The envelope sat menacingly on the table. It had already been opened and the contents gushed over. A celebration of sorts had begun, at least for 3 people in my home. Problem is, 4 of us live there. I am the celebratory hold out.
It is two weeks later and the envelope is still on our counter, the contents now hidden under an order form. The contents are proof, well proofs really, that another chapter of life is coming. On one page is Brock, my now 17 year old son, wearing a purple cap and gown. Another page is him in a tuxedo. These are his Senior portraits. I have not accepted yet that I need to look at these. Each time my wife admires these proofs and wants to discuss our potential order, I find a reason to exit the conversation.
To be clear, I am enormously proud of the young man my son is becoming. I admire so many amazing traits he exhibits, especially his sense of mercy, compassion and creativity. I am not however, ready to think about his presence in our home being part time. I am not ready for his chair to be empty at dinner. I am not ready for the absence of his humor, his grunts or his eye-rolling at his sister. While many are starting to celebrate this transition, selfishly, I am dealing with pangs of anticipated grief over the absence of his presence. I’ll get to the celebration too, but I need to acknowledge what conflicting emotions I am currently carrying.
As a youth minister, I could celebrate with families in these moments. I could read about parents experiencing appropriate sadness. I could hear their stories and see their tears, but until that envelope landed on my kitchen table, I couldn’t understand it. I’ll write about these moments and emotions from time to time during the next year for three reasons:
- Personal catharsis.
- To give space for other parents walking this same path to know they are not alone in this paradox of emotions.
- As a way for ministry colleagues who work with families like mine to have a glimpse at the complexity of what we are experiencing.
I suppose my next post will be a confession when I finally deal with that envelope. In the meantime, I am keeping this card on top of it.
Friday afternoon was the end of a long week. School is winding down for the winter break, and both kids and parents are ready for relaxation and Christmas celebration. At the Middle School, my daughter was schedule to help with a dance sponsored by one of her clubs. She volunteered to set up, but did not intend to go for three reasons:
- Her friends weren’t going
- She was exhausted, and had an early soccer practice the next morning
- The last dance wasn’t much fun
Denise and I went to a Christmas party that night, leaving two happy teens at home to eat pizza, play video games and watch a movie. At 10:30 we received a heartbreaking text from our son. “She is crying herself to sleep. What do I do?”
Can you guess what happened? Instagram happened. Rather than enjoy the night that was planned, which she chose enthusiastically, she opened Instagram and started looking at the posts from “friends” at the dance who looked like they were having the time of their lives. On a side note there was a Monday confessional: “The dance really wasn’t that much fun, so what else were we going to do to pass the time?” On Friday night that didn’t matter to the girl who had three reasons for not wanting to attend. In fact, she was overreacting partly because she was exhausted.
Our conversation Saturday morning included these points, which I think are important enough to share:
- You made a decision that was smart and responsible to stay home.
- You made a decision that was torturous to see what others were doing, rather than being right where you wanted and needed to be.
- You were sad because you experienced FOMO (a Fear of Missing Out)
- How do we avoid that from happening in the future?
The question is important. How do we teach our teens (and ourselves), to focus on being present in the moment, rather than captive to images that may or may not be as exciting as they seem? How do we value what is, rather than what could be? The answer is not to deny access to Instagram or Facebook, but rather to reframe our own mindsets.
- I am enough, just like I am.
- I want to produce my experiences rather than consume others from a tiny screen.
- Missing out on some things is not the end of the world.
- Using social media later can help me see what I missed while not regretting my absence. I get the information but not as a prisoner of the moment.
- Love the one you are with!
“And with a few simple key strokes, I deleted her.” He meant her Facebook account, but his statement is truer when read as it was stated. I use this story frequently with parents in workshops, and the response I get varies. There have been times when parents cheered this father, citing the gun-toting dad as equally heroic.
Other times the parents sit quietly, realizing the weight of the father’s statement. Your teenager’s digital identity has a tie into their real identity as well. How parents interact with them, or devalue that digital identity speaks volumes about their value to their parents. As adults, we may not see it that way, but this is group is often labeled Generation Net for a reason. Their digital identity matters.
On another occasion a parent approached me with this story. There is no way my son will let me do any of the things you have suggested. He will not let me be his friend on Facebook, follow him on Twitter or even touch his phone and computer. Even if I do, he has passwords set up to keep me locked out.
Right now, you may have responses that range from “if I pay for it, I will have the passwords,” to “well, I’m afraid that might be the case at my house.” In these situations, social media has become a battleground in a family war that has far deeper issues than being Facebook friends.
In each of these situations, the social media battlefield was not the problem, but it was where the problem was playing out. When teens and parents collide on issues of social media, there are usually a variety of different issues underlying the situation. They could range from any number of reasons, but they are there. What can parents do? Change your approach to social media conversations. Rather than fighting a recurring battle over privacy, try these tips.
- Be calm when you are frustrated. Angry actions often create more problems to address.
- Be honest about your concerns…and where they come from. Your teen will appreciate your transparency and may learn a bit of wisdom in the process.
- Be accepting of the opinions of your teen without judging them or trying to correct them. There is a time and place for corrective actions; you need to be wise about when that is.
- Be informed. Knee jerk reactions to what we see about aberrant behavior may be a gross generalization and something your teen hasn’t even considered doing.
If you need an acronym to remember when you are worked up, think CHAI. A chai tea evokes images of relaxation. Maybe our teens need a relaxed parent for some conversations.
“My wife comes downstairs with a broken stick. She throws it on the table and begins to talk out loud to… NOBODY! ‘Gonna tell me that you’re not going to do something when I tell you to do something. I mean you MOVE when I say move! Think I carried you in my body for nine months so you can roll your eyes at me? I’ll roll that little head of yours down on the floor. You don’t know who you’re fooling with. I’ll beat you until you can’t grow anymore!'” Bill Cosby, Himself
The Cosby Show was a great influence on my life, growing up with Theo Huxstable and his family, but Bill Cosby as a stand up comedian has stood the test of time for me as a parenting handbook. To this day, when I give my kids a slice of cake, the have to sing, “Dad is great. He gave us the chocolate cake.” It does not matter if the cake is chocolate or not, they sing! Thus recently when I saw a friend’s child roll their eyes at something the mother had just said, I cringed and thought about seeing that little head roll down the floor.
Anyone parenting teens knows they are experts at rolling their eyes. It is one of the best ways for them to express displeasure with a parent or friend nonverbally. It is also disrespectful. In fact, according to a survey by the folks over at empoweringparents.com, eye-rolling rated as the 7th most “Annoying Teen Behavior.” They offer some very good advice for dealing with it at the link provided. While they give advice about how you address it as a parent, I’d like to take the time to consider what your child or teenager wants you to know about their expression.
“When rolling our eyes, we are still listening.” How many times has a spouse, friend, coach or boss told you something that made you role your eyes, only to have you reflect on it later and realize it was good advice? Probably more often than you’ll admit aloud. Your teenager may pretend that they did not hear you, or even try to express that they do not care. But if they are listening enough to hear you say something eye-roll worthy, chances are they want to hear something from you as their parent. They are listening to you and care more than you realize. Teenagers do not always realize this themselves. They are caught in trying to establish their own identities, and you play a dual role. One role is the parent of their childhood that they used to cling to and curl up with. The other is the parent that will not let them be the adult they think they are. You are either good or evil in their eyes, sometimes both at the same time. Do not take it personally, its all a part of teenagers identity formation and quest for independence.
Regardless, they still need you to be a parent. They still want you to be a parent. Your time and communication tells them you care about who they are and who they are becoming. By talking with your teens, you open yourself up to the roll of the eyes. This is their inner struggle, and it is a struggle for you and I as parents because we want our kids to respect us. Keep it in perspective though. They occasionally need a little win, and an eye-roll is one I let mine get away with sometimes, most often because I find it humorous, especially when they know I’m right. They also know I love them because I take the time to be their dad.
If you like the photo, visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/citoyen_du_monde_inc/ for beautiful photos
Does this dad win the Internet as a prize for parenting or is this a gigantic fail that will land his daughter in therapy?
I sat with a teenager recently who was having trouble communicating with her parents. They struggle to start conversations, and when they do talk, it often turns into an argument. She said, “There are times I want to talk to my mom, but I don’t know how.” You know who bears the burden of this responsibility? Parents do. We also must pay attention to our teenagers to notice when they want to talk but do not know how. Not every teenager is the same in this regard. If they were, this would be easy. My son, when he wants to talk, but does not know how to, makes “hhmmpff” noises. This is my prompt to say, “Got something on your mind?” A friend shared with me recently that their daughter prompts her by sitting closer than normal on the sofa. Another friend when asked, told me his son asks to go kick or throw a ball around.
Each teenager is different…and it changes with age. Working with teenagers for over 20 years has taught me that. What clues you in this year, may not be the clue in two years. I wish I could give you a step by step guide, but all I can offer is one really important point. You have to work at knowing your teenager! Some marriages fall apart after the kids leave. Why? Because the parents become so involved with other parts of their lives they stopped talking to each other. Some teens leave home and the gap with their parents increases beyond what is healthy and normal. Teenagers, like any relationship, require work at staying connected. The primary responsibility for this? Still the parent’s.
But how do you get your teenager to talk? You cannot always know when they want to talk, but you can always make sure the door is open to them. The easiest way to get them talking is…start a conversation yourself. Model communication for them. If you see communication habits you do not like, check to see if you are modeling bad habits for them. You can also get creative. Here are 5 ideas:
- Invite your teenager away from home where there are far too many distractions. Invite them for ice cream, a coffee drink, a walk, a run, or to play frisbee. It really does not matter where, just leave cell phones in the car.
- Go people watching together. On the surface this sounds odd, but it tells you a lot about your teen and leads to great conversation. A twist on this is to make up conversations about what people may be discussing. You do not need to be mean spirited when doing this. Trust me, watching someone walk their dog and making up a conversation about what the dog could be saying to its owner…loads of fun. Silly, but fun, and it opens the doors for your conversation to emerge. My son and I go to a sandwich shop with outdoor seating at a nearby shopping center on days he get out of school early. We watch people, talk about how they feel based on how they look, or what they might be discussing. One time he described someone as lonely. I asked “why he chose that for them” and the conversation went from there.
- Use the arts. Go to a gallery showing or discuss music. Ask your teenager to explain what a song is about or what they see in a piece of art. Or better yet, take a class together, cooking, dance, art, fencing. Explore a new interest together or encourage a hibernating one. By showing an interest in what your teenager is interested in, especially by investing your own time in it, encourages conversation and relationship building.
- Plan a trip together. Decide on a day or weekend, and plan the trip together. Learn why there is interest in this location. Plan your itinerary together and then document it with pictures. Magic happens when you are away from home, stuck in an airport, backpacking, or strolling down a new main street of shops.
- Ask good questions. If you only ask yes or no questions, you will only get yes or no answers. In my book, How to be #SocialMediaParents,, I talk about using social media to help you ask good questions. To guarantee that a bad conversation starter when a teenager comes home from school: “Did you have a good day?” Instead try, “tell me about your day at school,” or “what was the best thing about school today,” or better yet, tell them you want to hear about their day in a little while, after they have gotten settled.
What ideas do you have? Share in the comments or on Facebook. You could even “Like” us while you are there! We are parenting teens too.
Some have asked about the various well pictures I’ve posted with this series. This one is the Wishing Well at Fort San Antonio.