When August went to his first appointment with his very wry pediatrician, she examined him–our third boy–then looked at me and said with all the prognosticating abilities of one who has been there: “Do you have any idea what your house is going to smell like in ten years?” I laughed–because it was funny, if not slightly olfactorily terrifying; but, to tell the truth, it’s not the smell of three teenage boys that terrifies me–it’s the entire concept of having three teenagers.
From the moment you know you are about to be a parent, your ability to worry ratchets up in a way you could only previously imagine. Things that never concerned you before children suddenly take on profound significance, and very little but your child’s safety and well-being matters. However, I suspect when you’re parenting teenagers, the extent to which you worry about them–day (and now night)–is beyond . . . well, I don’t even think there’s an apt metaphor.
It has always been our contention that if rather than trying to control our children’s every move we instead arm them with good decision-making abilities (not to mention a healthy dose of positive self-esteem), we are giving them the tools they need to negotiate the various snares of the teenage years; and the ability to self-regulate is one of those skills.
Though we obviously (and I hope logically) don’t espouse one hundred percent free reign for our young children, giving them the opportunity to make some decisions for themselves, we hope, will teach them this concept of self-regulation. For example, at the dinner table we encourage them to stop eating when they’re full–to listen to and respect their bodies’ signals and not mechanically “clean their plates.” We ask them to try extra-curricular activities for a certain amount of time, allowing them the power to say no if the activity is no longer working for them. And we give them choice regarding clothing, personal space, and social activites. None of this will keep them from making mistakes as they grow; but it is our fervent hope that they will learn their bodies and minds are valuable and worthy of care and that they grow to be confident enough in who they are that they can say “no” when it’s necessary.
And though there are no guarantees–absolutely none–there are occasional signs that this approach may be working. In the last year, Oscar and Edgar have discovered Cartoon Network (mostly becasue of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”); however, as there are several shows on that network that we do allow them to watch, there are many that we do not. And they have been told which ones are not allowed–and why. The other day, while I was in the kitchen contemplating dinner, one of the shows they are not supposed to watch came on. I heard the television turn off, then Oscar’s announcement to Edgar: “We’re not allowed to watch that show”–and then Edgar’s acquiescence: “Okay, Oscar.”
And that was it . . . self-regulation. Could they have tried to “sneak a peek” at the show? Sure. Would I have noticed? Possibly not. But they didn’t, and that’s what I did notice. And for that moment I exhaled. Today it’s a silly cartoon, but tomorrow it’s going to be something else entirely. And when I’m holding my breath in ten years, it’s not going to be because of any smells–but rather all the rest.