A few things I’ve learned about teens, conflict, and discipline

I like teenagers. Good thing, too, as we currently have five teenaged kids living in our house (as well as two kids who have graduated to full-blown adulthood). They’re so much nicer to be around than when I was that age. They’re fun to talk to (well, sometimes); they’re funny (well, sometimes); they’re creative and interesting and helpful (well, sometimes). I like teenagers.

Well, sometimes. A lot of the time.

But still, there is conflict.  A teenager’s body grows in fits and starts, and not always in graceful proportions; and their psyches are doing the same thing. Even when they’re not suffering from hormonal tumult, they’re trying to make what is truly an excruciating transition from childhood to adulthood. It can get ugly. And no, I’m not always patient and understanding. But I’m also not always the raging volcano of injustice and retribution I was afraid I would be.

Conflict, and the need to impose discipline, are pretty much inevitable when you’re raising a teenager; but unless there are serious mental health problems and/or your teen is doing something massively dangerous or destructive like using hard drugs or running away from home, it should be possible to have a relationship that includes things besides conflict and discipline.

Here are a general principles I’ve learned…

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Image: by daveynin via Flickr –  Creative Commons

Let’s treat retail and service workers like human beings

This year, I have three kids working in retail. One is at a giant arts and crafts store chain, one is at a deli counter in a supermarket, and one is at a popular coffee shop.

One has had potato salad thrown at her. One has had her teeth insulted. And one just started his new job yesterday, so nothing bad happened yet, but his last job was at an old-fashioned candy shop, and you’d be amazed to see how spectacularly nasty people can be when they’re surrounded by jars of brightly colored sugar.

When my kids get home from work, they often dejected and bitter about the interactions they had with customers. These are decent, competent kids who really make an effort to do what is expected of them; but just because they’re behind a cash register or have an apron on, so many customers allow themselves to vent their spleen and call them names, insult their intelligence, blame them for things they can’t possibly control, or just treat them with disgust, rolling their eyes, sighing noisily, flapping their hands with disdain. I know it’s only going to get worse as it gets closer to Christmas. If Christmas shopping is a beast, they all work right in the heart of that beast. 

Customers are stressed out and overwhelmed by all the shopping and planning that needs to get done (or at least, that they’ve convinced themselves needs to get done). I’ve been there! When lots of people are depending on you to fulfill their expectations, it’s hard to keep perspective.

But really. Everyone. When is it ever more important to keep your perspective? If you’re not going to treat strangers well when you’re preparing for the birth of Christ, then when are you going to treat strangers well? The day after Christmas? The day after that? Maybe on your death bed?

Let’s all make a resolve to get this right, this year. Lots of people working retail and service jobs just got hired, and are just learning the ropes right when it’s busiest and everyone is at their most demanding.

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Image by Pedro Serapio from Pixabay

You can always come back

One Sunday afternoon, I posted on Facebook:

“Reasons the Fishers left their pew this morning:
Had to go to the bathroom.
Also had to go to the bathroom.
Had to check ketones and bolus.
Had to go to the bathroom after all.
Had to take migraine meds.
Had to get to work.
Had to leave the building entirely because, while the four-year-old could behave herself, her puppy Crystal could not.
BUT WE ALL CAME BACK EVENTUALLY.”

I’m not sure how the other parishioners feel, but I have no problem with this level of traffic during Mass. We’d rather keep a lighter grip on the reins, and let the kids do what they need to do, as long as they always come back. And we do always come back.

When I was a teenager, I also didn’t sit in the pew. I did come to Mass with my parents, because they expected it, but I never made it as far as the pew. I would lurk sulkily in the back of the church, glowering at the little red votive candles as they flickered in their cups. Sometimes I would sit on the steps to the choir loft, my head between my knees, hating every moment of it. I never prayed, I never went to confession. I chose the path of misery for years, rather than sit in the pew.

And you know, I eventually came back. Look at me now! I’m so Catholic, the Jehovah’s Witnesses barely even try. I’m sure my parents were worried when I started to stray as a teenager, but they knew they were playing the long game. They kept a pretty loose grip on the reins, and I think that’s a good principle.

Almost as if to illustrate this principle: During that same Mass I described above, where my family spent most of the hour coming and going and to-ing and fro-ing, the pastor made an announcement: An elderly couple in the parish would have their marriage convalidated. They’d been in a civil marriage for many years but had recently come back to the Church . . .

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Image: Public Domain

Is Christmas alive in your heart today?

If you think of the liturgical year as a lifetime, the Christmas season is a very brief babyhood, just a bright little sliver on the pie chart, and the dark wedge of Lent hits right around the teen or early adult years.

Doesn’t that explain a thing or two?

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A reading list for Catholic teens and young adults

A frequent question: What books are good for Catholic teenagers and young adults looking to deepen their faith? I have some suggestions!

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Confirmation candidates need Eucharistic Adoration

There is no one for whom Adoration is a bad fit. Shy? You don’t have to even make eye contact with anyone. Love ritual and tradition? Bring a rosary or say the Liturgy of the Hours. Prefer to free-form it? Go for it. Not sure what your relationship with God is or is supposed to be? Just be there. Not in a state of grace? Be with the Lord so you can hear Him calling you home. Have a hard time sitting still? Make it a short visit. Like doing things in community with others? There is perpetual adoration going on all over the world all the time. Like private, individual worship? It’s just you and Him.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Photo by Jeffrey Bruno via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Why isn’t there more advice about raising teenagers?

These feelings of helplessness are actually a good thing, assuming you all survive. It’s a good thing to realize that you’re no expert, you’re no genius, you’re no bottomless font of wisdom. It’s a good thing to realize that your child is not a robot to be programmed, or an empty sack to be filled with whatever habits and preferences and traits and skills you choose.

What your child is is a unique, irreplaceable immortal being with terrifyingly free will and a lot less self-knowledge than he had a few years ago; and what you are is someone who loves your kid and wants the best for him, but is so far from being in control, it’s laughable.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image by Ryan McGuire via Pixabay

When a teenage girl reports being raped

Why wait to report rape? All you have to do is report it, and then the bad guy will be punished, the good girl will be protected, and justice will be served. Here’s one American expressing a typical point of view on the topic this morning:

And here’s a short essay from the loving parent of a teenage girl who was raped — not thirty-five years ago, but last December. They did report it as soon as they possibly could, and now they are living through the very typical aftermath of what very often happens next. 

Spoiler: Justice was not served. The author is my friend of twenty years.

***

I spent the weekend sitting in the emergency room with my teenage daughter. I do mean the whole weekend, 48 hours of it. She was inching towards suicidal plans again, Googling ways to overdose.

She’s been an inpatient before, twice, after a previous suicide attempt. Her father and I confronted her about her plans and asked her if she needed to go back into a psychiatric hospital to be safe and get help. She asked if she could think about it. Two hours later she told us, yes, she felt like she needed to go back. So we went to the emergency room to wait for a bed on a unit somewhere. After the emergency room, she spent the next five days in an inpatient mental health facility.

Here is what led up to this day:

In December she was at an event with friends and started to feel sick. A male acquaintance of hers offered to take her home. But before he brought her home, he turned off into a dark parking lot and raped her.

She told him no. She did her best to physically resist. There was no confusion about consent there.

Then he brought her home where she began the dark spiral of self-blame. She had flirted with him in the past, they had texted. There may have even been some talk of “getting together.” So she did her best to just push it away and move on.

Trauma doesn’t work like that, though. Her body responded violently. Over the next two months, she would vomit multiple times a day, often going days at a time without holding down any substantial food. We sought every medical solution we could find to help her, but with only limited success. Because we were just putting a band-aid on a broken leg.

In June, we started observing her even more closely and discovered some concerning information about how she’d been spending her time. Together, her dad and I talked to her about it. She told us that on top of all we found, she had been raped back in December. There was a whirlwind of trying to get her every kind of help we could at this point, but that is not what this is about. My own self-doubt and distress having to think of my child going through this or memories of my own traumatic experiences are not what this is about either, but those were extreme too.

It took two more months before she felt like she was ready to make a police report. In August, she made the report. It took two more weeks for the detective to finally make an appointment for her to come in and make a statement.

I knew that would be hard for her. She would have to talk through the whole story, which she had only done with her therapist to this point.  But it was much worse than I imagined. It shattered her all over again.

The detective was a friendly, young guy. He talked to me first and asked me all about what I knew. He asked why we had waited so long to report this. I told him that we found out well after it had happened, and since there wasn’t any physical proof, our first priority was to get her some help and try to get her a little bit stabilized.

Then he talked to her. It took a very long time. He called me back in when she was trying to pull herself back together in the bathroom. He asked me if I knew about her other experiences with boys. I did. He asked me if I knew what kind of pictures and texts she had, at one point, had on her phone. I did. When she came back into the room he told us that he would interview the boy she was accusing, but if he asked for a lawyer, they would drop the case. Because it was her word against his.

The detective talked to him the next day. He asked for a lawyer. The police dropped the case.

So while this boy carried on with his senior year, playing football, hanging out with friends, my daughter ended up sitting in a locked room feeling violated all over again when she was told that for her own safety, she couldn’t have her bra. Or her sweatshirt. Or her journal or any writing utensil but crayons. For her safety.

While this family goes on with life as usual, we are buried under medical bills. His father gets to go watch his son’s games. I pick my daughter up from school after another major panic attack.

While he stayed at school with his friends, she switched schools so that she wouldn’t have to face the trauma of seeing him every day. While he gets by without having to say a word, she is questioned extensively and in graphic detail about what really happened and about her mental health and sexual history.

But it is just her word against his.

***

Related: If she was sexually assaulted, why didn’t she say something sooner?

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

“IDK How But They Found Me” puts on a great, gracious show

What an exciting week I’m having! We just got back from the seacoast, 2+ hours away, where I was acting as chaperone for the third and fourth grade on a tide pooling expedition. My phone died without warning on the way home, and I had to get myself and four kids back to school JUST BY BEING SMART. This is a MAJOR triumph for someone who has spent most of her life either lost or about to get lost.

Yesterday, we went to the beach with my father and had a cookout; and the day before that, I drove three young parsons to The Palladium in Worcester, MA, to watch a show, which had VERY LOUD music and NO CHAIRS TO SIT ON. My college girls were looking for cheap shows for the summer, and came across this duo, I Don’t Know How, But They Found Me.

Was I expecting to enjoy myself? Nnnnnot really. I listened to a few songs, and they seemed like a fun band, kind of emo but with a sense of humor. I liked this song:

The lead singer and bassist, Dallen Weekes, used to be in Panic! At the Disco, which I have heard of because I have teenagers– specifically, teenagers who have discovered that life is too short to be too cool to listen to pretty okay music. I’m sorry, I can’t stop talking. I’m so tired. Anyway, Worcester more or less shuts down at 5 p.m., so we were tramping around looking for an open restaurant, and came across the other member of IDK How But They Found Me, Ryan Seaman. My daughter got up the nerve to ask for a selfie, which he cheerfully agreed to.

Nice guy, although rather blue around the hair. So then we got some sammiches, the waited in line for an hour while I cursed my shoe choice and worried about this girl ahead of us, who was wearing fishnet stockings under her skin-tight jeans. How itchy! Gosh. Then they patted us down, because it’s Worcester. I thought to myself more than once as we waited for a million years, “We, as a group, may not smell great.”

The opening band was pretty crappy. They could sing, but not well enough to justify their terrible attitude. Some kind of emo punk thing, but even more boring than usual. Then the guy’s shirt fell off almost immediately, and he was just this skinny little thing! My stars. My feet hurt so much and my purse was getting heavier and heavier (also I had brought my jacket because I thought it might be chilly. It was not chilly), but the floor was a little sticky, and the girl next to me was flailing herself around, so I just kept holding it. Hello, my name is Eunice, and I am 83 years old. Papa was a general in the war, and he told me never to put down my purse, and I never did.

So finally the headliner band came out, and instantly, the night was rescued. Really good stuff! The lead singer really worked for the audience’s attention every last minute. Here’s a little scrap one of my kids caught:

A post shared by ✨Lena ✨ (@missfortune1977) on

He had complete control of that room. It was kind of amazing. It took me a while to put my finger on it, but he was essentially telling emo dad jokes the whole time, and it was so much fun. He had me singing along to songs I’d never heard before. Here’s one of their songs that you’ve probably heard:

Solid song. The singer/bassist and the drummer were clearly having fun, and seemed to enjoy being together. It wasn’t just a concert, it was a whole act. They played a good, long set, and then came out for an encore, which was “Nobody Likes The Opening Band” (see above).

But, he made sure everyone knew he wasn’t talking about the actual opening band; but it was a song about how no one wants to get involved with new, unfamiliar things, but give them a chance, and maybe it’ll turn into something good. Then, halfway through the song, he stopped and called out the lead singer of the actual opening band, and had him sing a special verse, which was “nobody likes the headlining band.”

Wasn’t that nice? The opening band really did suck, but here was a roomful of a few hundred pierced, tattered, silly-haired young parsons who were very eager to be extremely edgy, all watching and adoring this undeniably very cool man going out of his way to be gracious and generous to someone who could be considered his competitor. Maybe it was the pain in my feet, but I was quite moved.

So they don’t have an album out yet, and only have a few original songs, but they are touring around, and boy those were some cheap tickets, so grab some if you can! It was a good performance in every way.

Then we drove home and I got pulled over twice. Humph. Nobody likes the lady with out-of-state plates driving maybe a little bit on the quick side after midnight.

How long can you avoid summer employment? A quiz

Have you finally turned 16? Have you run out of excuses for spending the summer lying on your neck and building Minecraft volcanoes to throw your chickens into?  If you are in the middle of a job hunt, here are some questions you can ask yourself, to predict your chances:

1. Your mother says, “Hey, you have a half day today. It’s a perfect opportunity to go pick up some applications.” Do you 

(a) Say, “You’re right. Thanks. Let’s go.”

(b) Say, “But me and my friends were going to . . . never mind, let’s go. Hey, can we get pizza while we’re out?”

(c) Say, “Bu-u-u-u-u-u-u-ut I have to finish my science project that’s due tomorrow, and I haven’t had a chance to even start it yet because I was too busy doing the thing! Oh, and I need a square foot of silk, some denaturized borax, and a sheet of titanium/ Also, can you give me a real quick synopsis of what Shakespeare is about? And I need $450 for a yearbook — and please, Mom, cash this time. The pictures on your checks are so lame.”

2. Your father says, “So, have you filled out those applications yet?” Do you

(a) say, “Yes! They’re in this manila envelope so they don’t get lost or creased. Can you proofread them for me?”

(b) Say, “Yes! Well, mostly. Well, a few. Well, I started one. Well, I was about to. FINE. Can I borrow your pen?”

(c) Go into a long tirade about the crushing of the human spirit that is inherent in the request to distill personhood into little boxes and columns. For instance, your interests encompass the entirety of humanity, but I suppose that wouldn’t go over well with these corporate overlord tools, would it? I mean, what is even the point? Am I supposed to start off my journey into the adult world with a big, fat lie? Is that what you really want from me? Because I can do that, if that’s what you want. I’ll do it, and you’ll see.

3. You get up to the part that asks for references. Do you

(a) Have a wide selection of prominent community members from which to choose, but finally whittle it down to the chief of police whose puppy you saved from drowning, the nursing home director whose grant from the governor you secured, and the governor, who is your uncle.

(b) Come up with two people who are rooting for you and one who doesn’t wish you any particular harm. Ehh, nobody reads these anyway.

(c)  Assume that most adults are too dumb to realize that the number you provided is your home phone, and the reference they’re speaking to is your dog.

4. You have a bunch of applications in your hand are are headed out to turn them in. Do you

(a) Stride in with confidence and cheerfully offer them to the person in charge, planning to follow up in a few days if you don’t hear back

(b) Politely but awkwardly turn them in and get the heck out of there before you trip again.

(c) Realize that you are the proud owner of eleven different but generic applications, and that you have no idea which one goes to which business. Also, they are wet with what we can only hope is that horrible Japanese melon soda you pretend to like. But other than that, you’re a shoe-in, champ.

5. You land an interview! Do you

(a) Dress nicely, speak clearly, answer truthfully, and generally project confidence, courtesy, and a willingness to work

(b) Answer some of the questions a little too honestly, but come off as reasonably ept.

(c)  Forget to change out of your “Fools, I’ll destroy you all!” t-shirt. But they probably didn’t notice, since that infection in your eyebrow ring is all anyone can seem to look at anyway.

****

IF YOUR ANSWERS ARE . . .

Mostly (a), You’re done for. Soon you’ll be earning a check and building a resume. Thanks a lot, jerk! Now all the other kids are gonna be expected to get jobs, too!

Mostly (b), you are perilously close to actually landing a summer job. With any luck, your math teacher will need it more, though, and you can spend another summer at home.

Mostly (c), Hey look, one of the chickens got out of the volcano! BURN HIM.

Image via Pixabay (Creative Commons)

This post originally ran in the Register in 2014.