Monday, October 29, 2007

Kids and Communication

Let me start by saying I know I don't know everything, or even everything about this topic, but I feel like I need to say what I do think and I'm hoping that writing this will act as a reminder to myself as well on how to behave now and in the future.
Lunanik has written about the birth control debate that has been the subject of a forum on a community we're both in, and Mommy Needs Coffee wrote about the lessons she's learning as the parent of a teen. I thought one of the comments was very interesting to Mommy Needs Coffee's post regarding how this is a time when adolescents discover that indeed their parents don't know everything.
I have never said that I did. I don't think my girls are in for any great shock to discover that there are many things that I don't know. This is one of the reasons that I apologize when I'm wrong (another being, it's the right thing to do, and I expect them to do the same), that I admit when I don't know something and let's look it up on the internet together, that I allow them to see my humanity. I have never tried to pretend that I'm perfect to my kids, nor have I ever demanded perfection from them. I have expectations about their behavior in public and at home, I don't let them get away with "but I didn't know" as an excuse when it's something that they absolutely have been told at least 30 to 300 times before, and I continually tell them that I only get mad when I know they can do better, to which they both agree.
I found it interesting to note how many mothers on the birth control issue that were so adamant about this being a terrible thing don't actually have kids even in grade school yet! They are still experiencing the wonderful time when mothers might possibly know everything they need to know.
The other interesting thing about one of the comments on the Mommy Needs Coffee blog was a note that since Americans keep kids in school longer (than what country? I'm not sure) that we actually are dealing with adults but treating them like children. I completely disagree with this.
Considering that our brains aren't fully developed until we're 25, I actually think we're letting them out of the "nest" too soon. (This is why insurance is more expensive for under 25 drivers, btw.) However, they have reached a level of "enlightenment" that allows them to understand how little control we actually have as parents.
One of my favorite moments ever from "The Sopranos" was when Meadow had thrown the party at her grandmother's house, and Tony and Carmela were trying to figure out what they could actually do to her. Tony commented (probably not an exact quote), "as soon she knows we are completely powerless, we're fucked!" Truer words have never been spoken.
Any parent that actually believes that they have "control" over their teenager is just plain wrong. I even know a few mothers that have sons that tower over them!
Now, hopefully we've developed the sort of relationship with our kids that they will actually listen and follow rules, curfews, etc. When they don't, what's the answer?
Shouldn't the first step be talking? The phrase "a cry for help" has often been uttered as maybe not so much a reason but rather an explanation for why certain kids do certain things. Maybe that should be our first response as parents. Maybe we look at the "incident" as a symptom for an underlying problem, and deal with that.
If that's not the case, then what's next? Consequences seem to be appropriate. Taking away certain privileges, or allowing the school to deal with the problem when they've been brought into the situation.
After that, we must ask for outside help. We must recognize that we don't have the solutions and try to find counselors, organizations, other parents, other friends, anyone that is at least willing to step up and say, "hey, I might have an answer for you." (Of course, keeping in mind that we use some common sense here and don't send our kids to one of those camps that has been found guilty of negligence or anything like that!) I think really good parents are willing to recognize when their own solutions haven't been effective.
And sometimes we just need to step back and let our kids fall.
Already, I feel like my job from Monday through Thursday is that of a drill sergeant, and it ain't fun. Girls, get up! Get your lunchboxes. Get your glasses. Get your shoes on. Sylvia, what homwork do you have? Break's over, back to homework. Riley, stop bothering your sister, she's doing homework. Girls, finish dinner already! It's time for homework! Sylvia, I'm not signing your agenda until you put everything away.
And a few times, I've even taken a step back from that. The other night, I told Sylvia, "Don't do your homework. Get a ZAP. Go to bed." Of course, she protested (ZAP stands for Zeroes Aren't Permitted and when you get one, you have to stay an hour after school) and got to work.
Middle school has become a time where she's expected to take on more responsibilities, and there's only so much I can do for her. She did tell me once that she appreciated that I stuck by her and cared enough to make sure she got it done. I guess that's supposed to last me through these past few weeks of whining and carrying on about homework!
I'm still struggling to find the right balance there between being involved and letting her be. And I guess it's the start of a very long road of the next 8 years until she's at least legally considered an adult.
At our last breakfast with the Principal, he was telling us about a group of boarding schools that will be coming to the school in a few weeks to recruit some of the 8th graders. He mentioned that boarding schools offer the best education for high school. I'm wondering how much of that has to do with the absence of parent-teen conflicts. At first I had told Sylvia I'd never send her to a boarding school.
Now I'm beginning to re-consider that...


Anonymous said...

I have a friend who teaches at a boarding school and lives in the dorm with her spouse (they have apartments for the residents they aren't forced to live in a dorm room) and so I often get a pretty good view of what boarding school life is really like - though they try very hard to encourage the girls (it's an all girl school) to act as if they are home and should come to the residents as they would their parents they run into problems such as the girls walking to their rooms in towels when the male residents are around, or not getting out of their skimpy pajamas and into something more appropriate when they come down for breakfast. But all in all they seem to do a very good job of engaging the girls and handling the inevitable conflict.

LunaNik said...

I really like the fact that you admit to your kids that you don't know everything. And when you don't know you sit down together and do some research. I'm stealing this technique when my kids get older =)

millcreek said...

I went away to boarding school when I was 14. It was co-ed and we had to make decisions for ourselves. You would think that we dealt with teenage pregnancy, drugs, rape, etc. but we didn't. The school admitted good kids and we matured quickly and wisely. I think a lot of it had to do with the school's emphasis on sports and academics.

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