Thursday, March 20, 2014

Teenage Years as a Beta Test Period

In the last post, I discussed the idea of strategically educating a child to prepare for success. Let us now explore how this educational strategy can survive the challenges of adolescence. My mother referred to that the teenage years as the "alien period". When I was 14, she says, I was replaced with an angry, practically unintelligible alien, to be returned at 19 with a pleasant, well mannered young man.

That is a valid point, adolescence is a time of pulling away, exploration, and independence, but not necessarily a time of alienation. I believe, based on some research and considerable anecdotal experience, that the most severe adolescent conflicts are caused by the unexpected transition from obedient and respectful child to adventurous, curious, and independent teenager. Most of the conflicts center around the teen's attempts to assert her independence versus the parent's desire to keep the child close and safe.

This next paragraph is one of those that I may read years hence and either pat myself on the back for my prescience or laugh at my naivete...

My theory is that if the teen years are looked at a different way it can increase their educational value, prepare the teen for adulthood and preserve the parental bond better. Rather than seeing the teen years as a difficult extended childhood, view them as a beta test for adulthood. Increase independence and responsibility progressively. Like any other training process, allow the teen just slightly more responsibility than she is ready to handle, then provide support as she grows into the challenge.

Rather than use arbitrary punishments to teach lessons, use natural consequences. Grounding is an artificial construct which has no parallel in the adult world. It shifts the lesson from understanding what she might have done wrong in the real situation to a lesson in how to win against mom and dad. A grounded child does not sit in her room and contemplate what she did wrong; she sits in her room and contemplates her anger at the punishment and how she can avoid it in the future: an absolutely useless learning process.

I cannot protect her from this, but
I can provide the mental resources
for her to protect herself.
If the teen does not live under the immediate fear of parental punishment, it allows her to open her awareness the more distant, but much more real, set of real threats and dangers in the world. Traditionally, a teen who goes to a party and stays out too late is most worried about the most proximate danger: mom and dad finding out. In reality, the real dangers are much more serious: alcohol poisoning, drunk driving, drug complications, personal injury, rape, etc. How many teens have died in drunk driving accidents because they did not want mom and dad to know where they were? How safe did that discipline structure keep that child?

Alternately, what if a teen of 16 is given the autonomy to make her own choices, under the condition that parents must be kept informed of where she is and what she is doing, not because they do not trust her but because adolescence is a form of training mode where the parents are available as referees, lifeguards, and coaches on call to assist when she gets in over her head but allowing her to have the experiences that will prepare her for the rest of her life.

Barney Stinson approves
of a restrictive parenting
style. I believe my point is made.
To those who think that I suggesting too permissive of a parenting style, I will give one more piece of evidence to support my theory. Ask a typical college boy how he feels when he meets a college girl who tells him that her parents were very restrictive and kept her safe at home, not letting her go out much. The word "JACKPOT" comes to mind, because he knows that she is ready to make up for all that she thinks that she missed out on, and mom and dad are no where in sight.

If the Koalid decides to party hard in college, I want it to be because she knows the risks and has weighed them against the rewards, not because she is trying to make up for lost time, and I want to be sure that she knows and understands that if she gets in over her head, even in college, her old dad and mom are still there for her.

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