SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


The key to learning is making your parents feel stupid
Scripps Howard News Service


June 19, 2006

We were sitting around the dinner table as our two teenage sons discussed their annual federally mandated math tests, and up jumped the subject of quadratic equations.

One son said to the other, "You don't know that formula? That's an easy one. It's - " And he proceeded to spew a series of letters and numbers that, to my untrained ears, sounded like "booga-booga-booga-googly-moogly."

Yes, my sons were showing off. Yes, they know Dad barely passed algebra in high school and that was more than 30 years ago. And, yes, they like to rub his nose in it occasionally.

Being a mature adult, I threw food on them.

Kidding! Instead, I subtly cocked an eyebrow at my wife, in the international parenting signal for: "They're doing it again."

She gave me her usual saintly smile, and we went back to chewing while the boys vigorously debated coefficients.

This incident illustrates one of the Basic Facts of Parenting. Children learn things their parents a) don't know, b) have forgotten, or c) never wanted to know in the first place, and the kids can't keep this knowledge to themselves.

When they realize they know something we adults don't, they're compelled to share it, so we'll feel a) stupid, b) annoyed or c) homicidal, depending upon how much smirking is involved.

With our sons (and maybe with all kids), it started at an early age. When they were mere toddlers, our boys were enthralled by an inane TV show called "The Power Rangers," and they constantly lorded it over me that I couldn't remember which Ranger wore which color Lycra costume.

"No, Dad!" they'd say, shaking their heads in disgust. "Tommy was the green Ranger. Then he morphed into the white Ranger. Everybody knows that."

Once, when our younger son was around 4, he raised his tiny fists at the breakfast table and loudly declared, "I am made of unstable molecules!"

This, apparently, was a line from a superhero cartoon, but I didn't recognize it and couldn't hear the explanation over the hacking that followed ejecting coffee out my nose. The kids rolled their eyes at the idiot in their midst.

These days, their knowledge tends to be more esoteric (algebra) or picayune (rock band trivia) or absolutely useless (computer game cheats), but they still enjoy showing it off, especially if dumb old Dad will be left in the dark.

Recently, we were driving home from music lessons (one son plays guitar, the other plays the bass; Dad plays the radio), and I overheard a conversation that centered around "pickups" and "humbuckers."

Had my sons acquired a sudden interest in rodeo? Monster trucks? Prostitutes? No, those terms refer to parts of the electric guitar, as the boys were delighted to inform me after I calmly interjected, "Say what?"

It's inevitable that our children will learn things that will never fit in our own aging brains. The trick for parents is to channel their interests into areas that might do the family some good, such as computer repair.

When I'm having computer problems, I summon our older son. He knows more about computers than I do, and he's only too happy to stand around, making suggestions and spouting jargon.

I gladly pretend to listen, smiling blankly, while in my head, I'm hearing, "Boogity-boogity-boo." For all I can understand, he might as well be talking algebra or unstable molecules.

Whatever. If he can save my hard drive, the little humbucker can show off all he wants.


Redding, Calif., author Steve Brewer's latest book is called "Whipsaw."
Contact him at ABQBrewer(at)
Distributed to subscribers for publication by Scripps Howard News Service.

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Ketchikan, Alaska