Tag Archives: parenting teens

Authenticity: Life Lessons from my 18 Year-Old

tiger mom

tiger momIt’s a bit of a cliché to say that we learn more from our children than we teach them. I remember a close friend of mine coming to stay with us when her son was about six. They happened to show up on my husband’s birthday. When her son realized this, he produced a dollar from his pocket and gave it to my husband as a gift. It was one of the most touching things I’d ever witnessed. She turned to me and said, “He does a thousand things like this, every day.”

My own son is now 18. Yesterday, he finished his A-Level exams, which are equivalent to your final exams in High School. In a couple of months, he will be heading off to college.

My son has not been the easiest child to parent and we have definitely had our run-ins. He’s still not nice to his sister. And when I ask him to take out the weekly recycling, you’d think that I’d ask him to fill out my annual tax return.

But one thing he has always been is true to himself. From an early age, he would develop an obsession with a given topic and immerse himself in it. As a toddler, it was cars. He was so consumed by automobiles that when he was two, my husband and I abandoned getting him books at the local library. Instead, we took to obtaining those free, used-car supplements they used to give away in newspapers so that he could stay up to date on the latest models from Honda, Chevrolet and Cadillac.

When he was eight, he insisted on dressing up as Tamerlane for Halloween. (You know, the Turkic-Mongol ruler from the 14th century? Not a household term? Wasn’t for  me either. Can’t you just go as Batman like all the other kids?) He also began reading the Game of Throne books long before these were age-appropriate. (Though I blame my husband for that. No, honey, they aren’t quite the same as The Lord of the Rings series. Sorry.)

A few years back, as it came time to think about college, I began – in true Tiger Mom fashion – to harangue him for not doing more extra-curricular activities. British Universities could care less if you’re on the debate team or volunteer at the local homeless shelter. But American Universities eat that sh$% up. And since I knew that he was going to at least contemplate studying in the U.S., I began to entreat him to start thinking more strategically about how we would position himself to an American college audience.

He largely ignored me. Sure, he did a bunch of activities at school. But he never once did anything that didn’t genuinely interest him. Even after all these years, his main hobby remains – wait for it – reading.

“Reading isn’t a hobby!” I would shriek periodically. “You can’t list it on your application! You need to have more leadership roles!” And no, I’m not suggesting you follow my parenting lead. (Although at least I didn’t bribe someone to say that my son rowed crew or that he needed extra time on the SATs.)

I ranted and raved. And he kept on doing his thing. Eventually. I accepted that my trying to control his path in life was really about me trying to manage my own fears and anxieties about myself. So I gave up.

Needless to say, the whole college thing worked out just fine. But he also taught me a valuable lesson in my own life. Round about time that he was applying for college, I was trying to launch my own business. There were plenty of moments along that journey where I was tempted to throw in the towel and just go get a job – any job – that I *could* do. Rather than creating the job for myself that I actually wanted.

Watching my son gave me the courage to take some risks. Which in my case mostly meant creating a career that reflected my whole self, rather than just one part of it.

Which is another way of saying that my son taught me the value of authenticity. He showed me that the best path forward is always to be true to yourself. 

So thanks, pal. I needed that.

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Image: Siberian Tiger Mom with Cub by Mathias Appel via Flickr

 

Tips For Adulthood: Teaching Life Skills To Teenagers

teenagers

teenagersI think it’s fairly uncontroversial to say that parenting teenagers can be challenging. The teenage brain is still evolving, teenagers are very stressed out and anxious, and they can be an absolute nightmare at the dinner table.

Above all, we know that teenagers are prone to take risks. (Warning: Don’t read this article if you don’t want to imagine all sorts of dangerous s$%t your teen might be getting up to right now…).

And so those of us trying to parent a teenager spend many of our waking hours wondering: how will they ever “graduate” to adulthood? Will they have the life skills they need to succeed as grown ups?

We vaguely know the sorts of things we’d like them to be able to do as responsible adults – which run the gamut from the more practical life skills (how to use an ATM machine, how to get the oil checked and – yes, you guessed it – how to change a lightbulb) to the more abstract life skills (executive function skills, moral integrity, emotional awareness).

If you’re like me, you’ll read through the lists in the links above and find yourself nodding your head vigorously.

But how, in a person who is biologically, emotionally and socially conditioned to resist our best efforts to impart these skills, do we get them there?

This week’s tip list brings a raft of suggestions for teaching life skills to teenagers. To wit:

a. Give Them Responsibility.  I was amazed, when reading this article in the Washington Post, at how much of the advice for teaching life skills to teens boils down to this: start giving them responsibility. (I know, I know, duh.) Whether it’s about giving your teenager a quarterly clothing budget (to practice managing money), bringing them along to the insurance agent when you add them to your automobile policy (to teach them about handling emergencies) or instructing them in those most basic of skills – how to address an envelope and how to write a check – the advice is that you need to get them going on these small things now.

b. Offer Them Things To Read – A close cousin of the “give them stuff to do” is “give them stuff to read.” Of course, not all kids will respond to a reading list, but some  (my own, for example) tend to respect advice more when it comes from an expert. I’m a huge fan of adolescent expert Nicola Morgan, whose website is chock full of resources – for parents, for teachers and also for kids themselves – about topics ranging from sleep to exams to stress. On the life skills end of things – since a common one that comes up is learning how to manage time – Nicola has a whole study skills guide for kids.

c. Play Games. If books aren’t your kids thing, try games and activities. This site lists “fun” life skills games for adolescents of different ages that gets them working on things from anger management to job hunting to healthy eating. (I want to play the Shhh! game!)

d. Outsource it. You don’t need to do it all by yourself, either. There are organizations that specialize in helping teens adjust to adulthood. I was recently at a food allergy clinic with my son and the doctor told us that once my son turns 16, he will join an adolescent clinic where the kids come to get their allergy testing themselves. Because kids with allergies face special risks when it comes to things like alcohol and drugs – (bottom line: you don’t want to eat the wrong thing when you’re high) – but also with food preparation and consumption, it’s important, the doctor said, that my son begin learning how to cook and shop for himself now. They’ll start him off with seven “safe” recipes he can make on his own. To which I said: Bring it on…

e. Go with the flow. Finally, if the idea of trying to turn your kid into a responsible adult before s/he is ready doesn’t float your boat, exhale deeply and just let go. There’s a lot to be said for letting teens be teens and enjoying this period of life for what it is – one of experimentation, fun and creativity – rather than trying to rush them through it. After all, we were teens once too.

How about you? What tactics have worked for you when teaching teenagers life skills and which ones do you think matter most?

Image: Teenagers at Play via Wikimedia.com

 

Tips For Adulthood: Why ‘To The End Of The Land’ Is For Grown Ups

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Every so often on this blog, I point you towards books or movies that I think constitute essential reads/views for grown ups. I did it most recently with Muriel Barbery’s fabulous The Elegance Of The Hedgehog which was – to my mind, at least – all about adulthood.

This week I’m going to do it again with David Grossman’s beautifully raw novel, To The End Of The Land. This is, quite possibly, the saddest book I’ve ever read.

It recounts one woman’s walk across Israel while her 18 year-old son is called up for a 28-day military exercise. She sets off on this walk – which runs the span of the entire novel – because she doesn’t want to be home if and when the authorities try to find her should her son die in combat.

On the jacket cover, the novelist Nicole Krauss (The History of Love) writes: “Very rarely you open a book and when you close it again nothing can ever be the same.”

Krauss nails it, in my opinion, and I can’t recommend this book enough, especially for those of you who – like me –  share a fondness for sad books.

Here are five reasons I think everyone should read this book:

a. It’s About Motherhood. This is first and foremost a book about being a parent – and perhaps even more specifically – being a mother.  In the wake of the recent Oscars ceremony, much has been made of Natalie Portman’s famous throwaway line in which she thanked her fiance for giving her the “most important role” of her life — motherhood. Some writers, like Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams, worried aloud that Portman was doing women a disservice by trumpeting babies over career.  Others – notably my Politics Daily colleague Joanne Bamberger – endorsed Portman’s take on the dual roles many women confront. As Joanne writes, “On some level being a mother is the greatest role of my life — not superior to others, just the greatest in terms of challenges and rewards.” If you’re feeling caught between these two feminist reads of the Portman moment, then read Grossman’s book. It reveals the fierce, all-consuming, painful and even ambivalent nature of a mother’s love in perhaps the most honest way I’ve ever seen.

b. It’s about parenting a teen. I wrote recently about the challenges of parenting teen-agers in light of new data we have about them. Boy, does this book drive that home. Grossman renders beautifully the delicate mixture of vulnerability and independence that characterizes teen-agers (in this case, boys) in a way that will resonate and, again, cut you to the quick.

c. It’s about what might have been. I once wrote a post about the “road not taken” in which I examined wistfulness as a leit motif of adulthood. My basic point was that whether it’s who you marry or what career you choose or where you live, part of being a grown up is being plagued by what might have been. Because To The End of the Land centers around a relationship between two ex lovers who’ve gone their separate ways (as a result of war) and then reunite in a literal journey of self-discovery, it plays out the whole “road not taken” concept in real time. Wow.

d. It’s about patriotism. I’m not a terribly patriotic individual. It’s not that I have a great deal of antipathy for the mother ship, I’m just not all that inclined to wave a flag or jump on a Fourth of July parade float. But if you live in Israel, you have no choice but to be patriotic. Patriotism is woven into the very fiber of the country, even for those (like the protagonist in this book) who are ambivalent about where they want their country headed. Grappling with one’s patriotism isn’t something you deal with as a child. But it is something which – explicitly or implicitly – everyone must come to terms with as a grown up.

e. It’s about Israel. This is also a book about Israel and the unbelievably complicated feelings it arouses in its citizens. One of the things I liked most about the book is that no one emerges as a winner in the seemingly eternal and intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has dominated (until quite recently) our coverage of the Middle East: not the Israelis, not the Arabs, not foreign powers like the U.S. who figure largely there. However you feel about the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, there is no question that resolving it is central to a lasting peace in the Middle East, even with all of the other things going on in the region right now. That is an enduring reality of our collective adulthood.

Image; Israel – The Negev by Stella’s Mom via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To See The Kids Are All Right

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

OK, folks, I’ve got another movie recommendation for you.

It’s a small-ish, Indie film by Director Lisa Cholodenko called The Kids Are All Right which has been out in the States for a while now, but only recently opened over here in the land of the free and the brave. (Whoops! That’s the U.S.! I meant, the land that spawned the land of the free and the brave…must get my history straight.)

As always, when I recommend movies or books on this site, it’s because I think that they have something profound to say about adulthood.

So, too, with this film. Here are five reasons you should rush out to see it if you haven’t done so already:

1. It’s about marriage. The film centers around two women – played with just the right mix of pluck and vulnerability by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore – who’ve been married to each other for 18 plus years. And though it’s sort of a film about gay marriage (see #4), I wouldn’t say that’s the central theme. Rather, this film is about what I’ve referred to before as middle marriage – that particular stage of life when you’ve been married for a while and the kids are no longer babies and maybe you’ve had a career change or a move or two, and you’re trying to figure out what it’s all about. And Cholodenko (who also co-wrote the script) gets that stage of life perfectly: the yearnings, the frustrations, the mis-communications, the boredom, the anxiety and, most importantly, the weary and imperfect love that underlies it. I guarantee that if you’ve been married or in a long-term committed relationship for more than five years you will watch this movie and find yourself nodding in recognition.

2. It’s about infidelity. I give nothing away by revealing that the movie’s central drama concerns what happens when the man who donated sperm to this couple many years earlier so that they could have kids re-appears and completely upends their family life. Lots of movies have treated the topic of marital infidelity, which is – as I’ve noted before – not only wide-spread, but in some ways, entirely predictable. (I always feel like I need to justify that claim, so here’s some scientific evidence about why monogamy isn’t natural.) What I liked about this film was the way that the topic was broached. The cheating didn’t stem primarily from feelings of boredom or revenge or even idle sexual attraction. It stemmed from the desire to be recognized and appreciated. Which struck me as so…honest.

3. It’s about parenting teens. Again, there are loads of movies about parenting. What sets this one apart is that it focuses very specifically on parenting teenagers which – in light of our cultural obsession with babies (thank you, Erika Jong!) – can sometimes go missing. The movie not only addresses the classic theme of “letting go” ( the couples’ eldest child is about to go off to college), but also how difficult it can be when you don’t approve of the company your kids are keeping. And Lord knows I could relate to that.

4. It’s about gay marriage. OK, I realize that I just said that this movie wasn’t primarily about gay marriage. And it isn’t. But I very much liked that rather than seeing another film exploring some aspect of a long-term heterosexual relationship, this one brought us inside a homosexual one. In a country where we are still – improbably – trying to figure out if everyone should have the right to marry whoever the heck they want, having a mainstream picture focus in on a lesbian couple with kids who look (gasp) just like every other couple with kids is culturally important.

5. It also stars Mark Ruffalo. ‘Nuff said.

*****

I was over on Politics Daily yesterday talking about the latest chapter in the harrowing Elizabeth Smart story.

Image: Minhas mães e meu pai by Universo Produção via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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