A Senior Moment
'Whatever ... !'
by Rev. Bob Johnston

March 19, 2017

New Perspectives

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As March Break winds down, thousands of families are returning home—from frosty ski trips, vacations in warmer climes or from popular museums and theatre productions in Toronto. When I think that many of Ontario’s almost two million teenagers are among these happy groups of family travelers, my heart warms.

I can envision the typically endearing interactions which enrich the long drive back to our little corner of the Province:

Dad and Mom, thanks so much for taking us on this trip over March Break. I know it must have cost you lots of money but I’ll be working this summer to repay you. By the way, I also appreciated that we had time on the way there and back to have some really good conversations. Your advice was right on, as always. I plan to follow it when I’m dating. The same goes for your suggestions about nutritious food and focusing more hours on homework. I also can’t wait to listen to your eight- track tapes. You guys are really cool. And, by the way, you will be tired after all this driving. Let me make dinner tonight.

As parents, I suppose we can always dream, can’t we? But life with teens most often presents a different reality. This more challenging view is cynically described by William Galvin as quoted in The Quotation garden: “Mother nature is providential. She has given us twelve years to develop a love for our children before turning them into adolescents.”

 In most homes the truth lies somewhere within these widely divergent perspectives. No teen is perfect nor completely incorrigible---just like the rest of us. The journey through these six years is a series of peak and valley experiences, with most days somewhere in between---just like the rest of us.

A frequent casualty of these years, however, is open communication; that bubbly, chattering little one can become more withdrawn, sullen and private. Frustrated or concerned parents or grandparents tend to fill the resultant silence with more talking at the teen, only to be met with a --- “whatever---” which is invariably accompanied by a dramatic eye roll.

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To an outside observer, this defensive response can be meant to portray:

INDIFFERENCE: I really don’t care what you say. In fact it bores me. Let me live my life.

IMPERVIOUS: I’m not moved by your words which are supposed to make me feel sad, happy, worried or scared. IMPATIENT: I already know what you are going to say. I really don’t have time for your lecture so just get on with it; my friends are waiting.

From the inside, there is usually a different story.
Underneath the façade, your adolescent is most likely actually listening and will in fact eventually weigh the wisdom of your words---even if he or she never lets you know.

On the road to becoming “grown up” and independent, many teens feel a need to overtly reject parental direction because it would cast them once again into the dreaded role of dependent child. Inwardly, even if disagreeing with your approach, they most likely appreciate the good intent behind your words.

When I practiced as a family counselor, parents would “send” their adolescent to me. Not surprisingly, the most common area of disagreement centered around rules versus freedom.

After encouraging the young person to share their perspective on the conflict, I would always gently ask; “Why do you suppose your parents make these rules around curfew (or whatever)?” The teen either has to assert that Mom and Dad are being cruel “just for the sake of ruining my life”---which makes no sense--- or they grudgingly acknowledge that parental motives are almost always fueled by “ I guess they love me even if I don’t agree with their approach.”

At that point, once parental caring and good intentions are acknowledged, a family counselor can usually facilitate agreement around details about behavior. In many families there is no major roadblock in communication even over these years of life together.

Yet, don’t despair if at times you only can see the mask. Underneath that “whatever---” lurks a developing personality who still hears and needs to hear your input. This week’s column is intended to offer only general information around parenting.

For specific guidance or consultation about family questions or concerns, always contact a professional practitioner.

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