Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Teenage "Rebellion"

There was a terrible accident in Iowa last week. A group of teens were out in the wee hours of the morning and got caught up in a flash flood. One of them couldn't escape the car and died, despite her friends' attempts to get her out. I can't imagine the terror all of them felt, and the regret the survivors must feel for being out when they knew full well they shouldn't be.

The thing is, of course, that none of us have much right to judge. We have all done stupid things, made bad decisions, been overconfident in our "right" to a long, healthy life. And not just when we were teens. The girl who died in the accident had snuck out of the house after returning for her curfew, which falls into the category of a stupid thing, but hardly one that is unusual or particularly evil in the grand scheme of things.

Anyway, the thing about this story is that it has me reflecting on my own teen years and the stupid things I did. What's amazing is actually how few of them I did. Not because I was so dang smart or virtuous, though. I was as dumb and arrogant as any teen...so why didn't I extend my "parents' rules are stupid" philosophy into the common pitfalls of teenage rebellion? Why didn't I defy my parents beyond some serious back talk and eye rolling? And (to be honest) some less than kind thoughts about them. (Sorry, Mom and Dad. I stopped doing that, I promise!!)

The only thing I can figure is that it comes from them. Despite my views of their dumb rules, I knew, understood, and respected them deep down. My parents were great about balancing freedom with restraints. I remember Dad once telling me that they followed a kind of farming/livestock rule of child rearing, which sounds a little suspicious on the surface. The philosophy was that kids need fences and boundaries to understand the world and their place in it. It's a parent's job to build the fence with enough room to run without getting too far away from the barn. As the child grows, the parent must rebuild the fence a little further out to accommodate the growing intellect and abilities of the child. This way, the child learns a little more through a gradual broadening of the responsibilities of the farmyard. By the time a child is a teen, there needs to be a big area where the kid can explore and make some stupid decisions, but still within site of the parent/farmer who can help redirect them when the need arises.

And this is exactly what they did. I was their little lamb who had a small range when I was little. I was free to run, but always in site of the house rules. When I jumped the fence, I was lovingly grabbed and put back in. It was explained to me why I was grabbed as well as what the consequences for jumping were. As I got older and became a full grown sheep, I had more space to run, but I still tried to jump now and then...and again they patiently (usually!!) explained why the boundary was where it was. What's more, the punishment was never being locked in the barn, deprived of light and freedom to roam. I was given a talking to that focused on building my logic and respect for them and the parameters they set.

The result is that as a teen, I had no need to rebel against anything unjust. Sure, I didn't always like their rules, but I had been taught so carefully, lovingly and (most importantly) respectfully that I felt little need to shove anything back in their faces. I had enough room to run and enough security that they would take care of me so long as I stayed in sight of the barn. I didn't have to love it all the time, but I had every opportunity to understand it. And, when faced with something I saw as unjust, I was secure enough in my relationship with them that I could usually tell them about it and we could come to an understanding. Not always exactly how I wanted it, of course, but always with my feelings under consideration.

My 16-year-old self would likely scoff at this writing. That's okay. She could be kind of a bitch sometimes. :P My 33-year-old self knows it's true; proper reflection and distance make that possible. My overall thinking here is not to imply that the parents of that poor girl in Iowa did something wrong or were bad parents. I know nothing of them or their family. I just had to ponder on why I never snuck out of the house after curfew within my own particular family and personal history. I'm sure her parents love her as much as mine do me and did even when I was a bitchy 16 year old.

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