I was talking to a mom at the baseball field last weekend. Her son is on Kid D’s team, the Padres. She also has a daughter in 5th grade and another son in high school. He is 16. We were bonding over the scourge of parenting teenagers. Because that crapfest is more complex than a Gordian knot.
Gordius was the King of the capital city of ancient Phyrigia (located in the Ankara Province of Turkey). He tied an intricate knot and prophesied that whoever untied it would become the ruler of Asia. According to ancient tradition (and Wikipedia), Alexander the Great simply walked over and lopped that thing off with his sword. And guess who was King of Asia from 331 – 323 BC?
As far as I can tell, one of the big hurdles with kids seems to revolve around one central theme… honesty. Even the best of them are inclined toward half-truths and omissions. “It is easier to get forgiveness than permission” is the song of their people. There are various degrees of lies being told and sundry ‘failed-to-mentions’ which they are failing to mention. And there does not always seem to be sound reasoning for the lack of candor. One of my kids lied the other day about taking a shower. To what end, you dummy? I just don’t get it.
So, when you kids get caught – oh, and you will get caught – whether it is for throwing a party at your house when your parents go out of town for the weekend, or for picking your boyfriend up before school even though it has been explicitly prohibited because of the very unsafe left turn out of his neighborhood, or for wearing yoga pants out in public even after your father has said very clearly and with very little exception, “NO YOGA PANTS TO SCHOOL,” we, as your parents, have to come up with suitable and effective penances in order to deter this bad habit.
Sheepdog and I over the years have employed penalties that run the standard gamut from ‘go to your room’ to ‘give up your phone.’ We have explained that lying begets more lying, it does no one – the liar or the person being lied to – any good, and, most importantly, it hurts your heart by causing guilt. It has proven most effective with our kids when there is a retributive theory of justice (the punishment fits the crime), but also when the punishment is tailored to the offender. I once heard a story from a mom who kept a pile of bricks in her backyard, which she would make her very logical son move from one location to the next for absolutely no purpose whatsoever, whenever he deserved punishment. Another mom made her daughter hold a sign up at a busy neighborhood intersection that said “I disrespected my parents by twerking at a school dance.” Now that’s hardcore. But was it actually effective with those particular kids? That is the ultimate question when it comes to punishments.
Recently, Kid A was making some bad choices. Sheepdog and I
sat her down and yelled had a discussion with her about the behaviors we wanted her to adjust. As incentive for her prompt alterations, we decided that she, an 18-year-old girl who has been driving her own car for two years, had to ride the dreaded bus to school. Dun dun dun!
Shortly after I texted Sheepdog, Kid A sent me a message that her boyfriend had just broken up with her. It was not a huge surprise given recent events, but she was still sad about it.
And now she’s all mad at me. Whatever. I’m just sitting here, trying to cut my way through this giant knot.
Wish me luck for tomorrow…