I recently read an essay in The New York Times that talked about how to manage teenagers. (Actually, it was more a reflection on how to survive teenagers.) The author and mother of two teen boys, Jessica Lahey, quoted Dr. Laurence Steinberg from his book Age of Opportunity: Lessons From the New Science of Adolescence ...
"Protect when you must, but permit when you can."
I have mixed feelings about these words.
On the one hand, I agree with them. In theory and wholeheartedly. On the other hand, I'm having a tremendously difficult time adhering to them. Because, in real life is nothing like in theory.
Protect and permit mean different things to my teenage daughter and to myself. Where I may see myself protecting her, she sees me not permitting something that in her mind holds no danger whatsoever. She struggles against the boundaries I've set. I struggle to let her go.
We do agree on one thing though ... this SUCKS!
She's seventeen, so she no longer feels the need to ask if she can do something with her friends. She simply announces it. Then, if her plans change, she doesn't feel the need to give us an update. Is she safe? Probably. But, couldn't she call or send a quick text to tell us where they actually are now instead of where we thought they were then?
We've never enforced a curfew per se, because she was never out late without us unless we knew exactly where and with whom. Suddenly all bets are off, and I'm sorry I wasn't stricter when I didn't need to be because it's proving very difficult to create rules now.
This is her junior year of high school. (Supposedly, this one "really counts." All right, can we please send a great big collective "F*ck you!" to whoever said that? Way to add undue pressure to the pressure cooker we're already living in here.) I've tried to leave her to her own academic devices. I haven't nagged or micromanaged studying and homework. She would disagree, of course, but I've truly cut back dramatically. At what point, then, am I allowed to check on grades and course correct if needed?
I'll say it again. This SUCKS.
My job, as I see it, is not to be her friend. Not to permit all the time. And, in fairness, I permit much much (much much) more than she gives me credit for. Really, my job is to help her succeed. To help her do her best and become the best version of her possible. To help her embrace the values that I believe are important for her to lead a happy, productive life. This doesn't make me very popular. Quite the opposite, as a matter of fact.
And in the protect and permit dichotomy, I seem to inspire a lot of resentment for the first and no credit whatsoever for the second.
Rock ... me ... hard place.
She doesn't believe me, but I would much rather see her smiling all the time. I don't actually enjoy lecturing or picking fights or upholding consequences.
She also doesn't believe me, but I have enormous faith in her. I'm so proud of her so much of the time. I believe that she can accomplish great things. And, I believe that part of my job is to enable her to do so. Sometimes, that means permitting her to do things she wants to do.
But, sometimes it means protecting her. Not just from things that go bump in the night, but from making short-term mistakes that might have long-term ramifications.
These days, it gets harder and harder to be her friend. For now, I'll just have to settle for being her mother.
I'll be her friend again — and gladly — whenever she's ready.
If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of Lovin' the Alien at www.lovinthealien.com.