An Excerpt from Mary Ann's Blog
I have raised my own two teenagers. I have helped 30 more at-risk teens make it into and through college, I have taught and guided hundreds of teens in programs and commissions for many years. And through it all, teenagers and what I call “new adults” have remained my favorite people. Call me crazy but I find the years from 12 to the mid-20’s the most intriguing, exciting, interesting years of a person’s life. Sure, I’ve done the 2 AM worry-walk a few times. And I have had to appear at vice principal’s offices a couple of times. But I found that all in all it wasn’t so hard. I had a few basic guidelines and a fair amount of respect, for myself and the kids. And so the rest of it has been kind of easy Many people have asked my advice or my “tricks” for making this rollicking time in a family’s life so enjoyable and so successful. So here are some of the “secrets” I can share with you.
The Two Basic Rules
Let’s start with two simple rules. To initiate the rules, you need to begin from a positive point of view. A peaceful place, a quiet weekend morning or afternoon will do. Begin with a note of truth, followed by a note of optimism. Something like: “I’d like to make sure we are always in good communication with each other. You get what you need and I get what I need. So I am going to suggest two rules that I think will work for both of us….” Then launch in.
Rule Number One – You must have good manners. This means you must be kind to me and kind to others in the world. Don’t become a doormat. But do take care, whether it’s at the dinner table or getting onto a bus, that you treat people with respect.
Rule Number Two – As much as it is within your power, you must seek to survive me. Don’t do anything so stupid or so dangerous that it might get you killed. Your job is to live long after I do. These rules are so simple, they are almost laughable. You would think at first that they couldn’t do much. Yet, oddly enough, I have found over many years of practice that these rules cover a tremendous amount of ground. And here’s why.
As regards Rule Number One, though we often forget them, manners are the great civilizing power of our species. Manners are what keep us from punching people when we are angry. Manners steady us when the line at the post office seems so tedious. Manners help us slow down, and look before we act, think before we speak. In those moments where manners lay their claim, compassion often steps in, giving us a chance to not only act more reasonably but to see more clearly beyond our selves. This “seeing beyond one’s self” is one of the most important skills you can help your teen attain.
Every time we say please or thank you, or hold the door, carry a grocery bag, tell someone we love them, chew with our mouths closed, we are increasing our manners quotient and also improving our lives and the life of the world around us. Regardless of their personality or their developmental level, this rule helps your teen create their own guidelines for behaving well in the world. And that’s so much of what great parenting is all about – that a young person eventually becomes self –motivated and does not need us to remind them of what needs to be done. They can approach a situation on their own and give it what they know it rightfully needs.
Kids want to be decent human beings. They like to be treated well. And they can be persuaded, more times than not, to treat others well, too. Even if they don’t always follow the rule, or even if they give the impression of not listening, the rule has an inner engine that will, over time, do its work. Be patient. Don’t fight over it. Be firm. Step back. Let some time go. As time goes by you may see that the value of this edict can be very powerful.
Rule One gives your teen the guideline he or she needs to rectify many foibles: Forgetting to take out the garbage. Leaving wet laundry in the washing machine for two days. Borrowing clothes without asking. Forgetting to take videos back to the video store. Neglecting to call when they will be late for dinner. When you point out any of these misfortunes, say how you want the situation corrected and leave the conversation without threats or anger. You will be amazed at how often situations rectify themselves. So much for Rule One.
Rule Two as we have noted says: “As much as it is within your power, you must seek to survive me.” Because the rule states, “As much as it is within your power,” it offers your teen the chance to reason with their own power. Gradually as your teen grows up, the Rule puts them in the driver’s seat of their lives. They start by avoiding trying to hurt themselves because you have stipulated it as being for your sake. But ultimately they will see the wisdom of these words and start to make more judicious choices in general.
Rule Two covers a multitude of areas. It can be invoked to warn a teen off a crazy diet, or convince them to quit smoking. It can also help them to see that self-destructive behaviors may hurt others as well as themselves. This will give them an out when there is a crazy bungee-jumping-off-of-bridges escapade being planned. A breezy “My mother made me promise not to die before she does,” can show a sense of good humor in telling a friend “no.” This is the kind of “no” that just might save your kid’s life. And other kids’as well.
We don’t want to raise kids who cannot take risks, who are afraid of healthy adventure. We also don’t want to raise kids who think we don’t care, and because they think we don’t care will do things that they are not ready for or which will put them in high chances of mortal danger. When your child says, as each of mine has, “I’m going out to this party tonight and I’ve got a ride home,” and you say, “Who’s driving?” and they say “Jake.” And you say, “Isn’t Jake the kid who was kicked out of school for coming drunk to math class?” And your teenager says “Yeah,” then you’ve clearly got a Rule Two situation. You don’t want your child in a car with a person who has a drinking problem. So, you invoke Rule Two. And it probably will go like this:
“I’m invoking Rule Two here. Jake is a danger in my book. Find someone else to drive you.”
“I don’t know who. Someone else. Then let me know.”
“But I already told Jake I’d ride with him.”
“Find someone else.”
Being firm. Expressing your concern and offering an alternative solution will most often get you what you want. If not, bring out the big guns: “I could always turn up at the party, you know.”
Rule Two is like champagne. It’s meant to be served up only on special occasions. Using Rule Two to keep your child from joining a sports team or from going shopping with kids you think are dull, is not what it was made for. Using it to keep them from sleeping overnight at the home of a friend of a friend of a friend may be useful. You may be in negotiating mode here and that’s okay. You’re not being a coward. You’re reasoning yourself and your teen to a successful outcome. You’re heading up a family, not a military unit.
Rule One & Rule Two are so simple and so fair, and in a way, so funny to hear, that teenagers can get them and use them right away. Try them and see. What have you got to lose? They cost nothing. And they work.
Excerpted from Because Life is a Wild Ride – Raising a Sane and Successful Teeanager by M.A. Maggiore copyright 2012. Please do not reproduce this material without explicit and written permission from Mary Ann Maggiore.