Friday, July 5, 2024

RAISING A TEEN: finding that elusive balance


Raising a teen is a challenging proposition. And a prime reason is the parental tendency to overestimate how much of their control remains. Parents tend to base their judgements about that on past experience.  A past in which they had a high degree of control. But that control slips away in ways which are not always obvious. And even when they are noticed, parent's tend to underestimate the degree of loss. That can have disastrous results. Here's a tale illustrating this point.

My wife and I watched neighboring parents try to deal with their daughter's adolescence. Both rather rigid, church going conservatives, they foolishly tried to maintain the same control or her that they had when she was younger. But as they did so the girl persisted in doing things they disapproved of. They then tried even harder to enforce the rules. But, impelled by social pressure and hormonal secretions,  the girl rebelled even more. When they urged her to study more, she studied less. When they forbid her to drink she got hammered — and smoked marijuana in the bargain. When they forbade her to ever see a boy friend again. she clandestinely did so anyway. When she repeatedly phoned the same forbidden boyfriend, they confiscated her cell phone. She secretly secured another.  That the young man was African-American, she white, intensified the rebellion.

The struggle climaxed when the girl became pregnant to the very boy her parents had forbidden. Worse, the boy turned out to be abusive, punching her in the stomach upon learning she was pregnant. The girl didn't tell her parents. But she did brake off the relationship, set the cops on her abuser and secretly secure an abortion. (Something her parents also would have forbidden — had they known.)   

This control struggle produced bitterness and estrangement between parents and child. The costs of their over-zealous parenting far exceeded the benefits. Yet the parents remained relatively oblivious of the fact that modern teens have a great deal of control over their own lives. They simply couldn't grasp that the degree of control they sought was inappropriate, counter productive and well-nigh impossible to enforce. Instead they blamed modernity.

Teens from functional homes with realistic teen limits usually avoid doing things that might seriously embarrass or disappoint their parents. But this is something the adolescent, not the parent, must choose to do. Remember too, parental advice can be as unrealistic as Arab advice to rainforest dwellers about surviving sandstorms. Remember too, teens often ignore even the best parental advice. As a German proverb reminds: "Everyone knows good counsel except those that have need of it." 

Parents must keep in mind too that teen brains are incompletely developed. Cognitive development is still ongoing.  This mental immaturity, especially when accompanied by new hormonal surges, can result in risky behavior. That quite properly worries parents. But trying too hard to eliminate teen risk-taking is risky too. The trick is learning when, and how much, to loosen control. Finding that elusive balance. That's the trick. And that is much, much more difficult than properly folding a fitted sheet.

No comments: