By Debby Shulman
We can all agree that we are very different parents than our own. For better or worse, I believe we extract what we loved and cherished about our teen years and leave out what we dump on our shrink’s couch. And I think after raising two and a half teens (we’re still ‘in progress’ with number 3), I can look back with more compassion; understanding where my parents were coming from and why they felt strongly about certain things.
And one thing I believe we all can relate to, as a parent of our generation, is that we admittedly do things our parents would have NEVER done. Simply put, I read a fascinating article, courtesy of a book written by Dr. Tim Elmore (the latest go-to in my quest for the most compelling teen commentary) entitled, “Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future”. Don’t let the title scare you …but do put it on your Kindle. Without question, Dr. Elmore addresses what I believe to be the pitfalls of parenting our children today. I had a lump in my throat reading his work … I am soooo guilty. Cue the couch confession: I have screwed them up again.
I am guilty of every single one of his “damaging parenting behaviors that keep children from becoming leaders” and I’ve decided to come clean.
To what degree I did each remains questionable, and at some point I consciously tried to stop. And considering my own insecurities about each of my kids, it’s no surprise that I engaged in every one, and I wonder what would have happened had I not. Believe me, this check list takes less time than your typical Facebook quiz on “What Disney Character Are You?” (um … that would be Helen Parr, aka: Elastigirl, aka: Mrs. Incredible) Elmore has put it so succinctly, it offers every one of us a quick check in, a brief but illuminating glance at what we might not be aware of every time we do it.
Drum roll, folks.
- We don’t let our children experience risk: Maybe I FREAKED out after Number 2 took a really bad fall and I didn’t let him participate in contact sports EVER, or perhaps I rushed to the ice after the baby took a tumble on her first cross-over … I’m actually okay with the skinned knee now, but that took awhile. I was the Mom who definitely traveled with Band-Aids in her purse and had to look away when they went on roller coasters. Theme parks and water slides made me gasp – yet Elmore claims if we don’t permit some risk, Tommy might develop phobias down the road. Ugh.
- We rescue too quickly: One word. DUH. My husband and I made their problems, OUR problems. Didn’t do well on a test? Let’s get you some help … Pulled over for speeding? I’m calling a lawyer. You had a fight with a friend? Let me help you think about how you should handle it. Do you know how many times I have driven to the high school to drop off a folder, assignment or forgotten lunch? AND I DID. Please, people. Guilt is all over this one.
- We rave too easily: I am pretty sure that because I didn’t raise athletes, I was not in a position to enthusiastically rave about non-existing athletic prowess. But in truth, I did just throw out about a million trophies for T-Ball that were absolutely a result of the ‘rave’ mentality. I am guilty of raving about other talents, but at the risk of having my kids feel superior to others, I stopped. Tommy might love the immediate, albeit empty praise, but later on he might cheat in order to get that response.
- We let guilt get in the way of leading well: Truth hurts, right? I can’t tell you how many times I have screamed, “No means NO!!” to my kids and I have no regrets. Then again, I am guilty of rewarding with boots or concert tickets when I absolutely should have stayed with the NO. And admittedly, there were times when both my sister and I witnessed behavior in each other’s kids and it took the other one to give the evil, secret stink eye and mouth, “Who’s the boss?” I gotta say, and you know I’m all about the truth telling here … when our kids feel as if they are rewarded with ‘stuff’ and we become fearful that they won’t like us if we’re strict, we lose and so do they.
- We don’t share our past mistakes: This does not mean you tell Tommy about that time you got so drunk in a college bar that you puked in front of the Psych building … or that you really regret losing your virginity at 15. I think these lessons are most beneficial when you can honestly share a story that bears relevance – I flunked my share of tests because I was too preoccupied with boys to study or simply blew it off in favor of watching Miami Vice or Dynasty. Offering these understandable and appropriate adolescent errors show how you felt about learning from them. Nobody wants their kid feeling as if they are alone or that Mom and Dad were so perfect they never made mistakes.
- We mistake intelligence, giftedness, and influence for maturity: Got a smart kid? It doesn’t mean they’re bright or necessarily ready for a life that exceeds what they are emotionally capable of handling. While I would argue that many believe their own child is gifted (it is NOT the new black, folks) it does not mean that they are any more ready for life than others their age. Elmore suggests looking at the freedoms other teens have versus the ones you feel yours is ready to experience. Just because they’re 16, does NOT mean they’re mature enough to get the keys to that car. Just saying.
- We don’t practice what we preach: My favorite. Watch what you do and how you do it. Quit bugging your teens to do community service for the sake of a college application when you do nothing of the sort. Stop telling them to watch what they post, when you are posting weekly pictures of your own escapades … Suburban Moms Gone Wild falls flat when you need the world to know you’re getting drunk with friends every weekend. The embarrassment your kids feel looking at these pictures, or worse yet hearing about it from friends, gives them no reasonable excuse to take what you have to say too seriously. Behaving in ways that “model” how we want our teens to behave is the first step in helping them get there … give to others, respect strangers, help older people in the grocery store. Come on, people. This is an easy one.
I think what Elmore intimates is that we have to come clean, acknowledging what we’ve done comes from the best of intentions and a place of love.
It’s the nature of our generation to jump at helping our teens succeed without thinking about letting them fail. The ‘What If’s’ take over so fast …
What if he fails that test?
What if he doesn’t get into his “reach” school?
What if she doesn’t make the team?
We rush to coach, guide, intervene, support and supplement. To. A. Fault. I guess I didn’t realize how much I did or most likely, take the time to pull my head out of the sand to change my behavior. When speaking about parent behavior, Elmore suggests becoming “exceedingly self-aware of [our] words and actions when interacting with [our] children, or with others when [our] children are nearby.
“Care enough to train them, not merely treat them to a good life. Coach them, more than coddle.”
Truth telling for sure.
Lisa Barr, Editor of GIRLilla Warfare: Debby Shulman is a college essay consultant and academic tutor with a private practice in Northbrook, Illinois. She also professionally collaborates with Amy Simon College Consulting in Bannockburn, Illinois. Debby also blogs about Motherhood/Teen issues for Your Teen magazine (www.yourteenmag.com). Check out her valuable advice.