Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Parenting Teenagers

The other day I was talking on the phone to Olivia.  She was telling me about a great article she'd read.  Then she told me about another great one about parenting teenagers.  She said, "I sent it to Marianne."  (Because, you know Marianne has teenagers and I...don't?)

Maybe it was a compliment.  She knew I was such a spectacular mother I didn't need the help?

Then I remembered that Marianne's girls are practically perfect in every way.  Maybe it was more of a slight on Olivia's part.  As in, Thelma's beyond help?

(I am way too narcissistic to consider maybe she didn't think about me at all.)

Whatever the reason, Olivia.  Rude.  I am not a bit sorry for the times I used to make you laugh until you wet your pants.  You deserved it, little sister.

I demanded she send the article to me as well.  (And since she's frightened of my wrath--and ability to make her laugh until she wets her pants--Olivia complied.)

It was a very good article.  It was written by Donald K. Jarvis and he draws a parallel between parenting teenagers and their need for increased independence to Adam and Eve leaving the Garden of Eden and becoming independent from the ease they experienced there.

I loved this part that keeps running through my brain:

For parents, one of the real contributions of the account of Adam and Eve is that it illuminates the challenges children face as they grow beyond simple obedience to the mature use of agency. For the first part of childhood, the most important task for children is obedience, learning to follow parental advice very strictly. However, as children grow older, they gradually must pay more attention to the task of learning to act independently. In the beginning, parents personally show three-year-old children exactly when and where to cross the street. Such guidance at age fourteen is seldom appropriate. In fact, if adolescents do not eventually pay more attention to this second task, they become in a real sense crippled, continually dependent on parents to make their decisions.
Shifting from obedience to independence is difficult. Ideally, parents should help their children make a gradual transition by carefully guiding the children as they exercise increasingly more independence. But in practice, it is very difficult for parents to know when and where to step back and allow their children freedom. Parents understandably make mistakes—by either giving too much or too little leeway. But even if parents’ timing is perfect, they simply cannot smooth out all the bumps: at some point, all children will make mistakes and have the opportunity to learn from them.
We can take comfort from contemporary writer Michael Novak, a committed parent. He points out that family life makes us confront our own shortcomings and forces us to grow up. He laments that he stands convicted every day of his inadequacies as a parent: “Trying to act fairly to children, each of whom is temperamentally different from myself and from each other, each of whom is at a different stage of perception and aspiration, is far more baffling than anything Harvard prepared me for.” (Michael Novak, “The Family Out of Favor,” Harpers, April 1976, p. 42.)
I'm grateful he points out it is "very difficult for parents to know when and where to step back and allow their children freedom."

I seem to get it wrong more often than not.

I give too much freedom and my children flounder.

I don't give enough freedom and my children are stunted.


I would take comfort in the fact that I'll get better at this with time (I mean, look at my parents.  Their sixth child is by all accounts, perfect.  Does that put undo pressure on you, Ammon?) but I suspect that I will not.  My children all have brown eyes and agree with me that The Emperor's New Groove is a high form of comedy but they are all vastly different too.  I know that what works for one child does not work for another.


So the solution seems to be keep trying.  I'll keep making mistakes and adjusting.  I'll keep praying.  I'll keep conferring with Adam.  I'll keep asking our parents for advice (and I'll ignore their advice when they are way too sympathetic to my "hungry children").

I'll keep loving them.

If you're interested in reading the whole article and if you're like me and Olivia didn't initially send it to you, here's the link.


Ammon said...

I guess I attribute my perfection to the constant supply of treats and money available to me, both at home and at school, throughout my childhood. Hope that helps.

Olivia Cobian said...

Be it known that Marianne was already talking about the trickiness of raising teens when I sent her the article. I am not one to give unsolicited advice...


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