Monday, December 14, 2009

See One, Do One, Teach One

Roger Rabbit Pin
There ought to be a law against being a teenager. Of course, if there was, and we were teenagers, most of us would break it for sheer pleasure. But aside from that, what I mean is, there ought to be a way to leapfrog from 12 to 20 while retaining the lessons learned from the in-between years. And that's precisely what they are. No longer children, not yet adults, we're neither fish nor fowl nor good red herring.

To keep things simple and assuming hormones have nothing to do with it (th
at's a laugh), let's say the change begins at the point when we can add the suffix "teen" to our age. We enter a world that is only marginally similar to the one occupied by the rest of humanity. It's like Bob Hoskins in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, driving into Toon Town, and sometimes it feels that crazy. We don't know the rules, most of those who have been around long enough to teach them aren't interested, and we're at the bottom of the social pecking order, anyway.

If we're lucky enough, as we get our sea legs, we find a group with which to connect and help us survive. If not, we're on our own and that only makes things worse. Identifying with adults renders us untrustworthy and regressing to childhood makes us the object of derision. So, we do what any self-respecting teenager would do, we withdraw or act out. And we do one of these because we haven't yet learned other, more effective ways of coping. It's really tough.

It's even harder being the parent of a teenager, but not for the reasons you might think. Seeing them go through all that we experienced, it can feel like we're reliving our own teen years. If they were pretty good overall and our kids are having a difficult time, we may come across as less than empathetic. If we had a similarly difficult time, we may not wish to visit those memories and inadvertently communicate disinterest or unavailability.

Believe me, I don't have all the answers, not even most of them. My own experience with teenagers has shown me they generally prefer adults to be adult. They'd like us to remember our own "Summer of 69" and, while they chomp at the bit and mutter explicatives behind our backs, still set reasonable limits on their behavior. They need us to do so because they don't quite yet know how to do this for themselves, despite their insistence to the contrary. They want us to cope effectively with the stress they generate because, in the process, we demonstrate how they might better cope with the stress they experience.

"See one, do one, teach one" in the field of medical education involves modeling, reproducing, and passing along good clinical skills. In the field of parenting, it's about being the kind of person I wish my children to become, clarifying meaningful expectations for their behavior, and applauding their efforts at sharing them with others. It's important at every age, and especially, when they're teenagers.


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