“I know,” I replied. “I always trusted you.”
“But I needed it.”
“What do you mean, you needed it?”
“You do know I smoked, right?”
“No. Well, I guess I remember Mom finding a pack of cigarettes in your room, but I wasn’t worried about it.”
“As I said, I have always trusted your decision making abilities.”
“Well, you should have. I needed the No Smoking Lecture.”
“Really? Why? Are you addicted?”
“No, but I needed it.”
“O.K. I am sorry I didn’t give it to you.”
“No, Dad. I still need it. I want the No Smoking Lecture. Now.”
“O.K. Don’t smoke.”
“That’s not the No Smoking Lecture!”
“But I don’t do the No Smoking Lecture. I don’t even know the No Smoking Lecture.”
“Certainly, you know the No Smoking Lecture. It begins with ‘Listen, Kid. Smoking is a dirty, filthy habit…’ and then goes on from there.”
“O.K.” (I pulled over to the side of the road and stopped because to do it properly, of course, I had to look her straight in the eyes.) “Listen. Smoking is a dirty, filthy habit. It is unattractive. It makes your breath smell bad, and it marks you as a certain kind of person–a kind of person I don’t like, and I don’t want you to be or look like that kind of person. A girl who smoked could never be my girlfriend, and I would certainly never marry one. Smoke will do damage to a fetus in your womb; it will give you cancer and a variety of other serious diseases. In fact, smoking can kill you. I do not want you to smoke. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Dad. I understand.”
“Good.” Then added, “How did I do?”
“That was great. Thank you.”
Apparently, my daughter felt I had “underparented” by under-communicating my values. I learned: just because we trust our children doesn’t mean we can’t lecture them. They need to hear where we stand; it is useful information for any young decision maker.
If, however, our lecture is an attempt to control our teen’s behavior, we are going to make things a lot more difficult. Just because we define and clarify boundaries to them does not mean we don’t trust them. On the contrary, we are implying that we know that they will make their own decisions; we just want to give them the benefit of our experience. If they have our voice in their head telling them that smoking is bad (or whatever) at least when they are reckless, they will be reckless a little more carefully.
By the time they are 13, we are playing a game of high responsibility/low control. We have to treat them as if they know what they are doing, even though we know that they don’t, quite. It can be a little scary. This apparently paradoxical dance can drive people (parents and children alike) crazy unless the parent understands that taking responsibility for a child does not mean controlling them. Raising children is an exercise in learning from mistakes.
Bottom line: we may be confused, but if we play our cards right our children will show us or tell us what they need, and we will be able to talk about it with them.
What are your challenges?