I have a secret: I don’t believe in teenagers. I’m talking about the term, not the people — and I know, I know, I have been heaping onto the problem by writing a teen column I personally built here on Babble nearly a year ago. But truthfully I think teenager is a pejorative word, and a worse concept. I think it is rote and alienating. A teen by any other name would smell, well, sweeter.
The category teenager is a relatively new one since the 1900s and was framed against the Industrial Revolution, the invention of the automobile, child labor laws, and the proliferation of the leisure class. Quite suddenly a grouping of the population was lassoed into one place, and that place was called High School. No longer allowed to toil away in factories or bring in the crop at the expense of an education, the technology of four wheels allowed kids to venture farther from their one-room school house to a building containing their own kind. Soon manufacturers and the entertainment industry began to see the potential of this collection of purchasing citizenry desirous of commonality. Bobby Socks and Idol magazines, we taught these folks how to separate themselves from the greater population. What a bad move. I am steadfast in my belief that we reap what we sow, and in this way, I offer my following secrets to raising people, not just kids, away from hideous categorizing:
Number 1 1 of 5
"Ohhhhhh, mommmmmmm." That right there. That is the entire problem.
We teach people how to treat us, which certainly includes our kids. Therefore, every time we as parents say something along the lines of, "My teenager thinks I'm a nerd," the terrorists win! You can substitute other sentiments here, such as: Thinks I'm stupid, a goofy dresser, a bad dancer... it is all insanity and you must stop immediately!
When we think in rote ways, it should come as no surprise we garner rote lives. There is nothing by birthright that suggests parents will embarrass their kids. It is a big ugly social scam invented alongside the term teenager and proliferated through popular culture. It is not a given, and you should expect more.
I can tell you with all honesty that throughout my entire childhood, I never found my parents embarrassing. "Ohhhhhhh dad," never entered my mind. The same holds true for my brother. That's because there was nothing in my life, in our shared family life, to suggest I stood over here while my parents stood over there. I saw my mom and dad as people, as friends, as parents I respected. Our relationship could not be contained in a package, and it wasn't served by lazy dialogue found in a sitcom.
Dare to reinvent!
Number 2 2 of 5
You think you understand what I just wrote, but I promise you, you're still flirting with the old mindset. I can't tell you how many conversations I have with people who say, "It's true, it's true" -- and then in the very next sentence say something along the lines of, "Enjoy your young kids now because soon they will want nothing to do with you."
Really? Who says? Where is it written?
If you can't stop thinking in this way, you will never stop living in this way.
Number 3 3 of 5
What was so wrong with child labor, anyway? We have segmented our offspring to a realm of limited responsibility. It seems the more educated we become in brand new verbs like parenting, the less common sense we show. I think some of the problem can be blamed on a kind of perfectionism our ancestors didn't have the luxury of pursuing, but whatever the genesis, we don't give our kids jobs. We have bred an era of ineffectualness. We have created a distinct difference in family roles between adult and child, while managing to wax nostalgic regarding the strengths of our own childhood, "When I was a kid, I did the laundry and was sent to the grocery store with a detailed list and had to walk there and back, uphill."
So, exactly what are we valuing here? Our own childhoods, or the childhoods we are creating?
Reconcile the difference!
Number 4 4 of 5
If we are asking our kids to see us as people, we better make certain we are not defining our lives by our kids.
These days, a kid's schedule asks a lot of parents, I understand. This may be a fairly recent cultural shift and one to be considered. For example, Middle School sports now behave more like High School sports, and High School sports like professional sports, and even our elementary school children are on traveling teams and please make it stop.
But if your kids only see you as attending to their needs, what will they imitate when they are embarking on their own lives as adults? No wonder the society has fractured into kid/parent role playing.
My friends have long joked I'm a crack mom. I understand, if real, this isn't funny. But as it applies to me, I have a big social life and many interests and have often placed my kids further down the priority list. There I said it. And do you know why? Because I am a person first, and mom second. And because I believe there is great value in showing my kids the need to live rich, fulfilling lives that include friends and dinner parties and the pursuit of professional passions!
Do you want to raise a parent? Or do you want to raise a person capable of many things, including being a parent?
Number 5 5 of 5
"I can't wait to have kids so I can teach them all about..."
Whoever says this should have their Parent License revoked. That's because having kids isn't about teaching, it's about learning. If we're not observant and quiet enough, we're going to miss every opportunity to grow ourselves through the relationships we share with our children. It is not us and them. We are not the teachers and them the students. It is we. And when we begin to understand we, we break down the roles, and the rote way of processing the roles.
Be the tide that turns!