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CONNECTING WITH TEENS

Developing Trust and Rapport with Your Teenager

Those Darn Games

The other day I was bustling around the kitchen, cooking and tidying, when my 12-year-old son, Oliver, lumbered in to chat for a moment. He’s a large, big-boned young man – almost as tall as I am – so lumbered is the right word! The chat itself was a rare occurrence, because he’s usually glued to his video games.

I’m not too fond of those violent games with titles such as “Grand Theft Auto” and “Black Ops 2,” but I’ve long since gotten used to them. I’m pretty much inured to the fact that, at the very least, these games with their realistic graphics and careening cars keep Oliver’s mind agile and engaged while I’m cycling through my daily tasks. I’m also wise to the fact that if I would have maintained my years-long ban on certain titles, Oliver would have found a way to play them on the sly. As you know, 12-year-olds can be very crafty. But, my son and I have established that what happens in those games is not to be repeated in real life – something that’s been made very clear. As far as he’s concerned, pretending to steal cars and spray bullets at imaginary foes is actually a way to misbehave without ever actually misbehaving.

Going Airborne

So … Oliver pops into the kitchen to discuss the latest zombie dismemberment in one of his games, when he suddenly blurts out in his crackly, adolescent voice, “Mom, can I pick you up?” Without waiting for a response, he swoops in, grabs me around the waist and hoists me like a sack of goose feathers. My feet don’t hit the floor for a few seconds. The feeling was like one of those moments during a rapidly descending elevator ride – something between gravitational no-man’s-land and stomach-squelching vertigo. 

Meanwhile, I am 5 feet 9 inches tall and anywhere from 125 to 135 pounds, so I’m no wilting violet. The sensation of having my weight supported by this strapping, awkward young kid was next to surreal. Wasn’t it just yesterday I hoisted this same child on my own hip? Wasn’t I just shifting him into his car seat on the way to buy diapers and happy nappies? When did this particular boy get so heavy and dense that I’m the one being lifted by him, gaping dizzily at the tiled floor while suspended in mid-air? Has the world turned upside-down, or what? 

A Pivotal Moment

Being picked up by my own child was one of those pivotal moments when you realize a milestone has been reached. It tolls like a bell from a lofty old church tower – a sound you didn’t request, but one, nevertheless, that you just can’t avoid.

That day in the kitchen – only a few short weeks ago – I came face to face with a fact I’d been glimpsing reluctantly for some time: Oliver isn’t a little boy anymore. He’s a budding young man on the verge of a new life phase who will turn 13 in just a few months. His days of watching “Bob the Builder” reruns and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” episodes are long gone. Instead of finger paints and action figures, skating rinks and pee wee leagues, his world is now populated by random strangers on Xbox Live, braggy kids at junior high and – count them, three! – pretty little girlfriends, one on the bus ride home, one around the block and one who sits in front of him in several classes. Yikes! What’s a mom to do?

As Parents, We Have Choices

As I see it, I could, a) panic and restrict his every movement b) try – and probably fail – to be his bff (best friend forever, in modern kid parlance) or c) realize this leg of the journey isn’t going to be perfect and gird myself to stand by and guide him over the humps of growing up. Even though the pulls toward choices “a” and “b” are almost too strong to resist, I’ve resolved to go with “c,” even though it’s the most difficult of the bunch. 

The truth is, I remember all too clearly what it was like to be standing on the precipice Oliver is standing on himself. I remember the influence wielded by certain poplar song lyrics; I remember that crush on a friend’s blonde, blue-eyed older brother; I remember starting to worry about being accepted and wearing the right clothes – the more expensive ones with fancy labels my mother couldn’t afford to buy me; the longing to be more independent, to shed the bindings that told me when I could wake, when I could sleep, where I could go, and for how long; the curiosity involved in imagining a more self-directed future; the eye-rolling and argumentativeness I’ve seen Oliver experimenting with lately; and the dissatisfaction with being so … limited. I remember it all. What’s more, I remember all too clearly what it was like to butt heads with the primary adult in my life. 

Making the Connection

Unlike my own mother, who tended to swing between choices “a” and “b,” depending on her mood, I learned, based on my own young frustrations and preferences, that it’s much better to have an understanding ear and a dependable shoulder on which to lean – and, yes, even a firm hand to guide – than to be relentlessly controlling or beguiling or befriending. It’s much better to set clear expectations and follow through on enforcing them than to react unpredictably to infractions or rebellions. Most of all, it’s crucial to cultivate some flexibility and understanding while trying to protect a young person as he or she makes choices that could affect them for years to come.

In that way, I believe it’s possible to create enough trust and rapport that instead of hiding mistakes or trying to get away with wrongs, teenagers would be honest and seek the guidance they need and know that they won’t be penalized for doing so. I also realize nothing ever happens as expected. I have my ideas and resolves where Oliver is concerned, but I know the days and months ahead will be sprinkled with any number of challenges, for him and for me. The same is likely true for you and your child or children – these are the things all of us deal with as our young prepare to leave us and live their own lives. The best thing we can do for them, and for ourselves, is to try our best. When we do, we all know we will hear the following words at some point in the future:

“Mom, it must have been really hard for you when I was growing up. I’m so sorry I did this or that. Now that I have my own children, I can see that I must have been a real pain in the butt. I just want you to know that I’m grateful for everything you did for me. I know you did it out of love.”

That will be another bell tolling in both of your lives. Except this time, it’s one you’ll be happy to hear.

Written by Lindsay Jones

Copyright 2014 / Good Choices Good Life, Inc. / All Rights Reserved

“Mother Nature is providential. She gives us twelve years to develop a love for our children before turning them into teenagers.” William Galvin