I was blessed to have grown up in the 70s.
I was able to play outside until dark, walk downtown to the local candy store, and I was lucky enough to not have a cell phone. My parents did not know where I was or who I was with. It was up to me to figure out how I was to act, think and feel.
Did I make mistakes? Of course. I made a lot of mistakes, but I am here. I’m alive. I survived—and I learned a whole bunch of life lessons that have served me well.
I am an adult now, and I have children of my own—teenagers and a seven-year-old, to be specific. I do not envy them, growing up in a world where their safety is in question when they go off to school or to the movies. Whereas I grew up in the disco era, they’ve grown up in the mass-shooting era. As parents, all the violence makes us want to wrap them up, keep them safe and know where they are at all times. I get it. But it’s out of our control if something horrific happens to them—or even more likely, if they make a mistake.
With the development of technology, we parents can now know where our kids are at all times. We are able to track their cell phones, and find out if they are where they said they would be. Therefore, now—we can hover even more. I recently read an article that discusses a new application called “Teen Safe,” which now allows parents to see every single text their child sends or receives—even those that they deleted.
What is the result of tracking our kids to closely? Children do not learn how to make their own decisions, navigate the world, and yes, break the rules. We are attempting to prolong something inevitable. It is called growing up. We are so laced in fear—so afraid of our child making the wrong move, becoming disappointed or not living up to our expectations—that we want to do whatever we can to prevent this from happening.
Mistakes are our biggest teachers in life. They allow us to figure out what we think, feel and believe. But society does not allow us to make mistakes without paying for them. We shame and we judge. Remember Monica Lewinsky? How can we forget the national stage in 1998, that showcased her mistakes. Do you know what she said about it 17 years later? It was not the affair, but the humiliation she felt—the judgement and the ongoing criticism she received—that nearly killed her:
“One of the unintended consequences of my agreeing to put myself out there, and to try to tell the truth, had been that shame would once again be hung around my neck like a scarlet-A albatross. Believe me, once it’s on, it is a bitch to take off.”
If we release judgement about making mistakes and allow our children to fall down—the opportunity to brush themselves off may be the biggest gift a teenager can receive. In psychologist Wendy Mogel’s book, Blessings of a B Minus, she says, “As leaders of our children, it is essential for us to step back from the urgency, the mistakes, the heartbreaks, the rejection. By taking a deep breath and withdrawing, you make space for your child to grow.”
Adolescents need compliments, attention and family dinners. They need supported experiences of independence—taking the train by themselves, flying to another state or country, volunteering and hanging out with their friends. Adolescents need guidance, not constant monitoring. They need to hear, “I love you no matter what,” as often as possible.
Yes, with cell phones, the stakes are higher for them to make a mistake. In their fast paced technology-packed world, they have little time to think about what they want to say before they hit send. But that is not a reason to monitor their every move or text. We need to reach down within ourselves, take a deep breath and release the control.
We are trying to lock them up in a safe little box, so that we will not have to feel any pain from their mistakes—or God forbid, something worse happening to them. But we cannot control any of it. It is an illusion to think we can prevent our children from experiencing pain, sadness or disappointment. We are all here to learn, grow and experience life. It is not about good or bad, but rather, how we grow and what we learn.
We’ve had many years to teach our children by the time they are teenagers, and we need to release our grip, ease up on the reins and give them some leeway, so that they can develop their own moral compass—not continue to rely on ours.
The biggest challenge—and yet most important job we have as parents—is to learn how to let go. The biggest mistake I ever made was not wanting my children to make the same mistakes I did—but they just might, or they might even make a few of their own.
We just need to love them, no matter what.
Author: Beth Mund
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Photo: Flickr/Jon Grainger