I still can’t get over the fact that human brains don’t fully develop until their early twenties. I learned this from a lecture by Dr. Bruce Powell, dean of a local private school, and expert on raising teenagers. So, for teens, their judgments, empathy, and other functions, like knowing when to keep their mouths shut, just aren’t present. Yet, we expect them to often behave as if they were fully adult.
Knowing our teen’s limitations is the first step in knowing how to be the best parent you can be. Knowing my own failings and character flaws is further awareness for being that good parent that I’m always trying to be and advocate. In this regard, speaking from experience, letting go of my ego is often the biggest challenge.
I remember a painful situation when a close male friend disappointed me. A group of us had a big trip planned to Thailand and I allowed my “hurt feelings” to motivate me to come up with a lame excuse to bail out on the trip. Who did I end up hurting, regardless of how “right” I felt? Only me. When they returned from the trip, glowingly describing the grand adventures they had, I still felt “right” but I was the one that missed out.
Our kids rarely take the time to mull over a decision and its consequences. Our job is to try to guide them without always lecturing them so that they just turn off the volume. You can always tell when that happens by the blank look on their faces when you’re still droning on, oblivious to their having turned you off long ago.
So, since our teens don’t have mature brains, literally and figuratively, it is incumbent upon us to teach them that maturity and help them make the right choices. They are too often guided by their “feelings” rather than good common sense--and, to some degree, by their peers. Our kids are more interested in approval of their peers’ than approval of their parents, so it really is like the blind leading the blind.
A painful example of how this manifests itself took place in our household shortly after the holidays. As we’d all been apart during the Christmas season, when we had our first meal together we continued a Friday-night tradition that our family has of sharing the best and worst things that occurred in the previous week. In this case, we all had many things to share, as we’d been apart for several weeks.
My wife and younger son began by sharing the many terrific experiences they’d just enjoyed on their trip to Japan and Hong Kong. It was joyful to hear, and I was so glad it turned out well for them. In their absence, I had the chance to have some really long-neglected alone time with my 16-year-old who, for the most part, has been consumed by his self-involved life and his girlfriend. That time was indeed special to both of us.
So, when it came his turn to “share,” he tactlessly expressed that he was glad that his step-mom and brother were gone, since it gave him some great alone time with his dad. I know what he meant, he knew what he meant, but the words were clearly indelicate and hurt my wife’s feelings. He tried to cover it up, as he saw the look of hurt on her face, but the damage had already been done. I didn’t really recognize the mistake he made until much later, as being his parent since birth, I knew him better, and didn’t at first even see a problem.
I later realized it was a classic example of the teen brain speaking before thinking. Sadly, my wife took it too much to heart and really allowed his poor choice of words to create an ongoing awkwardness between all of us. And, sadly, I didn’t “get it” soon enough to assuage her feelings and “fix” the situation. Remember, we men always have to “fix” it, if possible.
Who was right and who was wrong was irrelevant, but it became a lesson for my son in learning to think a little bit, before he speaks, and it became a lesson for me in recognizing when my wife might be hurt quicker than I did. I think the ultimate lesson, for all of us, is not to hold onto being right but be more concerned about being kind, thoughtful, and aware of those close to us and how things we do may affect them. I’m still learning.
Please visit www.brucesallan.com to contact Bruce and to enjoy the various features his new Web site offers, including an archive of his columns, contact info, links to his published work, photo galleries, and reader comments, plus much more. Bruce Sallan gave up his showbiz career a decade ago to raise his two boys, full-time, now 13 and 16. His internationally syndicated column, A Dad’s Point-of-View, is his take on the challenges of parenthood and male/female issues, both as a single dad and now, newly remarried, in a blended family. Presently, his column is available in over 75 newspapers and Web sites in the U.S. and internationally. Find Bruce on Facebook by joining his “A Dad’s Point-of-View” fan page: http://www.facebook.com/
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