Thursday, June 18, 2009

Salon on teens

Haven't posted for a while but I thought this was too good to pass up. Salon did a terrific "dear Abby" style column on teen rebellion.

When we are teenagers, because the world has not been designed around our needs but around the needs of the adults who run that world, it often appears that the world will not give us what we want unless we contrive to find it for ourselves, and that means breaking the rules. When a child turns 16 and suddenly has a set of new requirements for happiness -- a sudden need for companionship and society, for recognition outside the family, for a free, unfettered flow of experience full of novelty and risk -- and no one shows her how to meet these new needs (and how could anyone show her such a thing, her needs being new to her and impossible for her to express), then she naturally sets out to meet these needs. And if a few rules stand in her way, well, those rules will be broken.

Your daughter is trying to meet her needs. That is how a human being gets along in the world. Perhaps you can figure out a way she can meet her needs that is acceptable to you. It is not possible for you to meet all her needs directly, because one of her needs is to do it on her own. But within your vast area of control, perhaps you can create areas of seeming autonomy within which she can continue to explore and learn to make her own choices. That might help her. It might be what she needs.

Do you remember how awful it is to live in fear of your own parents? Do you remember that? I hope that you have not now reached adulthood repeating the catechism that whatever you endured under the rule of your own parents was all for the best, nothing you didn't deserve. I know adults who do say, look at me, I turned out OK, so it must be OK to treat my children in the same way I was treated.

It depends on how we view the human project. If we think of ourselves as components made to function dutifully within a society with fixed rules and fixed parameters, if getting and holding a job and raising a family are the primary goals, if existence is a preordained program of obedience to commands and right answers to tests, then yes, a somewhat punitive, controlling, rigid structure that denies the child the opportunity to fully master the multifarious arts of being may be just what is required.

But if you think that the child's project is much broader: to become, to unfold, to fully realize every merest spark of genius in her being, then you may agree that to accomplish that project, she needs more leeway to figure things out. She needs to make some mistakes.

You may not be able to prevent her from making those mistakes, but maybe you can be there to catch her when she falls.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have to admit that I don't understand what the author is trying to convey. Of course I don't want to obsess over sponges, but I will...or, in my case, it will be the door-slamming, but that doesn't change anything. Of course I want to be able to see the person behind the undesired behavior, and I will, but that's not going to change my reaction to the behavior.

I'm not a parent yet, but I will be soon, and I sure hope I don't find myself enforcing rules for the sake of imposing my will, or the will of society, or the will of whoever, on my child. Um...well, see, I just don't think I'm understanding the point of the article. :-) What is it telling me? What are the actionable items?