Got A 16-year-old in your house? Is he demanding? Impulsive? Occasionally unrealistic?

Does he have trouble looking further into the future than, say, tomorrow? Does he want things to happen right now?

Does he expect some things he hasn't yet earned? Does he think adults are the ones out of touch?

Do you ever feel the need to just put your foot down and say no?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, D.C. United is your pal. The Major League Soccer team has a teenager, too. It is famous adolescent Freddy Adu, who is going through growing pains of his own.

But the good news is that by sticking to its principles, United helped bring some sanity into professional sports. It told Adu to sit up straight and pay attention. To Adu's credit, he responded and the team is apparently harmonious again.

Amazing what a little tough love can do.

Why couldn't someone have done this with Terrell Owens 16 years ago?

Adu's situation was apparently nothing too serious, just him being a kid. A famous one, but still a kid. While L.A.'s Landon Donovan is the league's best player, Adu is arguably it's most famous. United signed him to a six-year, $3 million contract nearly two years ago, when he was 14. He also has millions coming in from endorsement deals with Sierra Mist and Nike.

At 10 he was offered a $750,000 contract by an Italian team. But thanks to a wise and careful mother, he turned that offer down.

Adu quickly became a national figure, a millionaire still too young to drive but wealthy enough to buy a fleet of cars. Yet by all accounts, Adu has been levelheaded, handling the media and envious opponents with equal aplomb. He played in 25 games this year, starting 16.

He was twice named league player of the week.

Still, nothing is completely smooth in the teen years. For instance, the story that surfaced in a college paper last September, alleging Adu was spotted drinking at a keg party with University of Maryland students. League officials — without confirming or denying the story — seemed to view it as youthful indiscretion. That could well be true. But Adu made bigger headlines when he complained to the media in October that he should be playing "a lot more," despite averaging about 60 minutes per appearance. He added that the bench time cost him a chance to make the U.S. World Cup team. He even hinted at the possibility of leaving the U.S. to play, which left United in a quandary. With a league still struggling for survival, should it discipline its famous player and risk him leaving, or let the baby have his bottle?

It did what any good parent does when a teenager goes out of bounds — it grounded him. United suspended him for the playoff opener against Chicago, then brought him off the bench in the second game.

This, of course, is unfamiliar territory for many athletes. All too often they call the shots, not coaches or management. It took numerous incidents before the Philadelphia Eagles finally suspended Owens. He badmouthed and fought with teammates, feuded with the coaches and generally behaved badly.

Baseball players flaunted the league's lackadaisical attitude toward substance abuse until recent policy changes toughened the penalties.

Tennis was a repeat offender for years, allowing athletes like Jimmy Connors, Illie Nastase and John McEnroe to throw tantrums, slam their racquets, curse and act like, well, 16-year-olds.

But when Adu acted up, or at least spoke out, coach Peter Nowak refused to budge. He played Adu as occasion required. And Adu eventually came around. This week reports said Adu and his mother and his agent met with club officials and Nowak to clear the air. Both sides say the issue has been resolved. It seems they're, well, united.

Things are looking up in another area, too. Adu has been invited to the U.S. national team camp next month, where he can try out.

In taking a stand in a difficult situation, United showed that no matter how talented or popular the player, he's not more important than the team or league.

Meanwhile, in an unrelated item, the Bravo cable network began airing a reality show this week, featuring extravagant parties for kids. Among them, a 12-year-old's $200,000 bat mitzvah and a $10,000 princess party for a 5-year-old.

Thanks to D.C. United, we know there are still some places where the adults are in charge. And the kids are still kids — not some kind of royalty.


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