Me and my teen mom homies, we've been dealing with it all, and then some, lately. We're almost cliched, in fact, pondering as we are how much easier it was back in the days when we merely had to drag a tantrum-hurling 2 year-old from the grocery store, versus tackling the many heady issues parents of modern teens face as their offspring teeter on the precipice of adulthood. It's enough to make a girl go gray, stress-eat the ever-so-divine limited offer Indiana Jones Mint Crisp M&Ms, and cuss a blue streak to no one and everyone in particular. Not that I would be susceptible to the latter two...
I think in the world of raising children, barring unforeseen circumstances, you start out with the cake course. Parenting 101. You know, the diaper changing, the calming of an irrationally petulant child. The easy stuff (that at the time seems insufferably impossible to navigate). By the time the kids are teens, parents have unwittingly entered into the post-graduate phase of things. Everything becomes so much more involved, so much more complex. Black and white blurs into gray, with no necessary right or wrong, but rather a "hope I don't screw this up too badly" mode. At this point, I find visualizing into the future, to a point at which your kids are through with college, in the work world, happily dating, or maybe even married, is a vital coping tool. Because only then might we be secure in the knowledge that we were able to transcend the stressful makes-your-head-hurt stuff that is the domain of the teen parent.
Consider a few recently teen quandaries my homies and I have encountered lately:
*The high school senior, the one who can't yet seem to keep track of a permission slip let alone a passport, who wants to travel alone through Europe this summer. That same one will be off on his own by summer's end, so perhaps allowing this risk-taking venture is a way to encourage some necessary maturation before he cuts loose altogether? Or perhaps that un-street-savvy kid will end up mugged and left for dead in a gutter, passport, cellphone and wallet lifted, unable to contact his parents for help. Of course approving this venture for the boy then means his younger sister must also have this opportunity, and hey, like it or not, there is a double standard when it comes to females traveling alone abroad, especially at that young age.
*The high school sophomore who met a boy last year one week before he moved six states away. They've remained in cellphone/IM contact throughout the school year. Now he wants to come visit, staying at the girls house over a holiday weekend. Having this complete stranger under one's roof can be one of two things---a positive chance to spend plenty of time with him, to get to know him and trust his intentions. Or it can mean ready-made opportunities for him to hook-up in the middle of the night with the daughter while the mom sleeps (the dad will be out of town at a soccer tournament with one of the kids). To deny this certainly offers up a large platter of forbidden fruit, and we all know how much tastier that type is...
*The teen girl who insists upon booking her first Brasilian waxing. (clearly this girl has no clue what she's getting herself into, pain-wise!). Truth is, we all know why anyone chooses a Brasilian wax job. And it ain't comfort. So that in and of itself suggests there's reason behind this (trust me, it has nothing to do with swim suit season being upon us). So now that that mom knows what her 16 year old is up to, what's a mom to do?
*The high school prom, for which an alternate, unsanctioned prom sprung up after school administrators decided that grinding was far too scandalous and issued a 10-inch rule (get your mind out of the gutter, not that type of 10-inches!): a mandatory 10 inches of air must be sustained between a dancing couple. Is grinding mighty sexually suggestive? Sure. Is this much different than adults banning Elvis and the Twist? Not really.
*Then there's the high school senior who questions what it's all about---after all, why bother with any of it when ultimately we're all gonna die. Um, how do you truly answer that question? Anyone deep enough to ponder such things is not going to be satisfied with a pat answer. And who actually has a legitimate answer to this question?
Okay, some of these issues are far bigger than my head can wrap around. The we-are-merely-a-speck-of-dust-on-the-pinhead-of-some-larger-entity is far more than I can/will/choose to ponder with any success. It makes me too dizzy and slightly depressed. But at least I'll tackle the prom thing, and by extension, perhaps address my feelings and worries about the state of teen-hood today.
The pat advice to all parents is this: pick your battles. On the issue of dirty dancing, I do feel as if this is a battle best left alone. After all, teens nowadays have their wings clipped to the point of no longer being birds of flight. In our home we have a parrot, and when she was younger, we regularly clipped her wings (a practice akin to trimming fingernails). The idea was to keep her from flying around the house. But the reality was it caused her to fall off her perch and drop like a lead weight to the floor---her wings sans flight feathers sort of led to her fall from grace.
After our parrot fell enough times so hard that her breast bone punctured through her skin, our vet decided it was a good idea to let her flight wings grow out. And you know what? She doesn't fly around the house. Sure she still spreads her wings, flaps them vigorously on occasion. But if she falls, the amount of feathers she's got enables her to enough loft to land without such a violent thud.
I think society has gone way overboard in clipping back the flight feathers of our teens, particularly at a point at which they need to be spreading their wings and learning to fly, even if it means they fall hard and fast to the ground. The simplest of bad judgment errors for teens nowadays can result in a loss of all academic honors, membership to sports teams, hell, even college admissions. We don't allow teenagers the chance to make mistakes and learn from them. They're expected to learn vicariously from others' errors, I suspect, when in reality that doesn't quite work the same way. We have raised a generation of future adults with probably far less life experiences than we ever had, because most were never allowed to take risks, were clamped so tightly in their car seats and then strapped down with onerous activities and then just when biology started mandating that they stretch away from the weight of our protective shield, we further reduced their ability to take those important strides toward adulthood, errors or not.
I remember once reading about Eunice Kennedy, mother of umteen children, and she spoke of how she let her children fail, even when it meant they suffered for it. We parents---armed in this dreadful age of information with the myriad fearful possibilities of what could go wrong---cherish our children so greatly that we are afraid to allow failure to happen. We don't want them to be hurt, or even worse, killed. We don't want them to fall flat on their faces, to suffer the pain and/or humiliation of trying and faltering.
But have we really served them best in this regard? I know so many of my contemporaries look each other in the eyes when discussing our own jaded youth with that knowing wide-eyed gaze of "Damn, how the hell did we live to tell about it?" The sad reality of it is there were those of our peers who didn't live to tell about it. That's the sucky thing of it. For this, we are all so fearful that our kids will be amongst that unfortunate group. Thus we keep our birds caged, wings clipped, hoping they can get to adulthood injury-free. Yet truly, probably, sorely untested, and lacking some important life experiences that they need to become complete adults.
All of these ponderings lead to me to wonder what is the answer to these teen parent dilemmas. Of course I no sooner have these answers than do you. I'm just muddling through it the best I can, trying not to eat too many of those Mint Crisp M&Ms. After all, they are a limited edition, and when they're gone, they gone.