January 26, 2011
Retract your mom claws
Wendy Mogel sets new rules for reasonableness
(Page 3 - Previous Page)
Work will also help teens pay for some of their own stuff. Self-centeredness and passionate materialism are part of being a teen, Mogel writes, but that doesn’t mean parents need to drop inordinate amounts on the perfect skinny jeans.
Of course, telling your teen he has to unload the dishwasher, get a job and pay for his own $120 sunglasses can provoke that innately teenage weapon: attitude.
Mogel believes, though, that rudeness to parents represents a teen’s way of separating himself from his parents and asserting his own identity, so to some degree it can, and should, be tolerated. Parents are a safe punching bag to let off steam, say, after a teen has kept it together all day (much like a toddler’s post-preschool meltdown).
She advises parents to customize a list of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors when it comes to sass, and to retain authority by staying cool and focused on the issue at hand, even when teens push buttons and make personal attacks. Mogel asks parents to remember that the flip side of the rudeness coin is that teens today are infinitely closer to and more comfortable with their parents than in past generations. Today’s teens talk to their parents more, share more cultural experiences — Facebook, music, movies — and sometimes even consider parents as friends.
Still, for unacceptable lip and serious infractions, she advises, don’t be afraid of instating consequences. Stand up to teens’ lawyerly arguments when they need to be punished by, say, taking away the car keys, or telling them they can’t go to a party.
And she cautions against becoming a creepy parent-friend type who comments too much on Facebook or becomes too permissive about alcohol or sex.
Mogel’s take on substances and sex is nuanced, and rules and reactions inevitably will vary from kid to kid and as the teen grows older. But she has a basic premise when it comes to what she describes as the “ethical fieldwork” the teen will inevitably try.
“The later, the better, for everything, and that is what you communicate to your kids. And, for some things, never is even better than later,” she said about sex, alcohol and drugs. “There are biological, emotional and spiritual realities that should lead parents to encourage their children to wait with everything and to help them manage peer pressure. But,” she cautions, and this is where the nuance comes in, “don’t be a naïve dope.”
She urges parents to acknowledge to themselves (not necessarily aloud to their kids) that they did — and survived — similar things when they were young, and that their children will, too. Let that “truthiness” come out in interactions as you proactively discuss (in small, natural doses — no sit-down lectures) values surrounding sex, drugs and alcohol. Respond openly to the media barrage and discuss decisions about particular events — unsupervised parties, relationships, what everyone else is doing.
“Zero tolerance is a blunt instrument, and it makes you into a poor resource for your child,” Mogel said.
It is this nuanced understanding of the humanity of teens that makes Mogel’s approach more challenging, and more realistic, than the hard-core demands of Chua’s Chinese model. In Chua’s world, the parent has all the right answers and absolute authority all the time, no matter who the kid is or what the situation.
Mogel, however, asks parents to do some tough work: to look deeply into themselves, and then look deeply into their children, so that both parents and children can emerge whole from this complicated period.
Because, she assures parents, how your teens look and act now is not how they will look when they emerge as fully formed adults — sometime in their 20s.
“We think they should go from sweet, adoring toddlers who say, ‘Mommy, please lie down here, don’t go, read me another story, I love you so much,’ to sojourner statesmen with nothing in between,” Mogel said.
“But there’s this whole thing in between that is a parent’s best opportunity to learn leadership. But it’s really, really hard.”