Published on Mommy Tracked (http://www.mommytracked.com)

Parenting Teens in Prime Time.

by Meredith O'Brien


I used to watch the Gilmore Girls [1] (still do in repeats) and coveted the relationship between Lorelai Gilmore and her teenage daughter Rory. My 11-year-old daughter and I have spent many an hour bonding while watching episodes of the show, talking about how we’d handle the various situations that cropped up between the Stars Hollow ladies.


Sure there were times when Lorelai and Rory fought -- like the time when Rory and her boyfriend got busted for taking someone’s boat on a joy ride or when Rory temporarily dropped out of Yale and went to live with her grandparents over Lorelai’s vigorous objections -- but they always found their way to back to one another.


There really hasn’t been another chummy mother-daughter duo like the Gilmores since the show stopped airing new episodes in 2007. Surveying today’s TV landscape looking for shows which portray the challenges, joys and frustrations of parenting teens, I discovered that none depict a parent-child relationship like I’d seen on the Gilmore Girls. In fact, many of the currently airing shows have robbed me of the gauzy comfort I once derived from watching Lorelai and Rory cozy up on the couch together while cracking wise about bad TV shows and eating piles of junk food without getting fat.


Take, for example, the freshman NBC drama Parenthood [2]. This show makes being the parent of a teen seem like a stomach-curdling, non-stop migraine of an impossible, Herculean task. It, frankly, scares me.


The “good girl,” Haddie Braverman, is 15. In the dozen episodes that have aired, Haddie had pot and lied about it after she and her cousin were detained by police. She had a secret Facebook account, a secret boyfriend and a sexy bra for said boyfriend’s benefit which she secretly ordered online (her mom Kristina thought it had been ordered by her husband as a gift for her). Haddie also racked up a huge cell phone bill, snuck to her boyfriend’s house after her father had told her she was grounded, and got into a shoving match with her cousin at school which landed them in the principal’s office. To cope with all of this, her parents, Kristina and Adam, have inconsistently vacillated between taking a hard line – grounding, taking away cell phone privileges, banning stuff – and a softer approach involving quiet, rational talking at night while perched on the foot of Haddie’s bed as they attempted to be empathetic. None of it seemed to be all that effective.


Meanwhile, Haddie’s 16-year-old cousin Amber Holt has been having sex since she was 15, a fact that doesn’t seem to really bother her divorced mother Sarah all that much, neither does the fact that Amber smokes. Sarah seems resigned to the notion that she’s lost control over Amber and reserves her “mom card” powers for what she considers really big stuff, like the time when Amber ran away from home to live with her deadbeat boyfriend, and like insisting that Amber will go to college, although Sarah doesn’t know that Amber blew off her SAT test after learning that Sarah was dating Amber’s English teacher, on whom Amber had a crush.


Things are no easier on the awesome comedy Modern Family [3] for Claire and Phil Dunphy whose 16-year-old daughter Haley has routinely been a handful. She’s been dating a sketchy, dimwitted teen named Dylan who Haley allowed to sleep over in her bedroom (a fact she hid from her parents). Dylan unwisely sang a song, in front of Haley’s whole family, that he wrote and dedicated to Haley about how awesome it’d be to “do” her underneath the moonlight. (When Haley’s parents saw the music video [4] Haley and Dylan made to go along with the song, she was grounded.)


Near the end of its first season, when the entire Modern Family clan went on a trip to Hawaii, Haley refused to stop texting and talking on her cell phone, so her father Phil plucked the phone from her hands and chucked it into the hotel pool, that was before Haley went off with some kids with whom she’d told her parents she’d be getting some ‘shaved ice” and instead got roaring drunk and missed her grandfather’s birthday dinner.


Parenting teenage boys is no easy task, as Patricia Heaton’s Frankie Heck has learned on The Middle [5]. Frankie and her husband Mike have been perpetually befuddled by their son Axl, who not only sleeps constantly and walks around the house in his underpants, but allowed himself to be led around by the nose by a girl named Morgan who repeatedly broke his heart. Against his mother’s advice – flouting parental recommendations seems to happen with alarming regularity on TV (even on the Gilmore Girls) – Axl dated then got dumped by Morgan over and over again, repeatedly allowing her to talk him into getting back together and then adhering to her every suggestion. Finally, fearing complaints from Frankie, Axl resorted to hiding the fact that he was dating Morgan for the millionth time, only to have Frankie find out and wind up “accidentally” chucking a beanbag at Morgan’s head when she’d had enough of her son listening to his girlfriend instead of his mother. Other than mediocre grades, snarkiness, being a tad slow on the uptake and keeping a pig-sty of a room, Axl hasn’t seemed as much of a handful as those girls from Parenthood.


For 15-year-old Maya Bennett on Private Practice [6] things really spiraled out of control this season when her divorced physician parents -- Naomi and Sam Bennett, who spent a significant portion of their time this season building their medical practices and juggling a number of love interests -- learned that their daughter was pregnant by her high school boyfriend. Her pro-life mother, Naomi, was so upset by the pregnancy that she tried to force Maya into having an abortion against Maya’s will. Maya wound up securing her father’s permission to marry her boyfriend and then went to live at her mother-in-law’s house. In the season finale, the teenaged Maya went into labor, got into a car accident on the way to the hospital (which wound up killing her midwife) and was nearly paralyzed.


Oh. My. God. Are these things to which I’ve got to look forward to when my twin 11-year-olds become teens? If so, I guess that the Gilmore Girls, whose picture of parent-teen relationships I’d hoped to emulate with my daughter, kind of made parenting a teen appear a tad rosier than it actually is, at least according to these new crop of shows. Not everyone’s got Rory for a kid.

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