Our Kid’s Narrow View

Category: Weekly Columns

Sean Penn as Spicoli narrow view

Due to recent events with my boys, I’ve given extra thought to how they view the world. We know that teens mostly view the world with a very large perspective – their own selfish needs. This is part of their DNA, part of their method to become independent, and as recent brain research has revealed, really part of who they are until sometime in their mid-twenties…hopefully!

Neck tattoo

Indeed, parenting a teenager is often treacherous at best, death-defying at worst. I have a friend – a single mom – who has four of them. Perhaps that’s partly why she’s skinny as a rail? The stress must be intense. Plus, two of them have had ongoing and real health issues and she’s under financial strain paying off debt from her ex. The irony is that she’s among the most upbeat people I know proving again that it’s not the hand we’re dealt, but how we choose to view the cards.

I have two boys: two relatively normal boys; both teenagers. My oldest will turn twenty in November so technically he won’t be a teen anymore. But, when we went back to Boston to deal with his moving into a rental home with some college friends, I was stunned to experience more drama than I’d seen in any daytime Soap Opera. Not just from him, but also from all of the other four friends, one a girl, who had chosen to live together.

Teenage thinking cartoon

There are real hormonal swings for young men and women, we all know. Then, there is the actual brain development in the frontal lobe that seems to lead them to make what appear to be wildly irrational and indefensible decisions. When all the parents of these “roommates” gathered at the home they had chosen and saw what they had picked, it was a staggering moment of collective and intense WHAT THE HECK WERE YOU THINKING for the parents.

It is always a parent’s challenge to let a child at a certain age learn lessons themselves yet we parent’s usually don’t dodge our delusion that we can protect them from poor decisions using rational thought and dialogue. It doesn’t work. In fact, during this recent trip, I called a meeting of the five roommates at 10:00 a.m. one morning. I had been up for 4-5 hours already, but when I arrived at their new dwelling, they were still all asleep.

Messy living room in college

Rousing them up was a chore unto itself and when they finally all gathered together to hear me out – there was one remaining parent still around at this point – I really might have been advised to speak to zombies instead since that was pretty much their mental state. The parents that left were the wise ones. What was I thinking by sticking around and trying to deal with the mess they had created?

My talk was largely unheard. I think I could’ve done a pop quiz on the things I said and not a single one of them would’ve come close to passing it. At one point, I asked them all to take out their cell-phones and take down some very relevant numbers that I’d gotten from dealing with the mayor’s office in their community about the problems we were experiencing with a landlord taking advantage of college kids. I had to repeat those numbers several times before these usually very tech-savvy kids finally got them inputted.

Teenage humor

Along this particular journey, I was struck by the collective inability of these incredibly bright and talented young men and woman (just one female among the five) to not see the bigger picture. This is where maturity and that frontal lobe come to play. This is where a parent has a choice. Constantly “fix it” for them or let them learn the hard way. As the last standing parent, I mostly chose the latter. Heck, I wasn’t living there and they were satisfied or simply numb, I’m not sure which.

As it turned out, “the hard way” came without any parental interference since the slumlord/landlord decided we were all too much trouble and demanded they all find another place to live. Naturally, I was blamed for this and my son didn’t speak to me for a while and is still barely speaking to me now. Truthfully, we couldn’t have “played it any better or gotten a better result from an untenable situation. Sometimes, luck simply helps us out.

cartoon about teenagers

It was a blessing and turn-of-fate for a variety of reasons. Now the five are split among three different places, all closer to school and all pestilence and mold-free. They even have luxuries like smoke alarms and exit doors that open. They still feel played by all of us parents – especially me and the one other dad who stuck around – and my only choice is to allow time to pass and hope my son sees the bigger picture, perhaps when he’s thirty or so. I can hope?


Funny teenager cartoon

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The Empty Nest Book

  • Steve Cassady

    Great Post. Going through some of those stages with my 18 year old son

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Ever want to commiserate, let me know @stevecassady:disqus!

  • Jodi Okun

    Bruce – my daughter also moved in the area that your son lived – 2 different places – I handled it as the parent who was not involved I was not happy in fact I was disgusted by the management company – but what my daughter and her friends learned made them stronger people today – In fact senior year they lived in the most an amazing building senior year. Also when she moved to NY she learned from that awful experience in that horrible town. – I did not get involved – I did not visit – I did not live there – it was there choice – and WOW they learned a lot and they spoke to all the people they needed to – it was not easy

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      I should have done EXACTLY that @jodiokun:disqus!

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  • Jen Olney

    It’s hard to watch your kids learn a hard lesson, Bruce. Sometimes they need a hard landing to figure out life. I’m not there yet with my son – but even now as we enter the teen years there are times I want to help him with decisions about friends and I have to bite my tongue – as hard as that is – it’s worth in the end for them to get these lessons now rather than later.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      @jenolney:disqus – my tongue is almost bitten off at this point, Jen!

  • http://www.booksquirt.com/ Brett Jonas

    I could never live like that. I can sleep in occasionally, but when an adult tells me to take out my cell phone and put in some numbers, I’d wake up and put in those dang numbers. I can only imagine how frustrating that must have been!

    Teens like that give all teenagers a bad name, and most people don’t get to see the few decent teens that are out there. 🙁

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      @booksquirt:disqus – I hate to break it to you but YOU ARE AN ALIEN from another planet…I’m joking, of course, but your maturity is just NOT the norm for a kid your age. You are so awesome and impressive I literally somethings think you are NOT FOR REAL! Again, my invitation for a visit STANDS – and you can bring your brother!

      • http://www.booksquirt.com/ Brett Jonas

        Thanks, Bruce! It feels normal to me, so I don’t see it like that. 🙂 I just see the stupidity happening around me and wonder what the world’s going to be like when I’m an adult. I also wonder what it will be like when we have a bunch of ladies in their sixties/seventies walking around with tattoos and nose rings. 😉

        Hopefully when I’m a Mom I’ll be able to teach my kids the same things my Mom has taught me!

        • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

          That’s EXACTLY what I think @booksquirt:disqus – about all the kids (especially the girls) who have tattoos and piercings. All the dumb stuff we did was not permanent – horrible wardrobe (think bell-bottoms and polyester), hair styles, etc. For that matter, many piercings will fill in, but tattoos and gauges are another matter. You’ll be an AWESOME mom! I hope I know you then!

          • http://www.booksquirt.com/ Brett Jonas

            I’ve seen pictures of my Mom’s hair when she was my age – it looks pretty silly. 😀 I’ve pretty much always had the same hair style though – it gets shorter or longer, but I don’t do anything crazy with it. 🙂

            Aw, thanks. 🙂

          • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

            Part of growing up is figuring out YOUR style @booksquirt:disqus – so I think fooling around with your hair (while you got it – in my case – it started going away very young) is cool. Unlike tattoos, whatever you do is not permanent. A little “rebellion” in that way is actually good for your growth. You learn that you really don’t like your hair pink, for instance. You confirm what your values are while perhaps having some innocent fun and surprising your friends…

          • http://www.booksquirt.com/ Brett Jonas

            I would never dye my hair a weird color. LOL And probably not a safe color (like black or blonde) either. I like my hair! I do wish it was a little curlier, but other then that it’s great. 😀

          • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

            Well then @booksquirt:disqus – why not curl your hair sometime?

          • http://www.booksquirt.com/ Brett Jonas

            I have a couple of times, but it’s really time intensive and I’d rather spend that time doing something else. That’s ten-fifteen minutes where I could be reading or talking to people online or getting ahead in school. 🙂

          • Donna

            My niece just had her tattoo of her previous husband covered up in preparation for her new upcoming wedding and not with his name

          • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

            Other than your kids or your parents, NO names should EVER be put in a tattoo – and even then, I’d recommend an image that reminds you of your kids or your parents instead…Tattoos are permanent and so stupid most of the time!

  • David Weber

    I’m not a parent so I can’t address some of these issues from the inside. One reason I never raced toward parenthood was that I was intimidated by what I anticipated having to deal with when my child or children became teenagers.

    I do have some experience with some of these issues, however, as a college professor. In one of my classes I have an abundance of 19- and 20-yr.-olds. Fewer rather than more of them live in a manner that I would consider fundamentally accountable. Some of what has changed in recent decades includes everything from the emergence of helicopter parenting and, thanks to a variety of influences, the teenage sense of being at the center of the universe being retained 3-4 years beyond when historically it would have begun to dissipate.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      @7f990e539df4ddefe26884eb65a5f04c:disqus – I sure as hell NEVER expected my kids to be as dependent as they still are…not as much as many others I see, but still unlike we were at their ages…

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