Decisions, Decisions: On Teenagers

By Andrea M.

Parenting is joyful confusion 80% of the time; a multitude of if-then propositions. From preconception to college planning, we are making decisions about someone else’s life, health, happiness, actions and future. If you stop to think about the volume of decisions parents make in the span of an average childhood – even one without significant health challenges and with relative stability – it’s pretty mind boggling that we manage to get dressed and go to work, much less participate in civic and social activities.

As children get older then they’re allowed to stretch their reasoning and spread their wings, make some decisions of their own. Rather than being active in the deciding, parents of older kids tend to take on more of a teammate role, hopeful that previous examples will serve as helpful directions on the path forward. When children want to make decisions that don’t always align with our perceptions of what’s right or in long term best interests then we often want to be substituted into the game of life, confident that our experience will bring about the best outcome. It’s hard to not jump in and fix (or at least rearrange) especially when you feel that the choices your child makes will increase their chances of being hurt or disappointed. We all talk about tough love and the value of shows like” Beyond Scared Straight” but deep down? We’d all trade out next breath if it would secure a pain-free existence for our kids.

Continuing with the parent as teammate thinking, sometimes we have to show leadership by allowing our kids to know they’re supported even in decisions that we don’t necessarily agree with. Your teenager wants to travel to Ferguson in support of the ongoing protests there. As a parent, you see the potential for arrest, physical danger, and general discomfort. You want answers to practical questions – where will you sleep? What if it snows? Your idealistic son wants to change the world and he swears he’ll wear layers, knows to invoke his right to remain silent (and then shut up!) should the need arise. Your daughter is anemic and wants to be a vegetarian because slaughtering animals is inhumane. She feels strongly about this even though she’s fainted as a result of her imbalanced diet of flavored water, Takis and salad.

We want our kids to pursue their dreams! We also want them to turn in homework and bring dishes out of their bedrooms before mold grows. It’s frustrating sometimes to be reasonable and understanding when you’ve said the same thing 10 times – this month. We also have to recognize that their decision making abilities aren’t the same as ours. Not because they don’t listen or are hardheaded or willful or stubborn…but because they are at different stages of development. They don’t have the benefit of having made the (many!) mistakes we have recovered from. It’s worth remembering that physiologically, different parts of the brain mature at different times. We have to be mindful of looking at children’s decisions through adult eyes because even as they may grow physically to tower over us, children are still growing intellectually and in their ability to reason and view situations from various angles is limited. More information on teenage brains can be found here.

That’s parenthood…feeding and clothing and protecting a living embodiment our of hearts, leaving us vulnerable to exquisite pain and infinite joy as shown in a single tear or hear in a tiny giggle.

I’m a mom of teenagers…and a 7 year old who, according to her testimony, went to medical school for 9 years. I didn’t have to pay for it so I’m cool with Dr. O. She loves science and surgery and I love her. My teens keep me thinking about the future, possibilities…and just how much limits can stretch. I’m a consultant and business person and volunteer. I hope that all those dimensions shine through as I share my singular Cocoa Mama experience. 

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