Writer Ann Pincus last week jocularly flung out a request at large for pointers on raising teen-agers. Here is one response.
As one who has so far survived the survival of three teen-age offspring, I rise shakily to the challenge. Surely, we who are about to graduate from active parenthood owe some guidance to our successors.
You can recognize us by the gray hair (worry), the hearing loss (stereo rock), the slight nervous twitch (lack of sleep), the occasional vacant stare (shock). I am told these symptoms abate gradually as each child leaves home.
Writer Pincus is way ahead of the game in recognizing that she doesn't know how to raise adolescents. Nobody ever has, or does, or probably ever will. It is just one of those things that happens to us, roughly in the same category as floods and earthquakes. Still I have learned a few things that I will be happy to share, since someone finally asked.
For the sake of handy reference, I tried to put my thoughts on raising teen-agers into neat categories such as "friends," "attitudes," "family." It didn't work. Teen-agers cannot be categorized neatly, or in any other way. So the best I can offer is "things" I have learned.
Thing One: You can't erase the pain of growing up for your children. Never again can Mommy kiss it and make it well. Any efforts in this direction will meet with stony opposition from the intended beneficiary. You are into a gradual letting-go period. Your children must let go of you. You must let go of them. Repeat this daily upon arising, upon retiring, and as often during the day as necessary to avoid doing serious damage to your walls with your head.
Thing Two: (You learned this when your kids were little. Remember it now.) Don't give them what they don't want. Say to your 8th-grader son, "Remember your best friend in 5th grade, Izzy Homely? I ran into Mrs. Homely today and we planned a picnic for Saturday. We knew you two would love to see each other."
The reply: "Oh, Mom -- Izzy is a N-E-R-D. Besides, I have plans for Saturday with Todd Koolguy. By the way, Todd and I are going to hitchhike to Florida this summer. It's okay, isn't it?"
Thing 2 1/2: On the other hand, don't give them what they do want.
A parent's best ally here is put-it-off. Try, "I think 13 is a little young to hitchhike to Florida: let's talk about it next summer." Chances are that Todd Koolguy will move -- or become bored with your kid -- or turn into next year's N-E-R-D.
Thing Three: Be prepared with a list of handy excuses why your 15-year-old is unavailable for family gatherings. Teen-agers hate them. If you force them to go, they will sit there staring into space until Aunt Bertha asks what is wrong with that sweet child. Does he/she need more exercise? Vitamins? How about a laxative? It is easier to leave the reluctant teen-ager at home because of a pressing homework assignment or softball practice: You'll think of something.
Thing Four: You cannot second-guess a teen-ager. Worried about drugs? Of course. So you study the subject and know all the danger signals. dYou are prepared. But 16-year-old Betsy grandly announces, "Mom, I've found Jesus!" (You didn't know He was lost.) Betsy goes on to say she is renouncing you and your earthly possessions and joining the flock of the Rev. Star/Sky. You never even thought to worry about that one.
Thing Five: Of course we must deal with the subject of sex, about which our kids seem to know more than we do. I have found a totally effective way of handling this problem that I hereby offer free of charge to all parents of teen-agers: Take a deep breath, close your eyes, relax, and PRAY.
There are some other areas I would like to address, but they revolve around the holy-of-holies subject, "DISCIPLINE." I have seen otherwise normal adults turn into fire-breathing dragons regarding discipline -- or the lack of same -- of their own or others' teen-agers. So I will pass on that, except to say that we parents should practice self-discipline. We may slip occasionally, but if we have understanding teen-agers, perhaps they won't take away our allowances, or ground us.
The Last and Most Important Thing: Listen to your teen-agers. The experience may be terrifying, but I guarantee it will not be boring. And sometimes, they might even listen back, if you are not boring. Boring is saying, "When I was your age . . ." When you were their age is irrelevant. That was then. This is now.
It helps to remember what it felt like to be a teen-ager; the feelings are much the same then as now. But the world is not. Listen to what they have to tell you about being young today. You can at least be glad it is they, not you.
It is unlikely that you and your teen-agers will sail through these years without real pain. But the rewards are sweet, at last, as you watch each of your former babies making their own way all by themselves. You realize that with each child you have raised you have given the world -- a person!
And, even more amazing, you may have found yourself a friend.