Thursday, May 16, 2013

Centers of the Universe

Yesterday, I spoke at a marketing conference, and while I was there, I ran into an old client, colleague and friend. I won't tell you her name; you'll see why in a moment. This woman has twins — a girl and a boy — who are just slightly younger than my daughter. As we compared notes, our discussion (as do most discussions with other moms of other teens) centered around the inherent and omnipresent drama that is our lives. 

She shared a funny story.

Recently, after a hard day at the office, she told her daughter offhandedly, "Oh, I wish I could retire and just work at Nordstrom's."

The daughter was aghast. "No way! You mean, like, you'd wait on my friends? You can't do that!"

I love the fact that my friend's daughter just assumed that the only reason her mother would daydream about a career change would be to torment her teen. (The same daughter would, no doubt, take it very personally if I were to identify her mom by name.)

If you are not the parent of a teenager, here's a news flash:

Teenagers are the centers of the universe. 

If you have one, you know exactly what I mean.

Yes, the world, the planets, the solar system, the sun itself revolves around them. For example, you plan a special family getaway and it happens to conflict with a concert your teenager wants to go to. Clearly, you have done this to punish her. Never mind that you made the vacation plans months ago. Never mind that the band with which she is besotted just released their dates yesterday. It's all your fault. You are unfair. You hate her. You are ruining her life. Yep.

The elation your teen feels when things go her way knows no bounds. It is matched only by the depths of despair she experiences when her best laid plans don't come to fruition. And, because she is the center of the universe, her complaints are fairly epic in proportion. Since the dawn of time, no one has ever had such an unfair English teacher; has ever felt so left out by a cool crowd; has ever had to juggle homework and babysitting; has ever been forced to put away her iPhone, eat broccoli, or make her bed.

It isn't easy being the center of the universe.

(It isn't easy being the center of the universe's mother.)

Well, here's another news flash. I don't think it's entirely the teen's fault. It's a combination of nurture and nature — neither of which is in their control.

If our teens think they are all that, we probably have to accept a little (or a whole lot) of the blame. Since my daughter was born, she has pretty much been the center of our lives here. For years, we've rearranged our schedules to attend dance recitals, school plays and horse shows. We jump in and help her with homework. We jump in and help her with friend issues. We jump up to take her where she needs to go. (Basically, when she says "jump," we ... you guessed it ... jump.)

And my husband and I are not alone. In our case, we accommodate the demands of her horse riding, lessons, and events. But all of our friends with kids have something that they have chosen to invest in and work around: gymnastics, softball, dance, hockey.

Whether it's measured in time or money or hassle, there is no question who is the center of this household. It's not surprising that she assumes that position is hers in the outside world as well.

Meanwhile, a little research reveals that there is a chemical and physiological reason for teens' "me, myself and I" thinking. In a 2008 study, teens were shown to have significantly more receptors for oxytocin. This leads to increased self-consciousness — teens truly believe that everyone is watching them. Another study, in 2011, demonstrated that teens use a part of their brain that makes decisions based on "what's in it for me." This is hard-wired into all of us. The difference between adults and teens is that we only use that processing center some of the time. Teens? All of the time.

Is this their fault? Probably not. Can it be helped? Probably not. Should we lose any more sleep over it?

Probably not.

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