It’s so easy to complain about our teens. I know I’m guilty of too often dishing out criticisms, admonishments, and lectures. I worry that my boys might be doing drugs, drinking, or some other peer-pressure stupidity. But, they also deserve my support when they do well and my understanding when they slip up.
My 16-year-old, Will, recently bounded into my office, eager to talk. Wisely, I pulled away from the hypnotic lure of my computer, and faced him squarely, ready for whatever followed.
Normally, when Will comes to talk to me, I am concerned that he either wants something or is going to confess something that I wish I didn’t have to hear. This time, I listened. And I listened and I listened. I smiled, I nodded, I grunted. But, mostly I listened. He had made a remarkable discovery! What was this remarkable revelation? “Life is complicated and full of wonder and amazing things. Where did life come from? Why do we sleep? How does our brain work? Why are there different languages and how did they evolve?” He literally rambled off these and other subjects, as if he’d just discovered the wheel!
Will didn’t want me to offer any feedback: he just wanted to share with me his marvelous realizations. I just sat there and patiently let him passionately express these extraordinary questions. After maybe 15 minutes, he didn’t need me anymore and jumped up and left to call his girlfriend and share with her what he’d just voiced.
Later, as we were all getting ready for bed, he came into our bedroom, where my wife was lying down reading, and I had just come in to get ready for bed. He leaped on our chaise lounge, fell off to the side, and scrambled up laughing at his clumsiness. He then proclaimed, “I love this family,” and proceeded to elaborate for a couple more minutes.
My wife and I actually wondered if Will had taken some drugs, as he seemed so high. But, he hadn’t, and was apparently just being a teenager–a teen enjoying the “wonder-full-ness” of life.
That is my point. The older we get, the more we forget the wonder of youth, the wonder of being a teenager–discovering new worlds to explore and the new ideas that we feel are just ours. (Okay, let’s hear the Star Trek theme now).
Being a teenager means discovering the world. I think adults too often squash that sense of wonder with the desire to have our kids conform. That was my discovery during the short 18 months that I home-schooled Will, since the lack of conforming public school curriculum and class management allowed Will to learn so much more than he otherwise would have under the structure of public school. It’s why I believe home-schooling is really much better for some kids and, at the time, was the very best thing I could have done for Will.
The job of parents is to introduce our children to the world, to give them exposure to as much as we can, and to allow them to choose their paths. I know that early in my parenting, I had my ideas of what I wanted for my sons that were based on my own particular interests and desires. Fortunately, I got over that selfish instinct and ended up supporting my boys’ own interests and dreams. I know too many parents that are single-minded in pushing their kids in the directions these parents think is best while not taking into consideration their kids interests, skills, and desires.
This is dramatically evident in the sports arena, where kids are sometimes literally forced to participate in a sport in which they have no interest. The reason is simply the parents’ ego and vicarious desire to live through their kids. It is so wrong. We also see this in the over-the-top push that parents often inflict on their kids to excel at school so that they can get into this or that college that the parents deem best for their child.
I wonder if it ever occurred to those parents that their son or daughter might actually be better off with a year off between high school and college? Or, maybe not even going to college! Not every kid should go to college. Couldn’t college wait a year or two while these high school grads explore life on their own? Maybe they can see a bit more of the world rather than just continue in what can be the cocoon of education and parental (financial) support?
I may have wanted my sons to be great skiers, or get into an Ivy League college, but now I want them to fulfill their own passions and find the same joy in what they do that I’ve been blessed to find in my writing and now, my radio show as well. I urge you to do the same!