There’s so many child-raising issues my husband and I contend with as we try our best to guide these teenagers safely to adult hood, so many things our own parents never dreamed they’d be handling. For starters, there’s the acne treatments and facial hair management (son, your mustached French mother can relate to this one), the continuous exchange of fresh, clean clothing for smelly, pit-stained shreds of material, the constant restocking of refrigerator shelves and supervising daily air quality control (a fancy way of opening their bedroom windows just long enough to release the teenage funk from the air). We adjust attitudes, tweak the cheekiness and still manage to find them slightly loveable despite. Extremely loveable in fact.
So as you can probably gather, parenting teenagers requires one to demonstrate feats of bravery, unswerving dependability and an extreme dedication to see past the greasy, grumpy, greedy exterior, something my own parents were never faced with because things were different back in those days. Back in those big-haired, multicolored memories that occupy my mind somewhere between 1985 and 1995.
What’s that? No difference you say, between the plight of raising teenagers today or yesterday? Are you sure? Because although I vaguely remember giving my parents my parents a bit of occasional attitude, I’m fairly certain I didn’t have the same public temper tantrums my own teenagers do, except for that one time I hitched a ride to Fred Osgood’s barn so I could watch those cute upperclassmen shoot hoops. Turns out, if you don’t tell your mother where you’re going for several hours after school, she might do something drastic like show up to the barn with a roll of duct tape, two knitting needles, a rusty garden hoe and the sort of crazy-eyed glare that burns itself into your memory and still haunts you at age 36. I’m still not sure who or what my mother thought she was going to fend off with those weapons but, to this day, I’m sure that Fred’s neighbors still talk about the early spring screaming match of 1992. And maybe I didn’t keep the tidiest of bedrooms, maybe I did snowplow every dirty sock, dust ball, love note, empty lip gloss and chewed gum wad under my sister’s bed, leaving her to own the title of messiest daughter. It’s good that she’s no longer bitter towards me for it. Although just yesterday, out of the corner of my eye, I did glimpse her kicking two pillows off my couch; she insists it was an accident. And I might have found some harmless entertainment in dressing my six year old brother in lipstick and Easter dresses just so I could tell him how pretty he looked. I think he enlisted in the Marines to get the last laugh. And scare me a little into sleeping with one eyeball open.
Okay, okay. Many parallels of parenting teenagers will never change and isn’t there some comfort in that? You might feel slightly less alone knowing you’ve got present and past company, parents from decades long gone and decades still to come, journeying past their accepted limits and setting new ones as they endeavor, sometimes desperately and often effortlessly to raise their babies into adults.
But some things do change. Despite the unwavering nature of teenagers to curiously seek sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll (metaphors are fun!), what happens when accessibility to the very influences parents try to limit gradually becomes easier? What happens when the developing, transforming teenaged brain is too often allowed to make mature decisions? What happens when technology offers our teenagers glamorous experiences and little to no heed is paid to the possible consequences? What happens when the adults with their successfully rewired, fully developed brains can’t often resist those same experiences? How can we possibly keep them safe if we are teetering on the edge ourselves?
On average, how many adults do you see texting while driving each day? One, two, ten? I see at least that many eyeballs looking away from the road and instead down at their lap, hoping to avoid being caught as a distracted driver, but unable to resist the urge to check on their connections. The compelling irresistibility of that blinking red light, the slight vibration, the happy ding reminding us that we’re special, we’re wanted by somebody else, that we’re connected and not alone. I’ve done it. I’ve texted while driving and I’m ashamed to admit it. I believe the majority of adults have felt the powerful urge to access their device, even though they were in control of a moving vehicle. And I’m not trying to place blame; I’m trying to find a way to teach my teenagers to resist those same urges, despite them having less maturity and possessing less reasoning ability.
Do as I say and not as I do? Or do as I do and please do as I say without giving me too much crap? Having four teenaged eyeballs scrutinizing my every move has proven to be, by far, the most effective way to put my phone away when I’m the driver. They might roll their eyes at me, sigh loudly at my annoying requests for clean bedrooms and protest my super lame parenting, but I will not, cannot, underestimate my influence on them, both good and bad. When it’s no longer just about my bad decision making, but about helping them with good decision making, it saves me from myself and them from ever making the same mistakes I did…hopefully. So I put the phone down in the car and talk about no texting while driving, and then? How do I know I’ve gotten through to them? When I see a teenaged driver on my morning commute with one hand on the wheel and one hand on her phone, I can’t help but wonder …what if her mother does what I do? What if she’s been taught and positively influenced to drive, not text? How do we stop this critically dangerous behavior?
Although I’ve only got one teenager heading into driver’s education this spring, I’m going to share this video with them. Because, as gut-wrenchingly difficult as this video is to watch, is it not the exact reality we’re trying to avoid for our teenagers? For ourselves? I will show them and then I will hug them and promise to clean their bathroom forever if they never ever text and drive. Or I will just hug them and hope they grow to be smarter than me someday.