Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Remember when they were sweet little bundles of joy that counted on you for everything? Remember how only your voice, and touch, and hugs could make everything alright to the little darlings? And then they turned two—remember the terrible twos?
That was when they started striking out on their own. They crawled away, then toddled, then ran, and got into things and began to plot and plan. Remember when silence became a call to arms?
Well, you survived it once, so cheer up little buckaroo, you may not have the stamina that you used to have, but you’ve age and wisdom on your side, right? Right? Oh well, you can use that as a mantra while you stare at the ceiling through the darkest of nights.
As I recall, during my terrible teens, my father told me that the older I got, the smarter he’d be. So that was the good news.
The bad news is that the terrible teens don’t really have to wait until your offspring turns thirteen. Nope. That was the biggest surprise for me. I mean, one minute you’re a dedicated soccer mom taking everybody everywhere, cooking, cleaning, washing, becoming a cub scout leader, learning the names of the Transformers/Pokemons/Power Rangers, or whatever the cuddly little creature of the week is, and then, just when you think you have the swing of things—BAM—your not so little darling’s head spins.
That’s right, just like in The Exorcist. They metamorphosize into a great pea spitting beastie that just won’t see reason anymore. Doesn’t seem to make much sense, does it? I mean, we all know there are hormones involved and all, but how do you combat this? Who are these body snatchers, and how do I get little Johnny or Mary back?
I gave this a great deal of thought before I started this article. In fact, I thought I actually knew what to say. But then I decided ask some of the teens, any of the teens, I came across what they thought about the situation, and sure enough, they did not mention a single thing I was going to point out.
And I think that is exactly why we have problems with them. When they first started talking, it was great, but then they never stopped, and in self defense, we stopped listening. I believe I heard somewhere that in the first six years, a child learns more than they will for the rest of their lives. That’s quite a few questions, and in the end, we give out and they find their answers elsewhere.
I’ve always found it sad to watch young intelligence flounder for lack of their mom’s and dad’s time, or patience, or understanding. Parents, unwittingly, cultivate this chasm for a long time before they fall, headlong, into it.
And, of course, we can hardly turn back the hands of time enough to remember some of the really dumb things we did as kids. For example: I remember waaaaay back when I was around twelve, I was left to babysit my six siblings, and somehow a picture got knocked off the wall and the glass broke.
Now, this was one of two very special pastel landscapes that a dearly departed relative had drawn. It was invaluable to my mother, and I knew how upset she would be. So I decided I would fix the glass—by welding it together with a match.
I still remember this line of thought very clearly, though I have no idea why it never occurred to me to take the picture out of the frame first. Perhaps I had seen a documentary on blowing glass or something, and I still have problems with proper sequencing. But the point is, it really seemed like a good idea at the time and, of course, it wasn’t.
I believe it took a couple of weeks for my mom to actually notice the broken frame and burned hole in that lovely landscape, but she did, and I don’t especially remember how bad the repercussions were. But the memory of being so stupid stuck with me. And I think it is a good thing to remember, because we aren’t born with a full comprehension of cause and effect. We learn it—eventually—just as our kids are now.
So I polled as many teens as I could get answers from, and you know what I found out?
First; that their time was as valuable as ours. Very few of them returned my questionnaire.
Second: That their opinions were as diverse as ours.
A thirteen year old girl chose the music of Casting Crowns (a Christian group), and her favorite movie was Aquamarine (“because it’s good”). Her favorite books were Nancy Drew Mysteries (“I like mysteries”). She wished “to have no fear of tumbling,” and if she could change anything in society, it would be for “the killing to stop.”
A fifteen year old boy chose the music of As I Lay Dying (“good clean metal/scream sound and the lyrics actually mean something”). Favorite movie: The Omen (“It’s original and awesome.”) Favorite book: The Series of Unfortunate Events (“detailed, interesting, and extensive vocabulary”). He said if he could have one wish, he would want to “control time.” “Personality clashes” among friends frustrated him, and at school he had problems with “people not knowing what the hell they’re saying or doing.” He felt like “slave labor” at home.
When I asked what he would change about our society, he answered, “get rid of all the ignorant bastards that have no f**king clue how to live a sociable, civilized life.
I remember asking him a year or two ago, why he wore those big old baggy pants that the boys like to almost wear. (You know, the ones that show their underwear at the top.) Back then, he told me it was cool and made him fit in better, but when I asked him this time, He answered, “They’re just comfortable.” But don’t they get you in trouble at school? “Not if I wear a long shirt.”
Hmm, go figure. That’s why I like loose clothing, too.
Though the terrible teens are destined to clash with us, it does not have to be such a horrible right of passage. I taught my three boys how to play chess, Magic the Gathering (a card game), and Dungeons and Dragons. I watched the shows they liked (still do) because it gave us common ground, a form of equality, and a line of communication. It kept me in tune with them despite our age differences, and while I taught them how to role play, we discussed important values. We made each other aware of things that mattered, and I came to trust their judgment more.
Our society has taken away the old family structure that this country was built upon. No amount of government legislation can give it back. As parents, we have to reclaim it on our own.
The old golden rule (“Do onto others as you would have them do unto you”) should be revived within the family. We spent all their lives teaching them not to touch the hot stove, and to wash behind their ears. That was our duty. But it is their duty to want equality, and respect. We get used to bossing them around, to not listening; we are only trying to protect them. But eventually, just like the terrible two year old, they have to break away. And you will reap what you have sown— in triplicate.
But, fear not, this too will pass. If you were smart enough, or fortunate enough, to expose them to other (friends, family, church) folk who can stand in for you when you are no longer in power, they will have good resources to fall back on. (It really does “take a village….”)
Ultimately, your respect, understanding, and unconditional love will bring them back around. So each day, sit down to at least one meal with the television off (VCR on) and talk…and listen. Open lines of communication. Listen to the words of the music they like. Go out of your way to watch programs and movies with them, play twenty questions. Learn a craft together, build a birdhouse, become active in Scouts.
Sooner or later, you may discover that they have become conscientious and sensitive, even intelligent, young men and women. And believe me, you don’t want to be the last one to realize it.
‘Til then, remember the mantra: “The older you get, the smarter I am…the older you get the smarter I am…the older you get….”
Thanks for hearing me out,
Monday, March 12, 2007
I’m a survivor of both my own and my children’s teenage years. Those few years are such a struggle when you are there.
Teens want freedom to do whatever they want, the ability to have the last word in what they consider their affairs, hate being held back by adults. All the while their bodies are growing and being charge with hormones, and you know their curiosity is akin to a cats'.
Parents, having lived through it and gained experience in self-determination, know its more then about giving or denying your child independence, it is about teaching empathy and responsibility and about keeping your child safe even while you let them make mistakes. Being the parent sometimes requires you to enforce your judgment over your child’s, producing clashes that can be very stressful.
Most of us come into adulthood with only a few minor scars. However, I’ve seen major scars rack a family for decades. There is one in our small town right now with a 17-year-old girl in serious trouble being told she got herself into the mess, so she can get herself out of it.
Luckily, both of my children emerged from their teens healthy and law-abiding. I've often believe it was pure luck. I'm sometimes surprised any child reaches adulthood.
For all you parents of teens, there is hope. In some ways while my children have grown away from me as they became adults, they’ve also grown closer. They see me with clearer vision.
The funny part is that I’m still learning secrets that occurred during those years. I am surprised at what I’ve learned. My children, who constantly argued in front of me, helped each other out of their troubles and kept each other’s secrets. Somehow in those tumultuous years they forged a lasting friendship. What more could a parent want?Rhobin
In my last submission I talked about aliteracy. I’ve written about illiteracy at Rhobin's Rambles.
Monday, March 5, 2007
I was the only one still at home with my parents by that time, my older sisters having moved out on their own. I was quite a bit younger than them so I was always more like an only child than a younger sibling anyway. I had lived in this small town in Indiana since I was 10 months old. The kids that I went to high school with were the same kids I had sat beside in grade school. I attended the same schools my sisters attended, and the same high school from which my mother and sisters graduated. I had grown up knowing that I would also graduate from this high school. I had grown up knowing that I would attend and graduate from the same university as my parents and sisters.
Then my dad took a job in North Dallas and my world somersaulted. In the middle of my sophomore year I moved with my parents to Texas. I went from a small town to a metroplex. I went from trees to scrub pine. I went from knowing every single student in school to not knowing anybody anywhere. I went from a town where everyone knew me, my sisters and parents to a place where nobody knew any of us. To say that it was difficult was an understatement. A major understatement.
I had grown up wearing clothes my mother made for me, or clothes handed down by my sisters. There was nothing wrong with that in Indiana, all the girls' mothers sewed their clothes, and often traded patterns. When I outgrew my clothes, they would be handed down to someone in a grade beneath me. Now, suddenly, I lived in North Dallas where everyone wore designer clothes. Suddenly my homemade outfits, which were the height of fashion at my school in Indiana, were shabby and embarrassing.
My hair wasn't styled, I talked funny, I didn't have a car (in North Texas, having a car is a rite of passage for teens.) We studied different subjects, different textbooks, even a different school year-- in Indiana we had the old fashioned semester system whereas in Texas we were on the quarter system. I didn't make friends. Kids made fun of me. I went home from school every day and cried. I wanted nothing more than to go back to Indiana, back with my friends, back where I had always thought I would grow up.
On my first day of school I was assigned a student to show me around. I clung to her desperately- I didn't really like her but she was all I had. Then one day she gave me a letter in which she basically told me to stay away from her, that she was embarassed by my clothes, by the way I looked, by the way I talked. She gave me this letter the day before the band, of which I was a member, was scheduled to go to a local amusement park for a competition. I showed the letter to my mother, again crying, and she offered to let me stay home from school.
Oh how I wanted to take her up on that, but I didn't. I grabbed the thickest book I could find, went to the amusement park, and when we arrived, I set off for a quiet place where I could read undisturbed. While the other teens rode the rides, played the games and had fun, I sat at a picnic table and read, coming out only to play my trombone during the competition. (I couldn't even play the right instrument. Girls didn't play trombones in North Dallas. They didn't play them in Indiana either, but it was a small school and there, nobody cared that I played a brass instrument. They knew my dad had played trombone when he was in school and it made sense that I would do so. In Dallas nobody knew or cared what my dad had played. They just knew that girls didn't play trombone. They played flute or clarinet, but never a low brass instrument.)
In some ways the move to Dallas brought me and my mother closer. She was going through something similar to what I was going through so we became each other's support system. I knew when I came home from school that no matter how bad a day I'd had, my mom and I could take my dog for a walk and laugh about the silly way things were in Texas and talk about how much we wanted to go home. I avoided a lot of the teen aged angst with my own parents because we couldn't fight each other. We were, in many ways, all each of us had.
I've never been good at keeping a diary, but I did burn the memory of those feelings into the hard drive of my memory. With my own daughters, I sought to keep their life as stable as possible. Once they got into junior high school, my husband and I made a decision that we would not move anywhere till they were both out of the house. We did not want them to go through the same disruption I had gone through. When my older daughter had problems with friends at school, my husband and I sought to make our home as emotionally safe as possible for her.
Do I blame my parents for uprooting me in high school? Of course not. I had a terrible year before I found other geek kids who shared my interest in Star Trek and Science Fiction. I never did really feel as though I belonged in my new high school; I consider my high school to be the one in Indiana even though I only attended there one semester. Nevertheless, those were the kids I grew up with and that was the school I always thought I would graduate from. But if we hadn't moved to Texas, I would never have met my husband and would not have the life I have now.
I was fortunate enough when I was in high school that my mom was able to share what I was going through. She gave me understanding at a time when I desperately needed it. She didn't prod me to go out and make friends, she didn't tell me that if only I were more friendly I wouldn't have so many problems. She understood that I needed time to adjust, and she gave me that time.
My husband and I have both maintained an empathy for what our children are going through as they grow. We've tried to be understanding of their moods and stages-- I won't say we've always succeeded, but for the most part we've been able to see things from their point of view before we've said something we might regret later.
I have found that empathy can help deal with a lot of the trauma of raising a teen. It's a terrible time for kids-- their hormones are raging, their faces are breaking out, their bodies are doing strange things. They've got peer pressure screaming at them on one side, and the demands of their parents' expectations screaming at them from another. They are desperately trying to carve out their own identity while at the same time trying to belong.
So when you find yourself at a loss as to what to do with your teen, just stop whatever you are doing. Put yourself in your teen's shoes. Feel what your teen is feeling. Reach back to when you were a teenager and remember how dreadfully important EVERYTHING was. Remember when the world revolved around YOU. Then listen to your teen. If she isn't talking, listen to what she is NOT saying. It's there. Trust me-- with everything your teen does, she is saying something to you. Remember your feelings from that time and then, instead of fighting your teen or thinking of her as this total stranger, see her for the vulnerable child she is. And remember, you too were once a teen. No matter what else, the two of you have that much in common.
Saturday, March 3, 2007
I think all teens have the shame thing down--the things I really could have helped my son with (girls, school, being cool) he wasn't willing to talk to me about. So, we talked about the video games he was playing and whether the Republicans really were going to win another election (in Texas this is a pretty sure bet).
Oddly, I've never written a story with a boy teen as a major character--maybe it was too close to home. I did write one romance novel where the hero had a teenage daughter and the heroine had a teenage son (THE BRIDE'S FATHER by me writing as Amy Eastlake at www.booksforabuck.com/rompages/bride_father.html) where I think I worked out some of my concerns and fears. One nice thing about being an author is that you get to vent and explore different possibilities through writing. Or maybe that's one of the terrible things about being an author--not only do you get to make all of your own mistake, you get to do-over, allowing you to make more mistakes than any one person could possibly accomplish.
I don't have any answers to the teen thing. I can't even say they outgrow it. My son is now 22, but he's still struggling at the border between youth and adulthood.
When I think of those eighteen year-old boys and girls we're sending off to Iraq and Afghanistan, it really makes me feel old.
Slightly off-track, did you know that Read an eBook Week starts tomorrow, March 4th. If you've never read an eBook, why not give it a try. If you don't want to actually buy one, you can download a bunch of older titles for free at www.manybooks.net. Here's my prediction, both for teens and for older adults--it'll take a couple of hours to get used to it, but give it a try. By the time you finish reading your eBook, you won't want to go back. You can read on your computer, your PDA, your phone (if you've got a smart phone) or on a dedicated reader (but don't buy the reader until you're hooked on eBooks).
Friday, March 2, 2007
Now, dear reader, I'd like to give you a hint of what's coming up in the next couple of months:
APRIL: DEALING WITH AN OLDER PARENT
MAY: WORKING AT HOME: TIME MANAGEMENT TIPS
As you can tell, we're going to cross the borders to offer you various topics for your reading pleasure. We also invite you to send us your own life experiences in our topics to come each month. Afterall, reading everyone's own experiences will help other readers by giving them suggestions on how some of us deal with these topics.
Now for more TEENS issues:
Bathroom and phone--my oh my. In this household of seven, everyone needs to tell the other when they need to use the bathroom to get ready for school or work. You see, my children work at different times, not a steady time so we can get used to it...and yes, we have a powder room downstairs but no one wants to use that. Why should they? It would only make life simpler. :)
Anyway, so far, so good, only a few mishaps when a 'time' wasn't given and loud rapping on the bathroom door, with some,
"Are you going to be long?"
"Well, I gotta get ready for work."
"Tough, I'm in here now!"
Ah, the pleasure of that musical tone ringing out to my ears...thank goodness it happens only a few times a month.
As for the phone...worked that problem out. We have call waiting and call display so everyone is a happy camper with no missed calls.
How about you? Any new solutions to these two problem areas?