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Sunday 23-Oct-05

Teenagers

On the day when my son turned 13, I asked him a question. He turned to me, held out his palms, gave me a wonderful 'you're so stupid' look and say 'Duh!' I think I annoyed him as I laughed out loud and said 'Hey, you're a teenager!'

The general advice about what you can do about teenagers is 'wait'. Patience is not only a virtue, it's a necessity when the hormones kick in and the bird obeys its nature and struggles to fly the nest. A great frustration for teens is that they feel the force to leave but are still dependent -- possibly these days for many more years.

My son suffers a disadvantage, at least from the usual teenage position of manipulating parents. Many teens wind up their parents on a daily basis and the parents dance on the end of the marionette's strings. So who's in charge, you might ask. Good question. In our house, there are occasional battles but, by and large, there's reasonable harmony. My wife is a teacher who specializes in troubled 15 and 16 year olds. And I also work in education and have had a fascination with changing minds for some years. They've no chance, really.

So when the kids get all hoity, we see it as an opportunity to learn and practice. Sometimes I just observe and marvel at my wife's ability to talk down the touchy teen. Sometimes I ask 'what's up' until they tell me about the social and academic pressures of the day. Sometimes I try a new method of changing minds.

And sometimes, because we're human too, we get sucked in and voices get raised -- but usually not for long.

Today, my son wanted to go to an all-night games session at the local internet palace, which would cost him ?20, which he did not have (this month's allowance is long gone). So we had a long discussion about money. He knew that the only route to ?20 was to listen intelligently. So we talked about the perils of not managing the demon cash. We also charged him an extra ?2 from next month's allowance (borrowing costs!) and required demonstration from now on of where the money goes each month. He knows that it's all about helping him grow up and become successfully independent and some of the lessons of life sank in, I think. He's actually a really great kid and we love the socks off him--enough not to spoil him, too.

The real secret, as any parent with an empty nest will tell you, is to enjoy your kids whilst you may. They will fly the coop one day, so take the opportunity today to talk to them and listen to them. They talk a strange language, but their reality is their reality. And our reality is all we have.

So I listen and question and try to help them think and see. And enjoy how they try to change my mind.


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