“Stop!” I yell to my 15 and a half -year-old, my oldest son, who just received his driving learning permit. My heart is racing. He wasn’t likely close to colliding in the grass near the trees in the parking lot, but it felt like it was close to me.
Yes, I know, I sound a little nutty, but until you drive with your child for the first time, you don’t realize a car really is a powerful machine your child is maneuvering.
Dr. Kenneth R. Ginsburg, author of “Congrats—You’re Having a Teenager! Strengthen Your Family and Raise a Good Person” writes in an American Academy of Pediatrics article “Independence, One Step at a Time” that adolescence is naturally filled with opportunities for trial and error and ultimately success.
“Your challenge is to make sure your adolescent learns from day-to-day mistakes rather than views them as catastrophes,” he writes. “At the same time you need to be vigilant in helping your teen avoid those errors that could cause irreparable harm. Just as importantly, you want to ensure your child doesn’t miss out on the many possibilities for growth that are coming along.”
Those catastrophes to avoid include your teen getting a bad grade on a test, a relationship that goes wrong or not getting the job or making the team.
Between eating, sleeping, phone or computer time — you might not find out what happens until later. In fact, as a parent, you might be feeling more alone. Your child seems to live in their room, or they are doing an activity on their own — and they don’t need you right now.
But, what I found is they do need you, more than ever.
“The answer undeniably is that parents matter as much, if not more than ever, but unfortunately, parents get a lot of information that suggests you don’t,” Ginsburg says in an Oct. 18 Washington Post article “The dread of ‘the teen years’ is misplaced — and holding parents back” by Kristen Mei Chase. “Parents are the most important people in kids’ lives, and every piece of research says that adolescents care deeply about what their parents think.”
What can you do when they start to pull away (like, endless hours in their room)? Talk to them. For my son, a way to open the door is food and drink. Everything’s better when Mom picks up his favorite iced tea and we chat about his day. Not really a truth serum, but it’s that small gesture that makes a difference.
While my days are numbered taking him to school, it’s good to connect with him while I have him in the car. And I just don’t pepper him with questions, but he responds to me better when he feels like we are having an adult conversation.
While I do nag a bit, about grades and chores (or simple things like not leaving two pieces of cereal in the box and putting it back on the shelf, recently, four boxes were like that.) I feel that’s my job as a parent. I also want to make sure he has all the opportunities and that means encouraging him to have a little independence — go to the Friday night game, join the school club or go to the dance — be a teen.
It’s funny, I told him, since this was our High School Education Guide issue, I was going to write a column about high school. He had some good ideas that I might do later, but we talked about all the woes of high school and pressures that may come as he ventures out on his own. While I trust him as any parent can trust a teen, I still feel the need to get out the imaginary bubble wrap. Shield him from all the adulthood worries for a little while longer.
For now, I will settle with trying to enjoy these last two years of high school with him.