My son was relating a story about something outside smelling like pot. I let him finish the story and then asked the following question :
“How do you know what pot smells like?”
“Oh, come on mom. I’m not doing anything but everyone knows.”
After verifying that statement to be true – I did not know what the smell was until college, apparently ‘everyone’ knows things much earlier. But, the scary truth is – I can never know that with 100 percent certainty that my child or anyone else’s is not smoking pot. I can only trust that to be true and trust that I can expect better from my child.
What is the first thing that comes to mind when asked to describe a teenager? “Oh don’t get my started – lazy, tired, obnoxious, loud mouth, risky, pushes the limits.” That is a typical response from any adult in any city across the world. No one has a good generalized thing to say about a 13-19 year old. Teenagers are obviously set up for failure right from the get-go. They truly are living up to our ‘expecatiations’ of them – given the bum rap and the bum brain what else can we expect?
The average brain of a teenager is said to be immature, still growing, in-progress. It is for these reasons that teenagers often choose what is going to give them the best self-gratification now, rather than fully weighing the consequences of their actions. Teens most often know that lying to their parents is bad, that taking drugs are considered wrong or that drinking at a party is definitely not a good choice. They aren’t dumb, except that yes, they are dumb. Their brain is literally telling them that the way you will feel know is going to make up for the trouble caused by this action later.
Is there something we can do to help the process so that we set up our children for success instead of living up to the failure of their immature brains? What if teens could be expected to be responsible, sweet, caring and contributing members of their society? Would that change the world?
I know that my husband and I have taught our children openly and honestly about the horrors of high school and the freedoms that come with growing older, having more privacy and the ability to hide things in cars, backpacks and friend’s houses. I think back to the fly on the wall I always wanted to be in preschool – I long for tremendously. I wish I could be in constant video contact and assuring myself that my kids are always making good choices. However, there is also a realistic sense inside that I am learning – good choices cannot and will not always be made. It’s a terrible thing to accept, but open and honest communication with our kids (even accepting some of what we will hear will not be what we can handle) is the only, vital tool available in fighting those bad brained decisions. I am learning to let our children know that we are watching, caring and able to help them pick up the pieces of their mistakes instead of making them sneak and hide and never being able to get the help they need to get out of those sticky situations.
As my fifteen year old grows and my twelve year old enters the fold of another one to ‘watch’ I wonder how my parenting will change as I learn more and more about the brain development of the teenager. As adults we have the ability to know the consequences of our actions, I guess that is when the brain is complete. But, still we choose dumbly – but, hopefully less often. We also learn to eventually clean up our own messes.
That does not excuse the learning curve, as we are still a society of action and reaction. We have to punish severe infractions of the moral code, but smaller infractions can often be a punishment in and of themselves. When my children bring home a bad grade and get the guts to show it to me (sometimes they don’t and we find out about that later) the look on their faces is punishment itself. They know they did not put forth the effort and anything I say or do will only make them feel worse. In these situations I try to recognize the need for change and give them the responsibility to live up to the positive expectations that we know that they are capable of more. It is then for their brains to figure out how or ask for help.
I don’t profess to know it all, I am so still a mother in progress, but as I climb through the depths of their little growing brains and read and read and think and think I see there is a common thread. These children want love and acceptance and space to grow but more importantly they want to get rid of the bum rap.
Here’s to hoping that while I am on the learning journey I can learn to give my children the space they need to untangle that messy web and make good, smart decisions that help them grow in self-confidence instead of self-gratification.