"I will be your father figure/Put your tiny hand in mine…"

My kids, their friend and I are hurtling down the Tauranga Eastern Link at 110 kilometres per hour, belting the refrain to George Michael's Father Figure. Master 12 is killing it, hitting the right notes, even if he fumbles words.

Singing is one of my son's talents. So is dancing. The kid has rhythm and moves beyond the floss dance we've adopted as our dishwashing boogie.

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Some things, like sports, art, video gaming and music seem to come easily to my youngest child. Other activities, such as reading, humility and consistent bathing, are either too boring, don't fit his self-concept, or are too time-consuming.

My son turns 13 on Sunday. The easy baby who started sleeping through the night at three months and laughing around the same age quickly morphed into Challenge Child – the one who questions everything; relentlessly seeks more (popcorn, bikkies, video game time…); protests louder and presses twice as many crazy-making buttons as his sister. He causes me to question parenthood and whether someone might please hand me a medal, morphine, or a box of Maltesers when he flies the coop as a reward for my survival – and his.

The kid cracks me up with jokes and shreds my patience with stubbornness. Author Robert MacKenzie writes in Setting Limits with your Strong-Willed Child, "The persistent testing that is so characteristic of strong-willed children is also what drives most parents crazy".

Counsellor and social philosopher Michael Gurian says in The Wonder of Boys "our culture expects boys to initiate themselves into manhood, yet this rarely happens. Boys cannot become whole men without men and women making them into men."

I'm trying my best, modelling good behaviour some days and average behaviour on others. Here are 10 survival strategies I want my young man to understand as he blasts into his teen years:

1) You don't know everything

Get used to this idea. It'll serve you well not only in school, but with friends and partners, too. There's a saying you can be right or you can be in a relationship. Pick one.

2) There's no express elevator to the top

…unless your family leaves you millions of dollars. Be assured this horrible handicap will not be foisted upon you. You'll have to start working for minimum wage (or close to it) before you become a six-figure earning professional video gamer, football star or property mogul.

3) Bathing is Compulsory

Regular bathing. Please don't rely on friends or me to tell you you're ripe. Also, perfumed spray deodorant is no substitute for soap and water.

4) Treat everyone with Respect

Be polite, or at least neutral, even when someone serves your least favourite food or (eventually, like when you're 30), turns you down for a date. Remember everyone has his/her issues. Assume people are acting in their own interests instead of imagining the world turns around you. It doesn't.

5) Never Stop Playing

Whether it's your current favourite, football, or another sport, don't let other activities or work prevent you from exercising your co-ordination and connecting with friends. Your brain and body will thank you.

6) Don't Play the Victim

Bad stuff happens, like losing your father at age four. For that, my heart is heavy. But sad events don't have to define us. Transcend tragedy and your own occasional poor choice by making a plan and following through. I'm always here to talk.

7) Needs and Wants are Different

Learn to distinguish between the two, and you won't spend your life paying off debts you shouldn't have taken on in the first place.

8) Choose Friends Wisely

The best friends understand you and bring you joy. The worst ones can lead you to misery or even to the back of a police car.

9) Take Risks

Not life-threatening acts of stupidity like driving 160 kilometres per hour on the highway, but risks that challenge your intellect and your body, like taking a tough course in school or trialling for a top sporting team. Failure means you tried. A setback is not the end of the road – it's part of the path.

10) Wear Sunscreen

It was good advice for your sister, and it's good advice for you, too.

Of course, Master Nearly-13 won't read my words. Not this year, anyway. I'll wait until he has his first girlfriend and show her this column – along with baby pictures and video of the post-dinner floss dance.

Happy birthday, Honey. The most important thing I could ever say is I love you.


*See the floss dance here: Floss Dance

Dawn Picken has written for the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend and tutors at Toi Ohomai. She's a former TV journalist and marketing director who lives in Papamoa with her family.