Let the teen years roll along

The comment that my children are “amazingly well behaved” accompanied an email forward of a video-gone-viral that has blanketed the media. The video features a father so fed up with his snotty teenage daughter that he read her the riot act before videotaping himself shooting her laptop in retaliation.

Some called it child abuse. Me, I love that guy.

I do, however, worry when a comment or question leads me to think that I may have left the wrong impression. That I’ve indicated, for example, that my children are “perfect.”

I’m not sure whether it was the column best titled Raised by Wolves or the evidence of paintball in my living room published just last week that led to this startling conclusion. What I do know is that nothing could be further from the truth.

Believe

I have long said I don’t “believe” in the teen years. Oh, I believe the ages and stages do exist. I simply do not condone allowing crazy, disrespectful behavior based on age alone.

I no more give a pass to “they’re just teens” than I would allow a biting un-toilet trained toddler to remain unchecked and untrained because “she’s just 3!”

Yes, in both cases ages and stages matter. However, it is our job as parents to change that behavior, not shrug and point to a calendar as if it is completely out of our control and, better yet, will somehow magically pass with no intervention on our part.

My children are 12 and 14 years old. We are just starting in to the era of significant sighs and eye rolling. I don’t allow sass. What I do with my kids is tell them they are entitled to their feelings, but not to visit them on other people.

Wallow, seethe, whatever makes you feel better please do it quietly and to yourself. You cannot, however, be rude. My theory is that we all have negative energy and bad moods but we must learn to control them.

Employers, teachers and society in general should not have to put up with us. Learning to bottle up our emotions or express them appropriately (and, one hopes, privately) is a valuable life skill. Harrumphing through life expecting everyone else to accommodate and knowledge that you are having a bad day is a recipe for plenty more bad days if you ask me.

Whatever

I try to set up consequences for basic behavior issues that are easy to remember and cause a child to question if the “release” of the action is worth it. When our son developed the maddening habit of mumbling under his breath as he walked away and then responding “Nothing” when asked what he said I instituted a new rule.

If you mumble it will be assumed you said something inappropriate. After a few rounds of scorched Earth punishment on the order of having uttered a profanity when what he likely said was “Whatever!” he got the message. “Whatever” is not a snappy comeback and mama is embarrassed for you if you try. Own your words.

I do allow more debate than some might. I believe children should learn to defend and explain their position. I reserve the right to change my mind if they make a compelling argument. Being a parent doesn’t mean being inflexible or unwilling to admit when I am wrong.

At the point when my child is just in the throes of a teen tantrum, however, I remove them and/or myself. It’s actually the same rule that works well with toddler tantrums. Remove the audience. Few of us, at any age, want to waste a really good dramatic performance on ourselves.

Work

My final advice comes purely from geography. I’ve heard of excellent and well meaning parents, who are at wit’s end with disciplining their kids. They’ve taken away every modern convenience. The cell phone, the computer, the television. You name it, it’s gone. Still the child’s impulsively poor behavior persists.

We took a look at our hardworking “country” neighbors and realized something else entirely. They seem to “add to” the child’s life in punishment — and not necessarily in a happy way. Around here, punishment is more of the chopping firewood and cleaning the barn variety.

It’s not something anyone wants to do more of. I like to think it fosters self-expression. A child can eye roll and sigh all he or she wants, as long as they are shoveling manure or stacking firewood while they do it.

I don’t suffer the delusion that my children are infallible or that we won’t eat some crow along the way. Our aim, Mr. Wonderful and I, is not to have perfect children. It is that when they are imperfect, as we all are, people don’t say “well of course, anyone could see that coming,” but, rather, “they tried, Lord how they tried.”

Also that nobody mumbles. Ever.

About the Author

Warm, witty and just a wee bit warped, Kymberly Foster Seabolt is a native of Kent, Ohio, who survived childhood exposure to disco and grew up to marry and move to the country. Her column weaves her special brand of humor with poignant, entertaining, and honest portrayals of parenting, marriage, and real life. She currently lives in northeastern Ohio with her husband, two children, two dogs, two cats, and numerous dust bunnies who wish to remain nameless. More Stories by Kymberly Foster Seabolt

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