It’s been said that teenagers are the reason some species eat their young. I’m assuming that came from somebody who had an unruly teen in the house. Just one. Because when it comes to teens, you don’t need a whole litter. One is more than enough.
Teens are a form of life that exists somewhere between childhood and getting a clue. And much like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, there’s a metamorphosis involved. The problem is, they don’t spend that time in a cocoon to keep them under wraps and protect the rest of us. They just make us wish they did.
It’s not that I don’t like teens. I do. To me, teenagers represent the future of our world, and hope for a brighter tomorrow. But watching teens is like watching waves at the beach. Most times they come and go without much fanfare and they don’t leave too much destruction in their wake. But you always know that somewhere out there lurks a rogue wave that can really screw things up. Some of them grow up to be politicians.
My daughters seem to have a much more vivid recollection of their teenage years than I do, and it wasn’t that long ago. It’s not that I’m too old to remember. It’s just Mother Nature’s way of preserving what little shred of sanity I have left. Which probably explains why Dad doesn’t remember too much about my high school days.
High school graduating classes will typically vote one person “most likely to succeed.” Well my class voted me “most likely to serve time.” Okay, I’m kidding. To most of my graduating class, I was “Dave who?” I had a small group of friends, but I pretty much kept to myself. And I wasn’t a bad kid, but I got in a little trouble on occasion. Nothing involving the police, so it could have been worse.
I grew up in the seventies, and back then we were still in an era of tranquility left over from the sixties. School violence was pretty much limited to the locker room bully or a couple of guys fighting over a girl. Most of us smoked pot, and underage drinking was a bit of a problem. But that was pretty much the extent of our misconduct.
It wasn’t that we didn’t get into trouble. We did. In fact, most of us probably wanted to get in a little more trouble, but we just didn’t quite know how. We knew there were things in life we were missing, but we were still just a too naïve to take that next step.
But to our parents, the trouble we got into was bad enough. Back then it was absolutely devastating to find out your kid had tried marijuana. Today it’s like, “Is that it?” I’m not saying it’s something we’ve come to accept, but it’s not the social sin it was when we were growing up. It’s funny how time changes our perspective.
I think of some of the things my daughters did, especially my oldest. It seems to work that way. The older ones tend to be trailblazers, setting off into uncharted territory with nothing but a sense of adventure to guide them. Their younger siblings sit back and watch to see where the mistakes are made, and the severity of the consequences. Then they use that information to keep from making the same mistakes themselves. In other words, they’re just a lot better at not getting caught.
As the father of two daughters, nobody ever accused me of being too permissive. And I wasn’t known for an overabundance of trust, especially where boys were involved. I told my oldest one time that I was going to buy an old car and never bring it home. When she asked why, I said, “Because you’ll never know if that’s me in the rearview mirror.” I was dead serious.
I could tell you stories, like the time I flipped out when my daughter put on a pair of shorts to wear to the race track. In my mind she was just trying to look good for the boys. And fifteen years later, one word comes to mind … DUH!!! A teenage girl trying to look attractive? You mean like they did when I was her age?
And maybe that’s part of the problem. We look at the things our kids do and we’re reminded of how we were at that age. I know the thoughts that ran through my mind when I saw an attractive girl. And boys haven’t changed much over the years. If anything, they’re bolder now than we ever were. That’s okay. I’m old enough to own a gun.
My oldest used to get so upset with me for sneaking around to find out the things she was doing when she was sneaking around. “That’s not fair!” I’m sorry, who’s writing the rules? Because it seems to me that kids aren’t always that forthcoming when they decide to break the rules. “Dad, I’ve decided this rule about not drinking sucks. So when I go to the party Friday night, I want you to know I’ll be breaking that rule all night long. Can I borrow the car?”
So sometimes we have to employ a little creative strategy of our own to stay on top of what they’re doing. I probably carried that to an extreme at times, but I had their best interests at heart. I’ve often told my daughters that I’ll apologize for any time I’ve ever hurt their feelings or done something completely wrong, but I’ll never apologize for doing what I thought was right.
Now that they’re a little older, they’re finally starting to understand a little of what was going through my mind. Not that they agree, but at least they can understand. And it’s funny watching my oldest with her son, who is a mere two years from becoming a teenager. I could swear I’ve heard some of those words before!
Yet, as a grandparent who doesn’t have to deal with the daily discipline, I can step back and look at things from a different perspective. I remember thinking my nephew was the spawn of Satan as he chased the girls around the yard with a pocket knife, and my dad saying, “Oh, he’s just being a boy.” Funny, I hear those words a little more often these days, too.
And as I look back on my own days of raising two daughters, I can laugh at some of the things that were such a big deal to me. My mom used to always ask, “Will it matter twenty years from now?” I never fully understood those words until I became a grandfather. That’s okay. As I recall, she didn’t always feel that way when I screwed up.
The thing is, kids aren’t that different than they were when we were younger. They have more to occupy their minds, especially in terms of technology and entertainment. Of course, we can always use that technology to our advantage. “You’re at Becky’s house? Her mom is there? Take a picture with your cell phone and send it to me. Now. You have thirty seconds.”
But kids are way ahead of us on that. It doesn’t take them long to realize they can store a whole album of cell phone photos to fit any situation. The picture they send may be months old. Which brings us back to square one. At some point, we have to loosen the rope and hope for the best. And that requires trust – lots of it. Or just tell them to have somebody take a picture of them in the clothes they were wearing when the left the house. See, I’m not entirely gullible!
Life is all about passing along the torch. Our parents passed it to us, and we’ll pass it on to the generation that comes behind us. We do the best we can to prepare them for that day, to teach them how to carry that torch without setting something ablaze. But in the end, we have to have faith in them to do the right thing. I think I’ve carried the torch pretty well. And as I look at the two I raised, I believe it’ll be in pretty good hands.
Copyright 2011 – Dave Glardon