I have become convinced that we, as parents, often sabotage our own efforts of rearing our teenagers. What would possess us to ask our child, who decided to remove his pants in English class, “What were you thinking?” Or the seventeen-year-old who raced down the highway in his dad’s 280-Z at totally irresponsible speeds, “Did you think about what would happen if you slammed into another car?”
The good news is, no, they weren’t thinking that far ahead; if they did think about the fact they could cause major destruction by their behavior, and acted anyway, wouldn’t that be slightly more frightening? No, most often, a thought is born, and merely becomes lost in that void called teenage-dom, never to appear again. My counselor says that teenagers are beginning to think in more abstract terms. It makes sense when you read the definition of abstract from www.dictionary.com:
adj 1: existing only in the mind (“Everyone’s going to be there.”)
2: not representing or imitating external reality (“I thought it would be okay to use the bushes as a urinal.”)
3: based on specialized theory; “a theoretical analysis” (“If my parents don’t actually say ‘no’ then it should be okay.”)
v consider a concept without thinking of a specific example (“You always say ‘ no’. I don’t remember when, but you always say no!”)
2: make off with belongings of others (like my sanity)
Of course, this could be considered bad news, too. How do we help our teen reach the other side of this black hole of puerility in one piece? The only logical answer – lock him in his closet until he shows signs of reason, which could be after he turns thirty. Naturally, this would raise some eyebrows from certain activist groups, so perhaps this is a little abstract thinking of our own.
So, what is the secret? Well, the secret is that there is no secret; not just one secret, anyway. I have read books and articles on the subject, listened to encouraging CDs, and talked to counselors about what to do with my teenager. What have I gleaned from the “experts”? That there are no true experts; otherwise there would be a textbook included with your child at birth. Certainly there are many people who have learned psychology and child behavior patterns; but the truth is, they either learned from someone else, or they have learned from their own children. Little bits and pieces gathered from these “experts”, certain people in my life whom I highly respect, and my own mistakes have helped me put together a plan of action. The main idea – love unconditionally. This does not mean we let them get away with their tricks; it simply means to love your child in spite of his blemishes.
I can often tell when my son needs some of my unconditional love. He gets obstinate; and since I am my child’s mother, I have a little tenacity of my own. I have to force myself to be the adult and stop arguing. He doesn’t always need to hear my ‘life lessons’. No, sometimes I need to keep my mouth shut and just love the brat – I mean, kid.
Another way for me to love my teenager is to love who he is. He is an extremely funny, very athletic, and super good-looking boy (no prejudice here). He can make me laugh until tears come out of my eyes. I love that about him, and try to show it as often as is appropriate. I adore watching him play in the sports he enjoys the most. Seeing him gain self confidence through successes is very rewarding to a mother. And the girls – I can’t stand the fact that they call my house, sometimes very late at night; but what I do love is that he is well-liked by many of his classmates. Making sure I show him that I love who he is gives him affirmation.
A valuable tool I learned from one of the doctors for whom I work, a person I consider to be somewhat of a father figure to me: never be afraid to embarrass yourself. I have forced myself to attend 6th grade classes with my son, and on one occasion, I even appeared at his school with rollers in my hair and wearing big fuzzy slippers in an effort to get his attention. A mother wants her child’s friends to think she is the bomb, so showing up in the principal’s office without makeup and looking like I just came from the trailer park was the most humiliating thing I have ever done deliberately.
Just so I don’t sound like June Cleaver, I have very little patience. My teen has often abraded my last nerve. I am an Italian-raised woman with a very opinionated mother; I have been accused of yelling, when in fact I am merely impassioned. Of course, there might have been a time or two when I sounded like George Costanza’s mother in Seinfeld because I was screaming so loudly. Much easier said than done, keeping my cool and maintaining imperturbability is vastly important, especially if I want my son to possess a level head when he gets angry. Once again, the mouth can be a weapon of mass destruction, so I must learn how not to use it at times.
Each of these tools represents ways in which we love our teenager unconditionally. However difficult at times, it is the central doctrine of raising children. There are many other examples and avenues by which we can demonstrate this, and finding these pearls of wisdom is our responsibility as parents. It is, perhaps, the ultimate act of unconditional love.