years old?  What was your greatest fear?  Your worst nightmare?  Your best success?  Were you shy and quiet or a mega-drama queen?  

What were some of your hardest challenges?  Was getting good grades easy for you?  Did you feel socially isolated or were those the best years of your life?  Or if you have teenagers, dish about your travails!

I’m giving away an audiobook of either “The Watcher” or “The Avenger” to one random commenter, so regale us with your teenage angst stories!




  • Jane says:

    Hello Jo,
    I do remember a bit of all my teen years. I was a bit shy, but had a good number of friends because the classmates in my homeroom remained the same for all 4 years. My biggest fear was probably failing my Regents exams. I always worried about tests. I was a good student, but I had to make sure to study.

    • Jo Robertson says:

      It’s great to have those same kids in your classes all year, Jane. We had “homeroom,” which was organized alphabetically, so I always sat near the same kids with the last name starting with “L.”

      Can you explain Regents exams for us ignorant Yanks?

  • ki pha says:

    Oh wow, what a great post. I remember a lot from my childhood and teen years. I never did anything out of the ordinary. I was pretty home bodied so being quiet and an introvert was who I was and part of that ment I got good grades which came very easy for me. This also made me socially isolated though classmates did know who I was. The only fear I had was not getting the good grades and speaking out loud. I remember when we had to yell during poetry class for an exercise and I couldn’t do it because I just didn’t yell, or maybe were afraid to. But my best success was making more and new friends when I was fifteen. I was getting out of my shell.

    • Jo Robertson says:

      I knew a lot of kids that were gorgeous, but were shy so the other kids thought they were stuck up. I have a granddaughter like that. High school is hard for her.

      I always admired gregarious people because, while I’m more that way now, I was shy about speaking out too, like you Ki Pha. I’d know the right answer, but was afraid to raise my hand.

  • Hi Jo –

    Wow – that’s a long way down memory lane! I used to babysit in high school for spending money. I remember the dad of my charges taking me home one evening and telling me to enjoy these years as they would be the best of my life. I thought “Hell, No!”

    You see, I was a new kid, a transplant. It didn’t matter that I attended all four years of high school in Ohio and one year and a half of middle school. When you moved into that small community, you were a new kid for life. Grades were never a problem, being accepted was. Biggest fear was that my parents wouldn’t pay for me to go to college. Girls didn’t need that advanced education they said. So I worked hard for a scholarship to OSU which I received. They had to pay for room & board but my tuition was free. My oldest brother actually paid my way (he was serving in Vietnam at the time) and I paid him back every penny when I was out.

    Now my high school no longer exists – but I do 🙂 Who has the last laugh now? 🙂

    • Jo Robertson says:

      It’s so hard being the “new kid,” isn’t it, Donna? My dad was military so we moved a lot when I was in elementary school. Finally, my Dad said, no to an assignment in Japan, so we stayed put in this little high school in Virginia when I was 10.

      What a wonderful brother you have. That’s so sweet it makes me want to cry, him being in Vietnam and sending you $$ for school.

  • Helen says:


    What a great post I remember my teen years I got on OK at school nothing special had lots of friends but was quiet when i was 15 I started going out with my now husband and I was one of 4 girls with only 5 years and 10 days between us so I am sure Mum and Dad could have pulled their hari out at times, then I had 4 children 3 girls 1 boy in 6 years and was that fun times I was lawys the worst mother so they used to tell me LOL but we are all very close now and I have 7 grandchildren the eldest 8 and the youngest nearly 3 months love them all 🙂

    Have Fun

    • Jo Robertson says:

      You have such a wonderful family, Helen. And I’ve been where you were. My first six were born in 7 1/2 years and I’m sure I should’ve gotten an award for Worst Mom in the World!

      It’s so nice when they’re grown up, though, isn’t it?

      How sweet that you’ve been with your husband so long!

  • Laurie G says:

    I had no problems in HS. I was the youngest of 3 children. My siblings were very popular and involved in tons of school activities. They were both honor students. It was a hard act to follow. My greatest fear was disappointing my parents. I wasn’t as out-going as my brother and sister. I studied hard and made great grades. I disliked public speaking. I had close friends. I hated my Senior year of HS. It was boring and stifling. I couldn’t wait to go away to school. Luckily, I was accepted at the college of my choice, my greatest success. Academically college was much harder for me. I have wonderful memories of my college years. I still keep in touch with my roommates and I found my soul mate.

    I raised 4 children, 1girl and 3 boys. We moved while my daughter was in middle school. It was quite traumatic for her. She didn’t make good friends until her Freshman year of HS. Lots of tears and complaining. My middle son liked to buck our rules and tested us constantly. Our youngest son was spoiled and tried to slack off in middle school. We had to constantly force him to study and have him redo his papers neatly. Luckily they all did well in HS and got into the colleges of their choice. My youngest is in his final year of grad school for PT.

    We tried to stay open minded. We encouraged them to be themselves. We encouraged them to read and to study. We let them follow their own interests and course of study. We are always there to listen to their concerns and to offer our advice.

    • Jo Robertson says:

      What a wonderfully successful family you have, Laurie!

      It’s really hard to follow siblings that are well known in school. I was always “Linda Lewis’ little sister” instead of being known for myself. It was hard, but I managed to do well academically, so that helped.

  • Cassondra says:

    Hi Jo-
    Interesting blog, and I can’t imagine watching my own children deal with things like this. I think I would hope to have a teenager like I was, except happier. I was a really melancholy child.

    Frankly, I was born with the mentality of a 30-year old, and that doesn’t make you particularly popular. I was the weird artsy, musical kid, and had a few friends who were like that too, but not many.

    I never did drugs–never even smoked a cigarette–, no alcohol at all, didn’t go any further than fun dating and a kiss or two. I was heavily into church and religious piety so I thought all that was wrong, and I never understood peer pressure. People didn’t offer me dumb stuff because they didn’t like the Cassondra, “that’s idiotic” thousand yard stare.

    I drove to school alone when I was 14 but that’s what the farm kids did, so I wasn’t unusual. I think the younger a kid starts driving, the better driver he/she becomes. But they shouldn’t drive on the highway young of course. It’s just that the coordination and quick thinking, if taught very young, become a part of you. The responsibility is different for every kid, so that’s up to the parents to decide. Since I was mentally 30, my folks didnt’ worry about that.

    I got near perfect grades because it was easy. I spent my evening working on the farm with my dad or working on my art or music.

    Still, my mom frequently told me I was awful and she should have cracked the discipline whip. (I wasn’t allowed to get mad or disagree). So I’ve never had a kid, but I like your list mostly. And I think a lot of parents will always see the glass half empty and the kid as “bad” simply because the kid is not like the parents.

    I think parents have to know their kid and make decisions individually, not as a blanket rule I guess. Since I’ve never had one, I’m not sure if that’s even possible.

    • Jo Robertson says:

      You were just born an old soul, Cassondra!

      I think one of the hardest things a parent has to learn is to allow their kids the freedom to be different from them. To explore their world and learn, but not be harmed. A delicate balance.

  • Jo Robertson says:

    Hi, all, sorry I’m late this morning. I got my flu shot yesterday, and I swear it makes me sick every time! I know it’s supposed to be a dead virus and all, but I always feel achy and feverish for a day or two afterward.

    Is anyone else like that?

    I just comfort myself by thinking how much worst it’d be if I actually got the flu!

  • bn100 says:

    It was pretty good

  • Deanna says:

    Teenage angst, huh? My teenage years were rather uneventful aside from a rather quiet rebellion of having a secret boyfriend seven years my senior which my parents never knew about and never found out. I always made curfew, I mostly did my homework though at one point my grades did slip a bit because along with a bunch of friends we got caught up playing Dungeons and Dragons. My parents put a stop to that quickly. I don’t have any children of my own so I know nothing of child rearing and current teen shenanigans.

  • Becke says:

    I’m not sure this is a pleasant memory lane visit. At 15 life was about me. I lived in the shadow of my socially perfect sister. Her little sister had a mouth and wasn’t afraid to use it, which created a socially imperfect little sister.

    I wasn’t a bad kid as in breaking the rules. We lived in a little town and my dad had eyes EVERYWHERE!!!! Need I repeat?

    The cops stopped me and I didn’t get a ticket. Oh no, that was way too easy. I got a “wait until I tell your Dad how fast you were going lecture.”

    Grades were easy–most of the time.
    I’d say socially isolated. I left home at 16 for prep school at my request. Good bye little town!

    This would be the reason I don’t like small towns!

  • Shannon says:

    Funny the comments about small towns. My Mom was a high school teacher. My high school (4 years) had 300 students. Everyone knew everyone. What they didn’t know but could get by with they made up. I threw up and was out for two days–was I pregnant? And who was the guy who would bone the ham-bone?

    I wasn’t isolated in the sense that I had geek friends from honors classes (five of us), participated in Drill Team and Pep Club (popular kids, jock bait), excelled at debate, and won awards at the Science Fair. But I felt isolated. I wanted to do something more than find a guy, get pregnant, and have babies. I wanted somebody to think that being smart was cool rather than snobby.

    Spock was my hero–smart, not-quite-fitting-in, and valued for his contributions.

    I dreamed of the day I would graduate. I got straight As to please my parents and to get a full-ride scholarship. And when there was not school work, farm work, house work, or work, I escaped into fiction–romances, sci-fi, biographies, especially those set in big cities with bright lights. I worked as the news editor at the small radio station (1,000 watts) and I dreamed of becoming a journalist who later became a writer. There was a world out there waiting for me, and I couldn’t wait.

  • Jo, all those teens in your life? It’s kinda wonderful but it’s kinda scary! What’s nice is that most of them get through and turn into functional adults. A lot of my friends are going through this stage with their kids right now and honestly, they need the patience of Job sometimes. On the other hand, perhaps I know particularly nice teens, but I think as a group they are much nicer and more open-minded than the teens I remember when I was growing up.

  • Mozette says:

    Do you remember being fifteen years old?

    Kind of… it was a tough time for me. I went to a rough school – Rochedale State High School – and so, being a redhead, small, pale and not wanting to communicate with anyone around me (in particular teachers or authority figures), I didn’t really find it easy to make friends.

    What was your greatest fear?

    At first, fitting in… but then, after a while, I didn’t care. People wanted me to be a part of their group, and then dump the few friends I had made on the first day… fffppht!… forget that! I ended up being a fringe kid; you know the one who played the basketcase in The Breakfast Club… yeah her. I had no real friends, but belong to no actual social group. Not an easy thing, but I pulled it off.

    Your worst nightmare?

    My worse nightmare was a person: Vicki Brown. She tormented me from the I started high school to a year before I left… what a bitch! But then, I stood up to her and, well, it only made her worse. Oh well, can’t win them all.
    But I did get my own back 15 years later. I ran into her at a shopping centre and ‘tore her a few new ones’ so to say, very publicly. Her husband (who was a hottie by the way; and yes, I did come on to him jsut to get to her), was shocked, but not surprised. About a year later, I found out they got divorced – I guess there were just a few too many secrets in their marriage… 😛

    Your best success?

    I managed to wag 42 days of year 10 to go to World Expo ’88 here in Brisbane and the school and my folks barely noticed… and -here’s the kicker – I passed my Junior Certificate with flying colours! Well, okay, not maths, but I’m not good at numbers. And year 11 came around and I flunked big time; even though I knuckled down and studied… weird that! 😛

    Were you shy and quiet or a mega-drama queen?

    Hahaa… I was a rebel… I was the one who scared my folks half the death, stayed out late, came in after midnight, smoked cigarettes and hung out with lots of boys (but kept my virginity in tact – just how I did that, still mystifies Dad, but I did). It was my brother who smoked dope, broke his virginity at 16 and got drunk at every party going at high school, not me… 😀

    What were some of your hardest challenges?

    My grades were in the toilet the whole time. I tried… failed and only passed 3 subjects in year 11 (halfway through my senior certificate)… so I left high school at 17 and went to college for 6 months and found a job at RACQ by the time my friends were graduating high school; and I was 18. Boy was I young to be out in the work force!

    Was getting good grades easy for you? Did you feel socially isolated or were those the best years of your life? Or if you have teenagers, dish about your travails!

    I was a skatehead… I was the first female skateboarder around my area; and the boys hated it, their girlfriends thought I was sleeping with their boyfriends and I found I had to toughen up or get stepped on… it was the same at high school.

    I was grossly mis-understood for a good majority of my teenaged years, and yet my older brother understood me completely (don’t you love that? 🙂 ), and now I’m 40, I’ve been to my 20 year reunion and found out I was called ‘Fonzi’ by all my classmates… why? Well, they thought I was cool, I gave the weirdest advice – which normally got everyone in trouble and I hated working with authority. Yep, I was given detention on a regular basis, but I never went… and no, the teachers could never find me for litter duty (ie: detention). 😛

  • Jo Robertson says:

    Mozette, what a rebel you were!

    • Mozette says:

      I’m currently writing my autobiography… Mum wonders why I’m doing it, but my brother knows why; and tells me to keep going. 😀

      I mean, how many female skateboarders from the 1980’s are still around to tell the story of how they earned the respect of an entire generation? None… 😛