Opinion | Parents, you can’t make your kid cool. Maybe stop trying?

Tracy Moore is a writer in Los Angeles.

Last month, I took my 13-year-old to see goth-pop elders the Cure at the Hollywood Bowl. It was the first time I’ve taken my teen out so late on a school night. We didn’t make it home until after midnight, but gleefully singing “Boys Don’t Cry,” and “Close to Me” with a child who now loves the same band I did as a teen — along with scores of other Gen X parents with their Gen Z kids — was worth it.

I wish I could take credit for this moment of cool, but I can’t. My child (who uses the pronouns they and them) suddenly became interested in the Cure because, at a recent middle school dance, the teen band blazed through a cover of “Just Like Heaven.” The lead singer, an eighth-grader, announced beforehand, “If you don’t know this song, you’re dead to me.” Add to this that my child’s classmates all agreed the band is “total vibes,” and that was that. It wasn’t me playing these songs to my child as a toddler, although they did remember that — vaguely. It was the fact that they started hearing it from friends, who provided the crucial nod of approval.

Psychology has long known this: After a child reaches the teen years, it’s peers and not parents and immediate family who shape them the most. I knew this, too, and have always maintained that the child is their own person, not a mini-me. And yet, there is more than a whiff of vanity in my efforts to influence my kid with my own taste. Facebook from eight years ago doesn’t lie: It is clear I’m charmed that my then-third-grader loves a certain Pixies song or can be found jumping around to a record by power-pop band Superdrag.

I am not alone in this. My parent friends routinely post proud images of their newborns in Ramones onesies or their sixth-graders dressed up like Margot Tenenbaum from “The Royal Tenenbaums.” I like all the pics genuinely, but I think to myself, I know what you’re doing. And then I think “and Godspeed,” because the odds are just as likely that if you try too hard to tip the scales of your kid’s coolness, it will backfire. You’ll be the liberal hippie parents on “Family Ties” and your kid will resemble Alex P. Keaton.

It is utterly normal to want your kid to like what you like, just as it is normal to instill them with your values, sense of community, ethics, or flair for vintage Swatch watches. There are jokes about this in the culture, such as the still-shared Onion headline, “Cool Dad Raising Daughter on Media That Will Put Her Entirely Out of Touch With Her Generation.”

So, at the point my child started requesting songs heard at school or with friends, I gave up ground. For me, a former music critic, that wasn’t always easy. But I didn’t disparage the millionth time I listened to “Shut Up and Dance,” or a request to listen to vinyl records at a faster than normal speed. It was a way to stay in touch with my child’s changing tastes, and an opportunity to continue a two-way conversation.

On road trips, I have played music throughout the decades to demonstrate that a band my kid loves, Tame Impala, can’t exist without the psych rock of the 1960s. But I do so rarely; such is the tightrope one walks as a parent, whether it’s talking about safe sex or being a good friend or the dangers of fentanyl.

Which is why I would advise parents to tamp down the influencing to a low-key volume. Yes, it’s enormously validating when your 5-year-old loves a Siouxsie Sioux song you play, but it is nothing like a genuinely independent response to the music, divorced from your expectations or your hopeful face. Personal taste — and the cool that comes with that — depends on an authentic connection, and I’d much rather have my kid come around organically than feel forced to pretend.

After the Hollywood Bowl show, we talked on the drive home about some of my favorite Cure songs and they told me theirs. Our most-loved tunes weren’t the same — or even from the same eras. But what we had was way better: unforced fun that allowed for two totally different paths to the same place. It’s hard to imagine anything cooler.