This past weekend we had some company over and the woman was describing some difficulty she was having with one of her teenage sons. The lad had taken to wearing all black, with the hip chain and dyed his hair jet black. She told us how she put him in his place.
"I told him how he and all his friends are trying so hard to be different that they all end up looking the same anyway!"
It's an innocent enough statement, but what struck me was the tone of contempt in her voice. She seemed proud that she had struck a telling blow on the teen.
Another mother was describing how her 17 year old daughter had spent the summer lazing around, wouldn't follow the rules and was now trying to move in with one of her friends. One friend had bailed on her, so she was trying a different one. This mother told me how she was coming down hard on her daughter.
"I told her, if this doesn't work out, then she'd have to come back home and live by the rules. It's time she straightened up her act!"
Now my boys are only 12 and almost-14, so I have hardly any experience raising teenagers, but both of these cases saddened me. They feel hard, and cold. In the first case, I feel that the boy's need to figure out who he is should be respected. In the second case, the girl should have an opportunity to negotiate what her rules and responsibilities at home will be.
I recently had a talk with Luke (Mr. Almost-14) because he kept acting contemptuously of me because I didn't know his favourite cereal, or which books he'd already read. I told him this:
"Luke, you're right, I don't know you. You're growing up and discovering who you are. I won't know about you unless you choose to tell me. So please don't disrespect me if I don't have all the answers. Instead, talk to me."
Luke understood this and he agreed with it. Though he kind of laughed at the idea of talking with me. ;-)
I read Barbara Coloroso's Kids Are Worth It! when my children were babies and I think that's where I get my ideas about how to raise my teens. My role as a parent is to guide them, not make their choices, to protect them from their own lack of judgment, and to give them responsibilities to live up to in proportion to the freedoms they earn.
Check in with me in 4 years. Let's see if I can hold to it.