by Greg Krehbiel on 27 August 2004
In a subsequent post I’ll talk about “preparing for adolescence,” Dr. Dobson’s tape series, but I want to start with the preparation that needs to occur way before adolescence.
Following the theory that to be forewarned is to be forearmed — No … forget that. Let’s try a more down-to-earth, practical explanation.
Remember when you were a stupid kid and you and your friends would drink too much beer? And then you didn’t want to get found out, or do something stupid while you were drunk. So what did you do? You tried to compensate by avoiding actions or situations that would betray your blood alcohol level. You knew you were impaired, so you tried to make up for it.
While I hope you’ve quit drinking too much, the basic principle behind your actions is a sound part of being a responsible adult. When you know that you’re going to be out of sorts, you take measures to ensure adequate performance. If you know you’re going to be sleepy at the board meeting, you drink a cup of coffee. If you know you’re going to be stressed at the dentist, you listen to relaxing music. It’s a matter of knowing yourself and knowing how things affect you.
This is an important life lesson, and your kids are going to go through the ideal testing ground — the train wreck called adolescence.
The same processes that cause their bodies to undergo growth spurts and to sprout hair and bulges in new places will flood their brains with a rush of chemicals. They’ll have feelings and thoughts they’ve never had before — or with a new intensity, in any event. It’s a lot to deal with.
Many of the mental and behavioral challenges of adolescence are predictable. Boys will want to take more risks and will quit talking. Girls will become more social. Both of them will have an intense desire to fit in with some group. Peer pressure will be enormously more powerful than ever before. And they will be tempted to think more highly of themselves and less highly of you.
This can be a shock to a dad. When your kids were babies, you were Zeus in his chariot. You could do no wrong. Your deep voice, towering stature, stern glances and thunderous laughs awed them. But as they grew, they started to realize that you didn’t know everything, that you made mistakes, and that sometimes they actually knew things you didn’t and could do things you couldn’t. (Aside from crawl into small places.) In the topsy-turvy teen years, they’ll be tempted to turn everything upside down. You won’t be Zeus all the time. Sometimes you’ll be Mr. Magoo.
Of course I’m overstating the situation and playing off that cultural myth that the teen years have to be characterized by rebellion and bad attitudes. I don’t believe that myth, and you shouldn’t either. But, as with most myths, there is an element of truth in it, and we have to learn the central lesson, which is this — during adolescence the child is trying to figure out what it means to be an adult, and that necessarily involves a change in the way he relates to his parents.
This is a good thing!
When your child is 30 you’re not going to call and make sure he’s cleaned his room. He has to take on increasing responsibility. That’s the way of things. The challenge for fathers is to make sure that the transition happens in the right way, and you need to warn your child against all the ways it can go wrong. Start those warnings before the hormones start flowing. Way before.
Talk to your child about the temptations of the teen years. Warn him about gangs, about statistics at the motor vehicles administration, about teen pregnancy. Talk about the strange thoughts he’ll begin to have — like a suspicion that his parents are against him. Pick a few stories that illustrate your perspective on what’s going to happen to him during the teen years and repeat those stories again and again — in the car, at dinner, while you’re working on homework.
The goal is to seat these lessons so deeply in your child’s mind that when teenage behavior starts to crop up you can say, “Remember what I told you about _____? It’s happening.”
The one-minute summary of the teen years.
Your child is going to take on increasingly responsibility — which you will parcel out based on his faithfulness. The odds are a million to one that you and your child will agree on how much responsibility he has earned. Most likely he’ll think he’s ready for the car keys, and other privileges, before you do, but the opposite can happen as well. Conflict can erupt over these disagreements.
The one-minute solution.
I know. You’re tempted to think, “But I’m the dad. If we have a conflict, I’m right and he’s wrong. Case closed.”
The reason that doesn’t work is that you’re assuming and relying upon your unquestioned authority over your teen, but that’s what the conflict is about — how much authority you have over your teen.
Face up to it now. Your authority over your infant is absolute, but your authority over a teen has to — should — must — diminish. That’s part of your role in fathering him through that transition. Letting go. Giving him the car keys and not knowing for sure where he’s going to go.
So you warn him up front — before the hormones turn his brain to mush. “Look, kid, there are dangerous waters ahead. We’ll go through them together. We might fight over who gets to stear, but we’re in the same boat and we’re committed to making it through together. No matter what.”
Lay a good foundation in the early years, dad, and the teen years will go a lot easier.
-- 2004-08-27 » Greg Krehbiel