The Parenting Maelstrom: 3 Teens, 1 Home, Infinite Hormones

Family
This is a stock photo.  If it were my family, one of the children would be trying to push the other into the surf. With more eye make-up on.

In our family, we have 3 growing and healthy teens (okay, technically one isn’t a teen until August, but whatever–the hormonal unrest started long ago, so I’m lumping her in with the other two).  This makes for a definite challenge in the parental realm as we try to navigate the clutches of puberty, neurological growth, societal pressures and, God help us, social media access.  And that’s along with, as my 94-year-old Grandma would say when I watched General Hospital as a teen at her house, “All the smut on television.”

I haven’t figured much of this out, yet, and seem to live on a wing and a prayer most days (It is a truth universally acknowledged that your Developmental Psychology Ph.D. does not keep you from crying when one of your kids yells “I hate you” right to your face. Or from wanting to yell something equally nasty back in the heat of the moment).

Parenting teens is hard work, much like any form of care-giving, parenting or otherwise, is.  The biggest  challenge for me lately has been to step back as the co-leader of the family and check my compulsive need to address any disrespect or noncompliance. When my children were younger, I felt rather confident in administering the checks and balances of my parental realm. My children needed an authority figure, and my husband and I enacted that role with as much consistency as we could provide.

And then puberty hit, and our children started thinking differently, feeling differently, and seeing the world differently.  Authority no longer had as much power or derived as much adherence as it once did.  Instead, we now find ourselves embarking on the long and bumpy road towards equality. Granted, we won’t hit it until our children are out of the house and independent adults, but the seeds of our children’s independence are being sown now, as young teens grasping for freedom while still within the safety of our home.

And although I navigate this path better some days than others, the ultimate key skill I feel I’ve had to develop more and more is a basic one: Emotion Regulation.

Emotion regulation, or emotion control, is a core skill we begin to develop as young infants. It is the ability to inhibit emotional impulses and engage in more planful behavior surrounding our emotional responses. In particular, learning how to regulate anger and disappointment is a necessity for navigating any social group.  As young children, we hopefully learn when we are younger how to tell someone what is bothering us instead of hitting them. Over time, we understand the importance of congratulating others on achieving something we weren’t able to do, like winning a competition or getting the date we wanted to the prom.

And, as adults and caregivers, we learn how to stay quiet when our teenage children attempt to provoke us into verbal combat, instead speaking assurances that we love them ‘no matter what’ when everything has calmed down.  We learn how to ignore the disgusting cess-pool of inside-out socks on the floor and instead congratulate them on their A- earned for their English project. We learn to tell them they look lovely, even when we hate (I mean, hate!) the outfit they are wearing.

Teen
Is this dress-code appropriate?  Hang on–your school doesn’t have a dress code. What?!?

Because parenting is ultimately about raising our children to be competent and caring members of society.  As adolescents, they understand right from wrong.  They know the rules and how to follow them.  And they see the world as a quickly opening, and yet often intimidating, place. Home becomes a haven to let out their frustrations and worries and insecurities.

So, each day I try to breathe deep, count to 10 (just like Mom taught me when I was little–everything old is new again!), and let the nasty comments and snide looks roll off me.  These, in the grand scheme, are minor infractions and pin-pointing each one with a disciplinary remark or consequence would prove counterproductive.  If I did that, my  attention would solely be focused on what they are doing wrong, thereby ignoring everything they are doing right.

My kids work hard, they care about our family and do their chores regularly without complaint, and they often (of course not always, but often) choose right from wrong. I am confident that, eventually, they will seek out my husband and I for closeness and companionship again, but until then I know that all of this angst and button-pushing from them is a sign that they are growing and developing.

And as any parent will tell you, seeing your child grow in a healthy and normal way is always a balm to the heart (even if that ‘normal’ involves calling you a sadist for asking them to take the stinky trash out).

 

 

 

Lifelong Learning: Lessons from a Prof on #Modern Romance

 

 

 

This semester I’m teaching a course called The Transition to Adulthood. It’s a senior level course that has evolved (partly as a result of research on emerging adulthood still focusing for the most part on the college experience) to be a class that examines the developmental experience of college students. For their written project, I decided to try something a little different, as much for my own benefit as their’s (nobody wants to grade research article summaries–if they say they do, you have my permission to slap them in their pompous face).

I assigned them Aziz Ansari’s and Eric Klinenberg’s new-ish book, Modern Romance, which provides a hilarious yet informative presentation of sociological data collected for the purposes of understanding the modern dating scene and, as proved inevitable, the ‘phone world’ Millennials (and many other people) live in now.

I just graded the first wave of essays, which required students to track 2 hours of phone usage for themselves or a willing friend during a time with heavy ‘social traffic’ and then write about patterns that emerged in the data.  The next essay will ask them to connect those patterns back to the data in Modern Romance.

I can honestly say that, in my decade of college teaching, I have never enjoyed grading an assignment so much.  These essays gave me insight into the lives of my students that a more standard research project would have never afforded.  And, to my great delight, the observations my students made about the integration between their phones and their social lives were not just revealing, but totally endearing too. Here’s what I learned:

Image result for snapchat

 

 

 

Lesson 1: College students LOVE Snapchat (and not just for sending d*** pics)!  As a mother of teens who reads way too many articles about how social media might fuel depravity, I honestly thought Snapchat was used primarily for sending pics of particular body parts. What I discovered, instead, is that my students stay connected to friends back home or siblings via brief Snap videos or pictures that showcase how they look and feel that day. For busy young adults, these served as a way to affirm feelings for each other, support each other through difficult experiences, or just share a laugh.

 

Lesson 2: GroupMe is for Everyone. Back when I graduated high school, the idea of staying connected with friends back home while you were at college was something you said at the end of August during tearful goodbyes, and then forgot about until you were trying to decided to invite your high school bff to your wedding or not. Keeping high school friends was just too difficult, save for a few really special connections. In contrast, my students reported that they often have GroupMe set up with their friends back home, such that group text messages are sent to keep their friendship circle up-to-date with their life’s happenings.  In fact, in my small (and admittedly non-representative) sample of more male students used GroupMe to stay in touch with their high school friends than female students. One young man wrote that his friends would text each other daily, just to stay informed about each other’s lives. A decidedly different approach from what I saw in both men and woman I graduated with back in the late ’90s.

Lesson 3: The Game is On. In almost every single time-log, there was a pattern where a romantic interest or significant other would not respond quickly enough to a text, to which my student would then delay their response even further, leading to another delay on the receiver’s end, and so on. While playing the waiting game, though, my students reported feeling anxious and constantly checking their phones to see if their object of interest had texted back yet, even though they played it cool in the timing of their actual replies.  It struck me that so much power is embedded in the texting relationship for whomever was the receiver last, and that to be the last sender was a precarious and stressful position to find yourself in.  No wonder my students literally whip their phones out even before I finish saying we’re done for the day!

 

Lesson 4: ‘Life’ Cycle. Most of my students reported circulating through their social media apps, e-mails, and texts in one fluid motion that never ended.  They’d check Instagram, then Tinder, then Snapchat, then e-mail, then texts (or these would be on automatic push notifications already), and back to Insta. Their phone worlds were a constant vortex of activity in their efforts to stay updated and responsive to their friends.  Some of my students noted that it was a little exhausting at times, but worth it for the amount of support and connectivity it afforded them.

So there you have it.  College students might seem to fetish-ize their phone to the point of it being a second appendage, but it’s not for mindless reasons. We humans are social creatures–Millennials included or, perhaps, especially so.