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STICKING WITH YOUR TEENHow to Keep from Coming Unglued No Matter What
By Joe White Lissa Halls Johnson
Tyndale House PublishersCopyright © 2006 Joe White
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Experiment
My mom and I do not get along very well, so we usually find ourselves disputing over the simplest things. Lately she has been very judgmental of my friends because of their hair or the way that they dress. She brings up the old cliché line, "Name someone successful that looks like that," and I always come back with, "We're teenagers. We're not supposed to be successful; it's our experimental years." -A teen
If the teen years are experimental, how's the experiment going at your house? Are you on the verge of a great discovery? Or are you afraid to enter the lab each morning for fear of the rotten-egg smell and the mold growing in the corner? Or are you ready to hang a DANGER sign on the wall?
Sandra and Richard McDonald found themselves in the danger category at two o'clock one morning.
When the doorbell rang, Sandra dragged herself from a deep sleep. Her husband, Richard, rolled out of bed.
At the front door, Richard was surprised to see Ken Bell, an acquaintance of his own son, Kurt. Ken's father was there, too.
"Mr. Bell?" Richard said.
The man nodded. "Ken's truck was broken into. They smashed the windows. Stolethe stereo." He cleared his throat, looking uneasy. "Ken says he saw your son's truck leaving the scene."
Sandra felt her heart race. "Someone must have stolen Kurt's truck."
"Kurt is spending the night with a friend," Richard told the Bells. "We'll find out what happened and get back to you."
After the men left, Sandra called her son's cell phone. "Kurt!" she said.
"Mom, why are you calling so late?"
"Where's your truck?"
"I don't know. Outside, I guess. Why?"
"Well, you're not going to believe this, but Mr. Bell and Ken came by. Ken's truck was broken into. Your truck was leaving the area. Look outside; is your truck outside?"
Kurt made some noises, then said, "No, it's gone."
"I'm going to get him," Richard told Sandra.
Soon Richard and Kurt were driving around town, looking for Kurt's truck. But Kurt was calm-pretty strange, Richard thought, considering the boy's truck supposedly was stolen.
As they drove, Kurt began to talk. Puzzle pieces fell from nowhere. He admitted that he'd been hanging out with a kid, Jeremy, who everyone knew was bad news.
This shock had barely landed when Kurt added, "Oh, yeah, Dad-I'm moving to Mexico with Jeremy."
Dumbfounded, Richard barely managed to keep steering the car.
"We're leaving as soon as Jeremy gets this huge inheritance when he turns 18."
"It's all planned."
The puzzle pieces fell into place, creating a picture Richard didn't want to see. Instead of asking about the planned move, though, he probed the whereabouts of the truck.
Kurt's answer gave him another jolt: "Well, I can't remember anything, because I took Xanax and I've been drinking." The boy fidgeted. "Well, yeah, maybe I was there. Maybe I did help Jeremy break into that car. And maybe, you know, maybe, that stuff we stole out of the other car is kind of ... well ... actually in my truck. Jeremy is kind of, well, driving it."
Overwhelmed, Richard pulled the car to the side of the road. He sat there with the car running, staring at his son. "What else?"
"Well, I guess-yeah, I guess the cops are chasing him right now."
Is that how the experiment is going at your house?
Maybe the developments in your "lab" aren't quite so dramatic, but they're just as frustrating. Maybe conversations with your teen go something like this:
"Jen! How was school?"
"Did you do anything fun?"
"How was your math test?"
"Come sit and talk to me."
"Why should I?"
"I'd just like to know-"
"I've got homework." Footsteps pound up the stairs. A door slams.
Or maybe you're hearing more silence than sarcasm these days:
"Hi, Scott. How was your day?"
Backpack drops to the floor. Footsteps fade down the hall.
Whether your teen-raising experiment is going terribly wrong or not, chances are it isn't quite meeting your expectations. You may feel like the child you knew has switched places with a taller, gangly person you couldn't possibly have given birth to.
Well, come on in and join me. I've lived through that experiment.
My wife, Debbie Jo, and I had four teens in the house at the same time. What a ride those years were! I wish I could tell you I did everything right, but I didn't. We had broken curfews, defiant attitudes, intense sibling rivalry, late-night phone calls that revealed things I never wanted to hear, emotional meltdowns, the silent treatment, depression, rejection, and rebellion. The season on any behavior, with any kid, could last a day, a month, and sometimes years. Many times I'd wake up in the morning and think, What in the world is going on?
Depending on how your experiment is going, you may feel sometimes like you're on the verge of a nervous breakdown. You may be going bald from all that head-scratching and hair-pulling.
You're probably trying the best you can. But you've noticed the relationship with your son or daughter is getting distant-or downright fractured. You want to be connected with your teen, to continue to help shape his life, but something's happened. You may not be sure what to do. And even if you are, you wonder whether it's too late.
Confessions of a Former Teenager
Before you can figure out what to do about your situation, you need to decide just how bad things really are. One way to do that is to remember what things were like when you were a teen.
Let's take a little trip down memory lane, shall we?
Remember those raging hormones? Maybe you resisted the urges they created; maybe you didn't.
Remember how you saw your parents? Maybe you listened to them; maybe you preferred your friends' ideas. Slowly or quickly you moved away from your folks, trying to become your own person.
Remember your relationships with other kids? You wanted to be noticed, to be loved, to find a circle of friends where you fit in.
And those industrial-strength feelings-remember them? Sometimes you felt angry for no apparent reason. If you were a girl, maybe you felt like crying all the time. If you were a boy, maybe you wanted to punch something every couple of hours. The smallest event could throw you into one mood or another, or several at once.
Did you rebel as a teen, or just disconnect a little? Maybe you bought clothes your parents would never buy, listened to music they hated. Or maybe you went off the deeper end, skipping school or binge drinking or dealing grass or rolling an SUV at 90 miles per hour and ending your best friend's life.
Times Have Changed
Recalling your teenaged self can help put your son's or daughter's behavior in perspective, especially if you were a headache-producing handful. But if you were no more rebellious than Beaver Cleaver, you may ask, "Why can't my kid be more like I was?"
Part of the answer may lie in the fact that Beaver's world is long gone. The emotions and questions of adolescence may be the same, but practically everything else has changed. Friendships can be established and built on the Internet, without face-to-face contact. Knowledge-good, bad, and perverted-is on tap there, too. Kids stay in touch on personal phones that go with them everywhere. Thousands of songs in a tiny metal box provide a soundtrack for their lives.
Think the world hasn't changed all that much? I heard recently of a young actress who needed to play a scene in a movie that showed her putting a record on a turntable. She had to be taught how to do it; she'd never even seen a record!
The most important changes, though, aren't technological-they're moral. Everything from radio deejay talk to comic books is far more graphic than it was two decades ago. Drugs and alcohol are more accessible and acceptable, even in many Christian circles. Premarital sex is more expected than shameful; "hooking up" is a way for casual friends to experience anything from kissing to oral sex to intercourse. One girl told her mother, "Mom, Daniel and I are the only kids in my school and church that I know who are not sexually involved."
Our teens today live in a world of hurt. They're hurt by broken homes and broken promises. They're victimized by sexual abuse, date rape, gang violence, and bullying. They're growing up in the shadow of threats most of us didn't face-like terrorism and school shootings. If they're trying too hard to control their world, the results may not be excusable-just understandable.
So, have you seen hints that trouble is brewing in your "lab"? Is your teen distant? Belligerent? Is the relationship you'd hoped for disappearing under indifference, anger, or defiance?
Sometimes the signs couldn't be clearer. "[Our son] David took a ball off the pool table and threw it at my husband, who ducked," recalls one mom. "It broke a window, and David picked up a chair and threw it down the hall, broke a leg off the chair.... So my sister, my husband and I spent the night locked in our bedroom. That's where we all three slept that night, in the bedroom, locked up."
Another parent remembers: "[Our daughter] hauled off and threw a glass of Coke or something at my face-and I really did think for a second that I was going to kill her. I was just ready to annihilate her. I was embarrassed and so outraged that I thought, 'I'm going to kill you.'"
Still another parent recalls, "Sometimes [our son] Kyle would say, 'I would rather go to juvenile hall than live with you all.'"
Maybe the hints have arrived more quietly. You may have found a marijuana bag, or a pack of condoms, or the empty aerosol cans and rags and paper sacks that indicate "huffing."
Or maybe you're worried about smaller earthquakes. Your daughter paints her fingernails black. Your son gets his nose pierced. You hear "I hate you!" more than any other phrase-or you hardly hear anything at all.
Try taking a quick test to figure out whether there might be a problem at your place. Do you identify with any of the following statements?
___ I don't like my teen.
___ My teen doesn't like me.
___ I'm embarrassed for anyone to know what my family life is really like.
___ I don't want anyone to know what my kid is doing.
___ I don't like my teen's choices.
___ I want to fix my teen.
If you find yourself agreeing with any of those statements, chances are that your relationship with your teen is stretched, strained, or snapped.
Welcome to the club.
You're Not the Boss of Me
Admitting things aren't going well is scary. It means you have to do something.
So what can you do about this?
A lot of parents, especially Christian ones, try the "crackdown." Determined to make their teens submit to authority, they haul out the howitzers-rules on stone tablets, year-long groundings, sermonettes, house arrest.
The problem is that these parents don't realize their job description has changed since their kids were little. Teens need parents who have moved from governor to mentor, from commander to coach, from benevolent dictator to guide. It's time to be an advisor, not a puppet master.
It's hard to make that transition.
When my kids started "breaking away," they just about broke my fingers trying to peel away my grip of steel. I wanted so badly to protect them. When they told me how rough the language was on the school bus, and about the bully that picked on them, I wanted to ride with them or drive them to school or walk them to class. But I couldn't. When they started dating, I wanted to double-date so I could keep them out of trouble. But I couldn't.
The trick, I learned, is allowing the transition to happen gradually. Start off firm, slowly giving way to more liberty. If you come in with handcuffs, you'll become a controlling, frustrated parent with a rebellious teen.
Some parents wouldn't think of trying the crackdown. They're more likely to give up. It's out of my hands, they think. I've done all I can. She'll be leaving home soon. And she won't listen to me anyway.
The truth is that our kids need us more than ever when they're teens. Not as controllers, but as counselors.
"Hey," you may be saying. "I'm no counselor. I don't even understand why my kid is acting this way."
You're not alone.
So let's look at that in the next chapter.
Let's find out why your teen may be growing distant or self-destructive. Let's put that young person under the microscope-or at least the magnifying glass.
Sounds pretty scientific, doesn't it?
But that's okay.
Like I said, this is an experiment. Before you know it, you'll be breaking out the test tubes-and improving the chemistry between you and your teen.
Excerpted from STICKING WITH YOUR TEEN by Joe White Lissa Halls Johnson Copyright ©2006 by Joe White. Excerpted by permission.
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