I spend a lot of time talking about adulthood and how awesome it can be, because I didn't really have anyone to give me that perspective when I was a kid. It's nice to be able to give a heads-up to the next generation of dick-joke slingers before life teabags them in their sleep. But time does weird things to the mind, and it's important to be aware of that, because before you know it you're a parent and you've forgotten some extremely crucial things about teenagers, like ...
#5. Talking Isn't Enough After a Breakup
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All but a precious few of us have gone through a breakup, and the disappointing reality is that, just like everything in life, you get used to it only with practice. An average person getting spin-kicked in the face will probably take it with tears and some screaming ... but a UFC fighter learns to deal with the pain in order to not let it affect his fight. He's practiced enough to expect it and own it. I speak from experience on both examples. It's why they call me John "Can Take a Spin Kick in His Goddamn Face" Cheese.
As an adult, the process is pretty universal. Immediately after the breakup, we call up a friend and unload our pain like an emo with Tourette's. Once we get past that initial dumping ground, we do what it takes to move on, even if that process takes forever. We know that we've been through it before and there's a decent chance we'll go through it again. We know the logic and how to exercise it. That talk is all we needed to get the ball rolling, and that's largely due to the experience. The practice.
"I'll be fine in a few days. Just let me get this out of my system."
As a teenager, this is all new ground. Even if you've been through a few breakups, it's still new in the relative sense. The feelings of heartbreak, loneliness, depression, and sadness are like a solar flare to an adult's pilot light, because teenagers are still in the throes of new hormones and chemical changes that have no pity on the human emotional center. Dealing with that is overwhelming, and it's no wonder so many teens feel like it's impossible to ever move on. Their spin-kick isn't coming from a UFC fighter -- theirs is coming from Optimus Prime.
Talking with them isn't enough. It's not that they can't understand the logic behind moving on. Yes, they know that there are tons more single people out there. Yes, they know that they need to not linger on the past. But doing that is another monster entirely. They need to get up and do things, because activity is the sword that slays the dragon. Note: The dragon in this case is depression. If you find your teen having to battle an actual dragon, you'll need to form a balanced party of healers, a good tank, and some high-end DPS, working as a fluid team.
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"I'm casting shivering touch! WHEEEE!"
I'm not saying to ditch the talk. The talk is good. But follow it up with something fun that requires them to stay busy. It helps get their mind off of the bad memories, and having fun outside of that relationship trains the brain to associate good times with something besides their significant other. I suggest a strip bar. Or a Chuck E. Cheese's. If you can find a combination of the two, that would be perfect. Nothing cheers a person up like a gigantic pole-dancing mouse.
#4. Rebellion Is a Natural Necessity
There are two basic forms of parenting that I come across in everyday life, and I hardly see any in-between. There's the hardass disciplinarian who rules with a "my way or else" attitude. Every curfew, command, and rule has to be obeyed to the letter or the kid gets punished. I once worked with a 17-year-old whose mother confiscated every video game, game console, and DVD he owned (and had paid for himself) because he was 15 minutes late getting home from work. That's even after the boss called to tell her that he'd be running late, and it was our fault. She lived by the "a rule's a rule, and there are no exceptions because I am a crazy fuck" motto.
The other parental style is to let the kids do whatever they want. On the other side of Batshit Rule Mom was a mother I knew who let her daughters drink and do drugs in the house as long as she knew about it. She didn't have to be there to supervise or anything ... she just had to be told that they were doing it. They took advantage of that pretty much every weekend. During the summer, it was every night. Now, what I'm about to say may shock you, so make sure you're sitting down or standing on a soft surface in case you faint from the mental overload, but ... they grew up to be severe alcoholics and crack addicts.
Like this, except less smiling, more trashy, pregnant, and with a lot more vomit.
I understand that these are extreme examples, but we're talking about extreme parenting styles that both handled their children with the same goal: preventing rebellion. Allowing a kid to do whatever he wants prevents rebellion entirely, because there's nothing to rebel against. Going the opposite direction and keeping the teen under lock and key may prevent rebellion temporarily, but it's oppressive bullshit that serves only as a setup for him to rebel his way into some truly bad shit, especially during that first year of living on his own. That's how bad goth bands are started.
The best parents I've ever met know that there needs to be a leash, but they also know when to give it some slack. They know that rebellion is going to happen because it's nature's way of preparing the kids for a life without the security of mom and dad coming to the rescue with a lifelong safety net. The key is knowing which rebellious acts to stop and which ones to let go. "You want to have a party with alcohol? Fine, but it happens here, all their parents have to know, they all have to call me, and everyone stays the night." Or, "You want to get drunk and go on a road trip. Abso-fucking-lutely not. Never. It's not even up for discussion. Now put on this bunny suit and entertain a classroom full of toddlers as punishment for even thinking about that."
"I hate you so very, very much."
The key is knowing which battles you can let them win while under the flag of compromise. You teach them how to do it safely and responsibly. As for the things they simply cannot do, you explain why and tell them about the dangers. That doesn't mean that they won't do it behind your back, but your word carries a whole lot more pull when they realize, "Mom lets me do some things that other parents wouldn't even consider. If she's telling me this one is off the table, then it must be bad. Hell, I once saw her snap a man's neck just to see his expression change."
#3. Advice Is Just Words Until Personal Experience Confirms It
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Advice can be a subversive bitch. You never know if it's coming from a place of love and concern or just some asshole who wants to sound wise. That source is extremely important, because it lets you know if the information is trustworthy. A stream may start from a heavy rain, or it could come out of the ass end of a chemical production plant. You don't want to just stick your face in there and start drinking until you're sure which it is. Also, don't drink from streams. That's gross. Bring water with you if you're going to be walking around on trails.
"Hey, look. Someone left a pile of chocolate and seeds! DIBS!"
Adults have an advantage when considering advice, because we have a much larger stockpile of experiences to compare and contrast it against. If we've lived through the experience that the advice is warning against (or lobbying for), we can simply say, "Yeah, I've been through that. I totally agree." (Or, "You're a fucking idiot.") But even if we haven't been through it, we can compare it to other, similar experiences and make a pretty good educated guess on the outcome. "I went through five other things that are similar, so I can reasonably deduce that you are talking out of your ass. Stop texting me, Chad."
Teenagers don't have that luxury, because even though they have some life experiences, they aren't as diverse as a full-grown adult's. It's like they have a video game collection that's composed only of first-person shooters on Xbox. They've yet to try out other genres and consoles, so they don't know yet that you can't really compare Call of Duty to that dancing game in Kinect Star Wars. No matter how many times you warn them that it's going to suck, they won't fully understand until they're making Han Solo effeminately sway his hips to that nightmare-inducing song.
It's why, as a parent, saying "I told you so" acts as nothing more than a backhand to an emotionally injured teen. We don't mean it that way, of course. What we're trying to say is, "I was right when I gave you that advice, so you should put more trust into what I say to you." But to a teen on the receiving end, it comes out as, "See? I predicted your failure, and it came true. I am awesome, and you are a moron. I will always be smarter than you."
Both parties are much better off if the parent listens and then asks, "So what did you learn from that?" Then the teenager can add that experience to his collection and move on to the next. Those experiences build adulthood -- not words of advice.