Roger Marolt: Roger This
August 26, 2010
It’s back to school and soon adolescents throughout the land where many live but where they alone exist will find themselves deeply engrossed in the required reading of the Old Testament of teen angst, “The Catcher in the Rye.” I remember my own youthful connection with Holden Caulfield: failing out of boarding school, taking the train home a few days early without the parents’ knowledge, checking into a big-city hotel to chill a few days before facing the music. It was all so real to me: the booze, the cigarettes, the prostitutes, elevator-man thugs with hair-trigger fists anxious to settle measly five-buck pimp debts. Except for the details and generalities, my life was exactly like that, and, by Jove, I was going to be misunderstood just like Holden Caulfield whether my parents got it or not. “Sure as hell I’ll put some gas in your car the next time I borrow it to go to baseball practice, and you can just bet I’ll stop by the store for a gallon of milk after my orthodontist appointment! You people! Can’t you see what you’re putting me through?!” Anyway. I am not here to make light of the teen years. They’re tough. At that point in life you have everything except the one thing you need the most – an identity. If you’re lucky you’ll get one by your early 20s and go on to live a fruitful life. If not, you’ll wake up one day in a place like Aspen on a rent-to-own futon and one of your roommates will be there to break the awesome news – “Your first Social Security check came today. Let’s party!” Good luck, kids. But, what many people forget is that there couldn’t be much teen angst without parental anguish bellowing its fire. If adults could remain level-headed and calm until the gushing hormone wellheads were capped there would be no story here. Unfortunately, we are all poets at heart and, thus, can’t resist the drama. We exaggerate circumstances and let our emotions run wild, proving that puberty is an extremely contagious brain infection. It all starts with education. Your child is going to get grades. Any combination of grades is torment for parents. If a child is getting all “A’s” you worry that they are not being challenged, which will lead to boredom and an eventual heroin addiction. If their grades are poor, you worry that they will get frustrated and drop out of school, which will also lead to an eventual heroin addiction. A collection of average grades portend average potential in life, which is far worse than being addicted to heroin.The solution, of course, is to guide your child into the right group of peers that will provide positive influence. This is called managing your child’s social life and has been proven effective in graying your hair just before it begins falling out. It works something like this: If your kids are socially active, they stay out all hours and you lie awake wondering if they will ever come home again. If they don’t have a social life, they waste countless hours playing video games and you lie awake wondering if they will ever leave the house again. Say that your child doesn’t have a date for the homecoming dance. It’s a sure sign that they are not “popular.” You wonder if they are a social outcast; imagining their days spent lurking in dark shadows of the school hallways, darting stealthily from nook to cranny like a mouse in the science lab at midnight, doing all sorts of unimaginable things with a group of like-minded devil-worshiping Goths, avoiding gym teachers who might pester them into being the manager for the track team. On the other hand, what if they do get a date to the homecoming dance? That’s a sure sign that they are “popular.” This makes you wonder if they have any values at all; imagining their days spent lurking in dark shadows of the school hallways, darting stealthily from nook to cranny like shoppers at an Abercrombie & Fitch clearance sale, doing all sorts of unimaginable things with a group of like-minded, trophy-worshiping preppies, avoiding teachers who might sign them up for volunteer work that won’t even count as credit toward their IB diploma. The answer, of course, is sports to keep the kids busy and out of trouble. Your sincere and simple wish is that your child makes the team. All you care is that they participate. Then it gets complicated. If your child makes the “C” team, you worry that they’ll be disappointed because they didn’t make J.V. If they get moved up to J.V. then you are concerned that they didn’t make varsity. If they happen to get onto to the varsity squad, you worry about the amount of playing time they are getting. If they become a starter, you worry about their nerves. If they get really nervous, you worry that they are taking things too seriously. If they don’t get nervous at all, you worry that they lack ambition. If they become a seasoned first-team all-state bone fide blue-chip superstar, you worry about their performance in front of Division I college scouts. If they perform poorly, you worry about destroyed self-confidence. If they perform well, you worry about it going to their head (see discussion on being popular above). The school play and Science Club present similar problems.The point is that it’s as tough to be the parent of a teenager as it is to be a teenager. And, the problem stems from the fact that by the time kids reach puberty it becomes evident that they are not going to be the people we tell them to be, but rather they are well on their way to becoming the people that we are. For that reason it is impossible not to worry! Our one hope is that this is not fatal dysfunction, but rather nature’s way of telling us to love thy offspring by loving thy self. If that is the case, maybe this shared chaos is meant to be the last meaningful bonding experience between parent and child. I’ll hold you tightly. You hold me tightly. I promise we’ll regain our sanity together, Kiddo.Roger Marolt knows that the only experts on raising teenagers are single people without kids sitting in first class. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.