After years of begging, an agreed contract of behaviour if I bought the desired object for him, and thus far, a honest and good relationship, I took my thirteen year old son to the shop to buy his first flick knife.
Until eight he had grown up in the Victorian country side where parents let their kids play with tomahawks at three and taught them to shoot around eight. My son suffered a stubborn mother who wouldn’t let him have, or play with his friends when they were playing with such things. I knew more than eighty percent of child admissions to emergency were preventable accidents occurring in the home.
Despite the contract, and predictably, after a few weeks came the…
“Mum, can I take my knife to school just to show my mates?”
“No way Hosea!” responded Mum.
“Why not? I’m not stupid. I only want to show them.”
“I know you’re not stupid but firstly a knife is a weapon and carrying a concealed weapon in public is illegal. So really, that’s the end of it. But secondly teenagers and knives in a group anywhere, let alone in a school do not go together.”
My tone was no longer as light as it had been so he got that this was a ‘non-negotiable’.
“Anyway son that was part of our agreement on you getting it.”
“You don’t trust me” he accuses. I sigh.
“Actually I do trust you but I do not trust your age hun and I have no way of trusting your friends. This is no reflection on any of your characters; it’s just where you are in your growing.” He seemed to accept this and our conversation moved on.
Now, so far in his life he hadn’t defied me on any of my nonnegotiable rules (I keep them low and important).
Despite this though, I kept a sharp eye on exactly where those knives were when he left for school in the morning.
The fact is I knew how excited he was to have one (it lived under his pillow). I knew how important it is to share these things with your mates and even the boost to credibility and I knew he was thirteen. And the teenage years are loaded with ‘cred’, coolness, and the deeper stuff of sharing and friendships.
All of these things live on the very top of a teen’s priority list of life. This is as it should be for psychologically and intellectually these are the years of self-definition compared to those around them.
But given their lack of data, sometimes, dare I say even often, if left on their own, those priorities with that lack lead to decisions ignorant of consequences. I knew it would be completely reasonable from his perspective to sneak this knife into his pocket because he had absolutely no intention of doing anything else but show of some. So I guarded him against that possibility.
The other thing that happened when my son turned thirteen was he shot up to my height at 5ft 7in, and his voice went the other way; down to his socks! For both of us it was a seriously weird adjustment. And in there for me was a deep relief that I have always used rationale discussion to explain and insist he complies with the boundaries rather than use force as I was sometimes encouraged towards. Now I’d be screwed!
But just because our kids suddenly become bigger than us, or suddenly our daughters have a woman’s body doesn’t mean we get ‘more time off’ for ourselves and frankly sometimes that is the reaction I often see. Understandable. We want to increase our family’s income or get on with something personal to us but I wonder if we might reconsider. Our teens have not had the experience and thus lack the wisdom (knowledge plus experience plus reasoning) for good healthy appropriate decision making.
In a lot of ways they are more at risk now than they were when they were running around as wobbly toddlers and we were there to keep them safe.
They need us. And I know how hard it becomes when the resistance to our rules begins.
As they hit high school their choices, opportunities explode along with their growth. The hormones surge and as a woman at the other end of this hormonal business I can assure you hormonal surges are extremely irritating! Even ignoring the physical changes, to suddenly feel so out of control in ones mood is annoying (understatement of year)!
Teenagers need us. They need us to be there to talk to. To explain the rationale of rules that, with their experience so far, simply seem there to restrict their happiness.
They need to understand what’s happening to their bodies and how that effects their emotions and how that affects their ability to make good decisions and even how they respond to us. We don’t want them falling off the cliff because we were too busy making money, following our passion, asserting our independence or finding it too darn difficult. The latter particularly common.
Oh but blimey it is difficult isn’t it. And the character of the teen and the parent determines the type and length of resistance but lordy lordy there’s always resistance. There are moments with my son that I’ve had to breathe so deep I accidentally reached nirvana!
But ‘being there’, listening, discussing is our job. And not yelling when they make a bad decisions but together seeing where they went wrong, what they could do different next time.
Yelling at a teenager for being a teenager is somewhat silly. A child is frightened by anger. A teenager is angered by anger. Both states lead to an immediate breakdown in communication.
And friends of friends with teenagers. Let us ventilate without advice…we just need someone to bitch to really!!