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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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