So you think you screwed up and made the inadvisable decision to allow your 13 year old to go to the mall alone. You didn’t know that your impressionable adolescent teen planned to meet up with friends there. Friends you did not know. You didn’t know them or their parents-their pedigree.
You also didn’t know that while these kids were at the mall, they were going to shoplift at a well-known and well-liked store there either. When the call came in, the last thing you expected to hear was that your child, your baby, was being held at the store security office-MINI-JAIL- for shoplifting.
You made sure that, when your child left home, she had money to make her desired purchases. And, you also gave her your credit card…just in case. This was ridiculous. She didn’t have to take anything from any store. Besides, she was taught not to ever take anything from any store or any person without either paying for it or asking permission from the owner[a person].
For the last 12 years, you have done your best to give your child what she wanted and her needs were met…emotional, nutritional and physiological. She wore quality clothing, made good grades in school, was always respectful to others, and never caused you much trouble outside of the ‘normal’ growing pains.
What could have gotten into your child? What was she thinking? Worst yet, the stolen item was a $15.00 makeup item. She could have paid for that very easily, with money left to continue spending.
The answers rested on two things that you hadn’t counted on. #1: You had never approved of her wearing makeup. You didn’t have that discussion, proactively. This was a discussion that should be had between parents and teen girls, because of the social pressures faced by girls to be ‘pretty’ and socially-accepted by peers and the opposite sex[if that were where attractions focused].
Society and the way girls are socialized grooms them to be insecure about their physical outer attractiveness. These messages place undue pressure on girls to quickly ‘fix’ what they may consider ‘wrong’ about themselves to conform to the widely communicated messages about what ‘beauty’ is.
This happens to occur and impact adolescent girls[boys, too] at a time when parents haven’t yet adjusted or accepted that their ‘baby’ is maturing. Parents forget that their child is conflicted now. They still want to please their parents, but they also face pressure to be accepted by their peer groups.
How many times have we seen children leave their home in school, age-appropriate’ gear, and before they reach the school building, they transform into a more ‘mature’ version of themselves? Makeup, heels, short skirts, etc….
#2:Another thing that parents don’t factor in concerns is peer pressure and expanded social groups. Your child, whose usual friends, the ones whose families you know and who your child has probably known since elementary school, aren’t the only friends your child has now.
Kids mature at different rates, and thus interests change at different rates. To many parents, it seems all too sudden, and so surprising that your child, your ‘baby’ no longer wants to watch Sesame Street. Just yesterday, your child was learning to ride a bicycle. Now, your teenager wants to drive and ride with teens who drive-some of whom are with or without adult permission or driver’s licenses.[That you should stay on top of. So, do find out.]
Your teen also wants to wear makeup now and somehow believes that you would disapprove. Whether that is true, your child doesn’t know. You haven’t had that discussion. So, you will get caught off guard-unprepared. And, in the meantime, your child is confused and conflicted. Who’s fault is that? Yours, or your child-your teen? Let’s not talk blame, though.
As much as parents want their children to remain children, once puberty approaches, there are hormonal changes, and physical changes, as well. Recognize that reality, and remember your own growth. Your child looks in the mirror and sees someone or something new everyday. How do they interpret this and process these changes if parents refuse to acknowledge them? With their child.
Understand that no matter how close your relationship has been with your child, the communication, topics and tone, must change with their growth. It’s natural that your child will pull away at this time. She or he needs and wants more privacy. However, you can still maintain that closeness, as long as what you talk about and the activities you wish to partake with her is age-appropriate. You have to grow up with your child in order to guide their growth in healthy ways.
What your child will certainly rebel against is if you begin to take a negative tone and your idea of cautioning your child and protecting your child from making poor choices, is being received as threats or accusations. What your child is more likely to receive as supportive, yet cautioning and protective, is a conversation. Not one long talk, but brief conversations everyday, if possible.
Stay involved, but don’t pry. Ask questions, but don’t accuse. Ask open-ended questions to invite your child to give detailed answers; not yes or no or a nodding of the head. Worst yet, a grunting sound. Talk to your child, but do more listening. Pay attention to your child, even when it looks like you aren’t paying attention.
Choose times for conversations when you are engaged in an activity. Driving in the car, at mealtime, while playing a video game. These are times when your child is most receptive, and a captive audience too. They may look out of the car window, but they are still listening to you. Fiddling with that joystick, but still listening and responding.
Continue to laugh with your child, try to understand their changing interests, like music choices. Listen to the messages in the music and don’t jump to putting down the music or call it noise. That noise is captivating your child for some reason, and if your child knows that you dislike it, they will surely blast it loudly when tuning you out.
Know that parents can’t be friends with their adolescents, because you are still charged with their safety and well-being. That means, in their best interest, structure, rules and discipline must be maintained, but age-appropriately.
What you can be is supportive and understanding. Unconditional love and acceptance still stands, but that has nothing to do with unacceptable, unsafe behaviors and attitudes. What is acceptable for behaviors? That depends on your values, how you support and reinforce them and the extent to which you fully recognize that your child must grow as an individual.
The bottom line is that parents’ perceptions of today’s young person may be grossly wrong. Look at it this way. When Will Smith rapped a tune saying that ‘parents just don’t understand.’, don’t let it describe you. Avoid refusing to see that your child, your teen, wants to be and is connected to the world around them. They do care. They are more SEL savvy than we give them credit for possessing.
Youngsters will and do find and use their voices to speak up for and speak out against issues they find concerning to them. Climate change is not in their hands to act upon on a larger scale….yet. It is the adults in the room, those who vote or won’t vote, who can perform the actions that youngsters will perceive as ‘listening’ to them, or ‘understanding’ them.
The ‘old boy’ network is us, you and me. That club will certainly be dismantled very soon, and it will be these youngsters who will create that change. We must understand this reality. Having global networks of friends and colleagues and intimate partners is another reality that we must understand and accept. This is the 21st Century, and those old ‘conventional wisdoms’, are not wise at all.
We, as parents just have to understand new realities, adapt and adjust, and then, ‘play it by ear’. Parenting is no exact science.
By the way, that girl from the beginning of this post, was just fine. She didn’t actually steal anything after all. It was her ‘friends’, who were doing her a favor and trying to make her ‘hip’ and ‘with the times’. Parents need to remember that parenting, no science, must do likewise-change with the times. Your child will let you know when that happens, trust me. You’ll know.