Sunday, January 20, 2013

How to have a new teenager by Friday ... a follow-up

So, I didn't really expect to have a new teenager by Friday. Part of it was just my own historical pessimism; the other was that I didn't believe that one book by some well-known Christian psychologist was going to turn my kid around in five days.

However, I was pleasantly surprised at the strides that were made in one short week, and I'd highly recommend the book to anyone in my parenting position.

To recap, "Have a New Teenager by Friday: From Mouthy and Moody to Respectful and Responsible in 5 Days" by Dr. Kevin Leman was alleged to help me:

-communicate with the "whatever" generation
-establish healthy boundaries and workable guidelines
-gain respect--even admiration--from their teenager
-turn selfish behavior around
-navigate the critical years with confidence
-pack their teenager's bags with what they need for life now and in the future
-become the major difference maker in their teenager's life

The chapters were broken down into days of the week, which I didn't really pay attention to since I just wanted to drink it all in and implement his suggestions when the situations came up. 

Case in point: new, 2013 school night rules dictate that all electronic devices be charged in Mom's room at bedtime, to prevent any "I can't sleep so I'm going to play Angry Birds until I fall asleep then be really cranky the next day" issues, as well as finding texts back and forth to friends at 3 am. The night before they went back to school for the semester, I woke to find my oldest son surreptitiously seeking out his Nexus. I told at him to go back to bed. That was all. But the next morning, when he asked where it was so he could take it to school (for "note taking"), I said, "You disobeyed me last night, and I don't appreciate you coming into my room in the middle of the night. Therefore you cannot take your Nexus to school today." It was like I had just slapped him. First of all, he wasn't used to me not reading him the riot act about how he had done this stupid thing and how my trust in him had been once again broken. Secondly, he was not used to being disciplined after the fact and in such a, well, justifiable manner. He went to school without the Nexus, and since then, has come into my room before bed every night to charge his devices.

Leman talked about this "after the fact" kind of discipline in his book, but I was still adhering to the tactics I used when they were younger, and that is, punish immediately because if you wait until later, they've forgotten what they've done. I hadn't updated this and they had been playing me for YEARS. They do something wrong, I jump down their throats, they tune me out, I give up. Cycle, cycle, cycle.

I did it again just the other day. My son lied about toast. Just toast. Simply toast. I knew he lied. Later, he asked if he could have a sleepover. I said no. He asked why. I said simply, "Because you lied about the toast." "But Mom! That's so stupid!" was his reply. Said I, "It was a stupid lie."

I've also said no to hanging out with friends during the week, at least until the grades improve. I'm not too thrilled with some of the kids he's chosen to chill with these days, anyway, but have felt somewhat powerless to do anything to change it. Oh, I could forbid him to see them, but I know that will just make him find a way to rebel against me no matter if he wants to see them or not. But you know what? A part of me thinks he's relieved at my new rule. Relieved to have an excuse NOT to hang out with them because he knows they aren't straight up. Because he hasn't fought me on it. In fact, we hang out more now; watching TV, or him showing me YouTube videos or stuff on his Nexus. I know - we're not doing puzzles or playing board games or discussing politics, but still, I'll take it.

And I've started listening more - another Lemanism, so to speak. He encouraged  parents of teens such as mine to not try so hard to parent at times, and just listen. So when my son said, "When I grow up, I'm going to be a video game programmer and make a ton of money" I didn't tell him that I think that's a less than wise profession and that he'd better get his grades up and don't expect to make money hand over fist the day after graduation. I simply said, "Cool." And ya know what? He kept talking. And he talked himself through it himself. "Well, I'm probably won't get a video gaming job right out of college, so maybe I should get some sort of computer technology degree..." I was interjecting as needed, but mostly I was just listening. And yes, I have drawn blood by biting the side of my mouth to not say the first thing that comes into my brain.

Oh, and did I mention his grades are up?

So, like I said, I'm not convinced I have a new kid. But I do feel like he maybe has a new parent. A parent who has started to figure out that I can't parent him the way I did when he was seven. A parent who needs to stop trying to control and start trying to communicate. A parent who is starting to once again enjoy her teenager (did I just say that???) more than I ever have. On the flip side, he seems to have a little more respect for me, and sees me less of something he just needs to tune out. Because suddenly I'm showing him that what he says, no matter what I think of it, has value. And I'm doing it quietly. I'm disciplining him quietly - minus the lecture he's heard a thousand times before.

I say this with trepidation. I say this with caution. I say this while knocking on wood. Because I know that these smooth times are often mottled by bumps in the road. In fact, the road itself is not unlike many in Peoria: riddled with potholes and bumps but with a sporadic smooth patch where the workers have recently been out. Eventually, that smooth patch will become bumpy. Cycle, cycle, cycle.

Pray that this continues. Pray that this is a breakthrough and not just God throwing me a bone because he knew I was ready to throw in the towel. Oh, and if you can relate?  Buy the book. Better yet, I'll loan it to you. It just might break that cycle and get you closer to where you need to be with your teenager.

Friday, January 11, 2013

50 ways to free your mind

I try not to get too caught up in all those inspirational, ├╝ber-optimistic blogs that seem to be so prevalent online right now. It seems that everyone has a cute quote or post that is supposed to make all of us think differently about ourselves and our hardships and where we are in our lives. After awhile I find myself exhausted by the incessant encouragement, enthusiasm and motivational mumbo jumbo intended to help me make myself a "better person."

However, there is one site that seems to give me pause time after time, and this week was no exception. I don't know who this couple is - this Marc and Angel Hack. I've never really looked into them (I provided a link but I didn't read it) because I don't want to know that they are some gorgeous, blissfully-happy pair who probably made so much money in their younger years that all they do is sit around and write ass-kicking blog posts. I just like what they say.

Yesterday, I read one of their posts and was so enlightened that I actually looked for more - and I found this gem: 50 Questions That Will Free Your Mind. I liked it because it wasn't preaching to me and telling me what I should be doing or shouldn't be doing. It merely asked me some pointed questions that made me really think about my "true" - not necessarily right - but my true answers.

I'm not going to go through all 50, but here are a few of the questions if you don't feel like clicking over to the article itself - and my subsequent answers.

If life is so short, why do we do so many things we don’t like and like so many things we don’t do?
Right? I mean, I get that we "have" to do some things we don't like, but I for one am a huge offender of liking things - and being envious of people - who are doing things I'm NOT. Time to change that. 

What is the one thing you’d most like to change about the world?
Honestly at this moment? I'm not calling for a debate here, but if I had my druthers we'd eradicate all guns, violent video games and inappropriate television programs from the planet. I see no harm done in that. 

If happiness was the national currency, what kind of work would make you rich?
That's easy. Writing what's in my head. Every day. I'd never even have to speak again.
Are you doing what you believe in, or are you settling for what you are doing?
Oh, I'm totally settling. I mean, sometimes I believe in what I do, and I for the most part enjoy what I do, but I don't feel I'm using my capabilities to do what I truly believe in. But I don't know that I can EVER do the things I truly believe in. Money's a bitch and it drives everything we do. If I had it my way I'd be an advice columnist or a psychologist. I'd like to help people more than I'd like to jumble the same 500 words into new and exciting prose each day.
If the average human life span was 40 years, how would you live your life differently?
Doesn't matter - I'd be dead already, so a moot point.
To what degree have you actually controlled the course your life has taken?
That's a laughable questions, because it's impossible. I thought I had my life all planned out 15 years ago, but it took an unexpected turn that changed the course of pretty much everything. Each time I try to gain control of it something goes awry. I try to just give it up to God and go with the flow.

If you could offer a newborn child only one piece of advice, what would it be?
Go back in. Seriously.
What’s something you know you do differently than most people?
I write down for the world to see what some people only think about in their heads. 
Are you holding onto something you need to let go of?
Probably. But unfortunately my past track record of "making the right decisions" sucks so I pretty much second-guess everything I do.
Would you rather be a worried genius or a joyful simpleton?
Joyful simpleton. I remember after watching Forrest Gump how much I wished that the world could be more like him.   

What is your happiest childhood memory?  What makes it so special?
I can't think of one specific memory, but when I think of my childhood, I think of neighborhood friends, a one-of-a-kind house and parents and family who made me feel very secure. All things I wanted to give to my own kids. I had a great childhood.

What one thing have you not done that you really want to do? 
What’s holding you back? OK. More than one thing. Write a real book. Volunteer with my kids. Finish their scrapbooks. Travel out west to see some friends and experience that part of the country. Travel to see my niece in Copenhagen. Take my kids to Mexico or the Caribbean so they can snorkel, scuba, and para-sail. Time; my kids' attitudes; money.  
     If not now, then when?
    When the kids are older. When I have more money. When I lose 10 pounds. When I can run farther and faster. When I have the time to do it. All bad answers, but if you "do whatever it takes" to make something happen, another part of your life is going to suffer in the process. And I'm not prepared to make that tradeoff yet.
      If you knew that everyone you know was going to die tomorrow, who would you visit today?
      I'm assuming my kids are with me, so that answer would without a doubt be my parents.

      What is the difference between being alive and truly living?
      The difference is obvious. Being alive involves a greater proportion of doing the things you have to do versus doing the things you want to do. Truly living is just the opposite. 

      If we learn from our mistakes, why are we always so afraid to make a mistake?
      Because the learning process is so freakin' hard. 
      What would you do differently if you knew nobody would judge you?
      1) Speak out more against guns and violence/sex in video games and TV.
      2) Dance in public.
        Decisions are being made right now.  The question is:  Are you making them for yourself, or are you letting others make them for you?
        I'd love to say I'm making my own decisions, but unfortunately, I'm frightened to make many of them for fear that they'll be the wrong ones, so I tend to let others influence - not make - but influence what I decide to do, rather than what I feel is best.

        And here's some I couldn't answer, or had a hard time formulating an answer into words. Can you?
        1. Why are you, you?
        2. Would you rather lose all of your old memories, or never be able to make new ones?
        3. When was the last time you marched into the dark with only the soft glow of an idea you strongly believed in?
        4. What do you love?  Have any of your recent actions openly expressed this love?
        5. In 5 years from now, will you remember what you did yesterday?  What about the day before that?  Or the day before that?
        6. What’s something you know you do differently than most people?
        7. How come the things that make you happy don’t make everyone happy?
        8. At what time in your recent past have you felt most passionate and alive?

        Sunday, January 6, 2013

        How to have a new teenager by Friday

        I'm not a big fan of self-help books. As much as I probably need them, I always find that they tell me what I already know. Not saying I have it all figure out (not by a long shot), but most of the advice seems pretty common sense. It seems like it's more of a "remember this is how you're supposed to do it - DUH" rather than a "here's some enlightening new thoughts that probably never occurred to you."

        But this time, I'm desperate. Desperate for guidance. Desperate for answers. Desperate to know that there's still time - that my parenting license has not expired and I'm still qualified to influence my teen and guide him down the right path.

        See, I've come to kind of a crossroads over the past couple of weeks. Or maybe it's a roadblock. I'm not really sure. I've said it before that one of the hardest jobs of parenting is realizing that at times, you have NO idea what the answer is. I mean, think about it. Usually when you have a problem at work or in a relationship, deep down you know the answer or the right thing to do. With parenting, it's not that easy, especially where a teenager is concerned. You try one tactic, and it backfires. Another works for like a week. There's no rhyme or reason to it.

        I have a tough teen to parent. I know the phrase "tough teen" seems redundant, but in this case it's the truth. I am worried about him. I am scared for him. My heart aches for him and the choices he makes, and the lack of influence I seem to have anymore. It aches because I don't think he has anyone to turn to whom he admires and respects, and I worry that not having someone like that is making him turn to the wrong people. In my darkest hours, I blame myself - for  making him the child of divorce. For making him the son of a single working mom. For being the wrong kind of parent for the type of kid he is. For not having the answers and making the wrong parenting decisions.

        But beating myself up doesn't change things. And I want to change things. I'm familiar with Dr. Kevin Leman from a video series during Sunday school at our church years ago. I agreed with some of the things he postulated; others not so much. But when a friend pointed me in the direction of some sort of self-help series, I turned to him.

        Have a New Teenager by Friday is an intriguing title. Obviously I believe it as much as I believe that I can lose two dress sizes in the next two weeks. But in the synopsis, he described my teen to a "T", then went on to describe how my parenting style (apparently authoritarian) is not conducive to doing much to be of influence to this mass of hormones I have living under my roof. OK, enough to make it the first purchase on my Nook, my New Year's resolution to "read more". Little did I know that the once pshawed self-help book would be number one on my best seller list.

        Leman prefaces the book by challenging you to determine what you want to get out of it. Like a house, he says, it might need just a new coat of paint, or maybe just a renovation of one room. Or, you may need a total rebuild including foundation. Unfortunately, I think that's where we're at. Judging from the first few chapters, I have a lot of work to do and very little time to do it. All of those years of "tough parenting" have backfired to the point where I have become nothing but an adversary who lives in the same place where he sleeps.

        I want to be more than that. I  want to have a relationship with my child - even if it's limited - while he's a teen. What's more, I want him to know that I understand the struggles and challenges and decisions between right and wrong, even though I was a teenager 30+ years ago.

        So far I'm at "Monday". And what I've learned so far is to:
        1) Shut up and listen. Quit lecturing what he already knows and  just listen to him. The more I lecture, the more he withdraws. By listening, I might just open the door for him to tell me a little more without me butting in with my two cents.

        2) Change my responses. Leman gives the example of the kid who tells his parents he's getting a Corvette when he grows up. My response would be the typical: "Well I hope you have a good job to afford that kind of car, which of course means you'll need a college education and with those grades you're bringing home now, Buddy, that doesn't look like it's going to happen if you don't start buckling down." WHAT????? Sounds pretty ridiculous now that I rehash it. What I SHOULD say, Leman advises, is "Awesome. What color? Promise you'll take me for a spin." For God's sake - he KNOWS it's a pipe dream to have an expensive car. He's no DUMMY. Don't make him feel like one.

        3) Discipline with less words. Instead of laying on the lecture and yelling back at him when he's disrespectful to me, I should simply go back to what I was doing. BUT, the next time he wants to do something or needs something from me, I tell him, "No, because I didn't like how you spoke to me this morning, and you know better." Kind of the "sneak attack" discipline approach - something I thought was unfair when they were younger, but seems fitting now.

        4) Stop trying to be my parents, and stop thinking my kid is me. This is my biggest problem. I was (for the most part) a rule follower. My parents pretty much laid out the lay of the land and if I crossed it, I payed the price. I never would have spoken to either of them the way my son speaks to me. And every time he does speak to me with disrespect, I think, "What did I do wrong that I enable this?" other than the fact that I can't smack him. My son is not me - he doesn't think like me or act like me, no matter what mold I try to push him into. Best thing I can do is accept him for who he is and work around it.

        5) Pick my battles. I thought I was doing this, until my friend overheard me on the phone telling my son not to drink soda before dinner, which  of course made him erupt. "Amy," she said. "You have bigger battles to fight. Quit obsessing over the little stuff." And she's right. As much as I want to micromanage and control him to eat right, wash his hair, dress nicer, stand up straight, etc. etc., what I really need to concentrate on is my overall relationship with him so I can better help HIM fight HIS battles, like grades, peer pressures, and all the horrible aspects that come with being a teenager with access to technology, friends with money and a society with increasingly lax morals and values. THAT'S my battle.

        WHEW. That's a lot for a Monday. But so far, I've implemented a few things and have drawn blood with as many times as I've bit my tongue yet today. And it's not even tomorrow yet.

        I don't think I'm going to have a new teenager by Friday. But I'm already feeling better than I was a few days and weeks ago, when all I wanted to do was crawl into bed until the phone rang for me to come and pick him up. Then when he got home, I just wanted to crawl back in bed again. Now I feel like I have a tool... a guide... a HELP when I have been screaming for one for so long. Granted, this may not be "it", but it's the only thing I have right now, and I am willing to do anything to save my son and my relationship with him.

        I'll keep you posted on the book. I'm looking forward to Friday.