Recently I had the pleasure of a long conversation with a friend (Rose) whom I haven’t seen in years. Her children range in age from 18 to 5 and she was sharing with me the difficulties they had with the eldest daughter when she was in her final year at high school. (All of their children have a ‘school’ history.) Rose’s family was known as the ‘stick- in -the- muds’, the ones who were strict and different from the rest because they did things together, as a family. In her final year of high school, Rose’s eldest daughter, Kate wanted to be ‘like the rest’. She wanted to go to the parties she hadn’t been allowed to go to. Even though it was well known that the young people at the parties were bent on using alcohol and drugs and sex for entertainment.
Eventually the parents compromised their own values and allowed Kate to attend a couple of selected parties, with a certain degree of supervision. Events and consequences were far from pleasant for her and for her parents. All the things they feared would happen, did, leading the parents and daughter to much confusion and heartache, and in different directions.
The focus of our conversation turned to what could be done about the whole social scene for teenagers in the community. Why does the graduation ceremony have to be followed by a party in which up to a thousand dollars worth of alcohol is consumed and the girls bent on ‘losing their virginity’ if they haven’t already done so? There are many questions we couldn’t answer but we decided that one thing we could do, was to eyeball as many young people when in town, taking an interest in them.
Rose also pointed out that we have playgroups and nursing mothers and tons of other support groups for early childhood but once parenting reaches adolescence, the support network is largely lacking. People don’t talk about the issues rising sexuality nor the questioning of authority. These, it seems, you don’t talk about in public! When she was openly discussing the problems her family was facing, people were surprised that she spoke in such detail. Why? When this is all yet another stage of growth for humans. The reason the parents compromised their values is because they felt isolated and began questioning their own values, replacing them with something less than they were comfortable with.
Some time ago a teenager told me she wished more people would talk about being a teenager and parenting teenagers in Stepping Stones. She wanted to know what other people are thinking and doing. My response at the time was a shy one, something like, “Oh, people don’t like to talk about those sorts of things. It’s awkward. We’d better not go there.” But after talking with Rose, I wonder why not? Why are we more shy to discuss challenges we have with parenting teenagers? When a two year old has tantrums, we talk about it. When a young teenager has tantrums, do we talk about it? Perhaps we are afraid of being judged as failures? We are in the process of turning our society from a judging one to a feeling one.