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how to really parent YOUR TEENAGERRaising Balanced Teens in an Unbalanced World
By Ross Campbell ROB SUGGS
W Publishing GroupCopyright © 2007 Ross Campbell M.D. with ROB SUGGS
All right reserved.
Chapter Onea stranger in the house
One more long day is over. You crawl under the bed covers to claim a few hours of rest-one of life's pleasant little rewards. Today you've earned it.
As you click off the lights, your thoughts settle into the comfort of darkness and wander sleepily through the current events of your life. The pace is manageable just now. Bills are paid; plans are progressing; kids are healthy.
Still, a spark of anxiety flickers in the back of your mind. It prevents your calm descent into slumber. That's the parental intuition light, blinking to tell you there is unfinished business somewhere in your family life. Best to ignore it. Think too much about those things and you won't sleep-and that would be unfair to the full day tomorrow.
But you do know what it's all about, don't you? It's something in the air-audible, actually. The faint sound of music creeps down the hall and through your bedroom door. The melody is muffled by earphones, almost unnoticeable. But the rattle of hip-hop percussion is audible in the midnight stillness.
That would be your teenager.
When does he ever sleep, other than at wake-up time in the morning? Aw, well-so much for your own slumber. Now these thoughts can't be blotted out. You sit up and sigh.
Teenager. That word alone evokes so many different feelings and questions. You turn the lights back on and allow your thoughts to come forward and speak.
The first thought asks, Where did the time go? It almost seems as if you went to the hospital one day, brought home your newborn, filled the photo album with pictures of your "new" family-and already your child was moving rapidly through grade school. Life accelerated in fast-forward mode. His infanthood, toddlerhood, and early childhood slipped from your loving arms far too quickly, one after the other, though you enjoyed each new age and stage. The funny thing about it is that in adult time, only a short season has passed. (For the sake of this illustration, we'll consider your child a male this time.) You look, think, and feel mostly the same way you did a decade and a half ago. That same brief period has represented a lifetime for your child. It was exciting when he learned to walk. You were thrilled when conversation became possible. Starting kindergarten was a wonderful day.
But isn't there some way to pause and enjoy things a bit before he rushes off to college, marriage, parenting, supplying your grandchildren?
That was the first thought. Another one steps forward to ask, Where did my sweet child go? All too well you remember a happy, carefree toddler, trying for all he was worth to manage two halting steps across the floor. Or learn the nuances of speech. Or play well with others. Every day was an adventure for your son-but an adventure you shared together.
Again, it seems as if time broke in during the night and stole something precious from you. One morning you awoke to find that your little one was gone-replaced by this tall, gangly, verbally hesitant youth who eats, sleeps, and comes and goes according to strange rules apparently known only to himself or others of his species. He is so private. His personality seems as intentionally muffled as the music trapped in those earphones. As a matter of fact, his bedroom door, his stereo, his clothing, his conversation, even the look in his eye-all of these carry one consistent message: Private property. Keep out.
And therefore, the next thought interjects: Where did our tightness go? That's the only word to describe it: our tightness. Our thing. This is the big one: the observation that robs you of sleep sometimes.
Your son has been the great joy of your life since he first invaded your world, a little bundle of demands in diapers. What a sensation: a tiny person who placed his entire trust in you. When you walked across the room, his eyes followed you with absorption. You laughed and played together and couldn't tell which one of you was having the best time. Sharing a storybook at bedtime was a priceless treasure. Just hearing his prayers, tucking him in, and kissing him good night brought you a deep sense of emotional fulfillment. You can remember realizing, This is what my life is about. Being a parent is the center of my universe.
So what's going on? No great canyon has opened in the earth to pull you two apart. You are still friends, still parent and child, and he still depends on you. His love for you is assured. But for the first time, things are not at all the same. Your child has entered that uncertain twilight world between childhood and adulthood. He isn't certain how to navigate its strange waters. You want to help, but you don't have all the answers or even his permission to submit them.
Somewhere around his thirteenth birthday, the child you knew began to retreat into a very personal world to try to work it all out for himself. When you made an effort to follow him there, you encountered a tension that was entirely new; messages that said, "Leave me alone. Let me do this myself."
And you knew instinctively that some of that was simply the way of things. It was, after all, a stage you remembered from your own life.
But there are limits, aren't there? You knew it, and you still know it. Parental love must find a way to prevail even when it is pushed away. Your child continues to have needs you must fulfill, same as ever. Imagine leaving him alone, becoming a hands-off parent. Who knows? He might not even get up and go to school. He might not leave his room at all. Or he might leave it forever. He could make disastrous decisions. Just that thought alone is enough to have you up past midnight, alone with your fears.
It all comes down to these unshakable truths:
You are a parent.
You love your child.
You want him to become a young adult of maturity, confidence, and integrity.
You are willing to pay whatever price is necessary to attain that goal.
You have begun to realize you have to find ways to remain a guiding force in your child's life; a way to slip in past the "Keep Out" signs, the earphones, and the unspoken fashion and cultural signals that say, "I am different now. I've outgrown the storybooks, and I don't need to be tucked in anymore. Let's just peacefully coexist."
Parenting and "peaceful coexistence" don't go together.
These are the current events of the world that is your home-the emotional environment of one particular family. But there's something else that keeps you awake too. Your mind turns from the world within to the world without. For that's a great part of your anxiety, isn't it? For the first time, the outside world is part of the equation. Here lie the threats that often make you feel powerless. The world is changing rapidly, and most of us are very concerned about the quality of those changes.
Our Changing World
Sure, change is an all-the-time thing-always has been, always will be. The only thing about the world that never changes is that it always changes. But these past few decades have been something altogether different. You and I have lived through a time of disruptive, almost seismic cultural transition. The second half of the twentieth century is often called "Culture Shock"-the phenomenon of a society that undergoes a cultural evolution more rapid than our ability to adjust to it. Think of the technological innovations that have transformed your world in the lifetime of your child alone. Can you remember a time when people could drive, shop, and take simple walks without chattering into cell phones? When there was no computer in your home? When your television had three channels, and all of them were G-rated?
Can you remember when love songs were corny and sentimental rather than racy and anatomical? Can you remember when public leaders were revered rather than ridiculed, and athletes were heroes rather than villains?
Some of these changes are fairly innocuous or even exciting. Cell phones are good for safety, and the Internet enhances our possibilities in education and communication. But we've all recognized changes that are more insidious in nature. Let's examine a few of them in the light of your mission as a parent.
The Permeation of Mass Media
Electronic information and entertainment were once a relatively small part of daily life. During World War II, people got their daily news on a delayed basis over the radio. People enjoyed popular music, perhaps bought a few recordings, and attended the movies. But in today's world, mass media drive the culture. We've seen the dawn of the Internet generation; just as many of us made up the television generation.
Being "wired" to pop culture is very important to today's adolescents. Pollster George Barna identifies two key elements that teenagers consider essential to their daily experience: relationships and mass-media experience. Kids are very conscious of their connection to the greater world. Movies, music, TV shows, and Web sites are much more than diversions to them; they are part of life's structure.
Just as teens are more tuned in to mass media, the media themselves are far more intrusive to our lives. We have opened ourselves up to the media, of course, in our habits as a consumer society. Many of us have several televisions and computers in the home. We build our family time around the dictates of TV Guide. We abhor the state of sex and violence in films, but we seem to make those movies successful at the box office. To some extent it could be said that a society gets the entertainment it deserves. But we need to be concerned about this mass-media-driven culture and its ability to shape our children's values.
The Saturation of Sexual Obsession
That same mass media, of course, brings pictures and language into our homes that we would not have believed possible even two decades ago. The period from eight o'clock to ten o'clock at night was once an inviolable sanctuary for the family audience-the domain of heartwarming family-situation comedies and musical variety shows. Now it offers scenes that would once have earned an R-rating in movie theaters. Pop music, with younger teens as the target audience, focuses on sexual titillation, and its stars rise according to the appeal of their bodies rather than their voices.
At the same time, the Internet can potentially give sexual predators the key to your home-if you're not a vigilant gatekeeper. That, of course, is our central consideration in safeguarding our children: doing all that we can to supervise what is admitted to the eyes and ears of impressionable children in our homes.
The Victory of Materialism
Psychologist Patricia Dalton says that rampant consumerism has America in its clutches. She observes unhappy people trying to fill the emptiness of their lives by spending more and more. They come to her to find out why it has all gone wrong.
"Those of us who lived through the '60s," she says, "seem to have forgotten the warning that everything you buy owns you." Consumers pursue the latest plasma televisions, digital video recorders, and iPods. They stretch their financial capabilities to buy the dream house. Then, to pay for the house, they work so hard that they destroy the home. Tension grows in families as the sea of financial debt grows deeper. At the same time, our children pick up our materialistic values. Meanwhile, the mass-media world, driven as it is by consumerism, persuades them that if they spend, spend, spend, then everything will be all right.
The Spread of Violence
We all know about Columbine and the rise of youthful violence. While there is no public consensus about the main cause of this trend, it is a fact of our children's lives that their schools are now monitored by closed-circuit cameras more often than not; their lockers are regularly searched for handguns and narcotics. Bullying is a bigger problem than ever. Gang affiliations are spreading from urban cityscapes to the suburbs, and we have legitimate reasons to take special precautions for our teenagers. But of course, in many cases the problem is in the home itself, via domestic violence. Two million children are seriously injured by parents or guardians each year, and nearly one million parents are beaten or abused by their own children.
The real culprit, as we will see, is the presence of the toxic anger that lies just beneath the surface of our culture today. People in general are angry and frustrated. They haven't been trained to handle their own anger, and they can't train their kids to handle it. Unmanaged emotions make the outbreak of violence an inevitability.
The Dark Age of Integrity
James Patterson and Peter Kim wrote a book called The Day America Told the Truth. Using confidential surveys, they produced a troubling snapshot of the moral climate of this country. Only 13 percent believe in the Ten Commandments-but 40 percent believe in five of them. In other words, Americans make up their own moral codes. We pick and choose from God's laws as we would pick food from a lunch buffet. Lying, they said, is "embedded in our national character."
A dishonest politician once made for front-page headlines-unacceptable public scandal. It could be argued that we expect our officials to lie and bend rules today. Some people seem to have the idea that integrity is no longer practical; it simply doesn't work. Therefore students might as well go ahead and cheat on exams. Business executives falsify their expense reports. And as of 2003, nearly one-quarter of us believed that cheating on our tax returns was all right.
Is it possible to raise children of integrity in a world that no longer believes in such a value? Yes, it certainly is. But we have our work cut out for us.
The Explosion of Mobility
Did you expect to see mobility listed as a troublesome change in our world? Certainly it can be a wonderful thing. Increased mobility means you can easily visit your old college roommate in Seattle or take your children on a hike through the Scottish Highlands. Our world has shrunk, and our horizons have broadened.
But how many of us can truly say that life, as a whole, is better because of the rapidity with which we move around? How does it affect our children to be frequently uprooted and moved from one city to another? How much do they need regular contact with a loving extended family-a network of aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and friends who have known you all your life?
We should mention here that the church has borne the brunt of change in nearly every category we've listed so far. Mobility may well head the list. Many of us, the parents, grew to adulthood among a congregation of caring people, the ultimate extended family we know as the church. There were pastors, youth directors, and Sunday school teachers who knew us well as we grew and changed. They truly cared about us because they had invested some of their own lives in ours.
At the same time, we learned what it meant to be committed to the local body of Christ-to give our time, our money, and our years in a sacrificial way to build the church body. Many parents today are "church hoppers and shoppers." They move from congregation to congregation, wholly consumers rather than holy communers. What message do our children derive from this? Why are we shocked when they drop out of churchgoing at the first opportunity? Of course, there are other reasons they do so, as we will see in a later chapter.
Excerpted from how to really parent YOUR TEENAGER by Ross Campbell ROB SUGGS Copyright © 2007 by Ross Campbell M.D. with ROB SUGGS . Excerpted by permission.
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