In the follow-up to her bestselling book, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, Dr. Wendy Mogel shows parents how to navigate the teenage years.
When a child becomes a teenager, her sense of entitlement and independence grows, the pressure to compete skyrockets, and communication becomes fraught with obstacles. Dr. Wendy Mogel emphasizes empathy and guidance over micromanaging teens’ lives and overreacting to missteps. She reveals that emotional outbursts, rudeness, rule-breaking, staying up late, and other worrisome teen behaviors are in fact normal and necessary steps in psychological growth and character development to be met with thoughtful care, not anxiety. With her signature wit and warmth, Mogel gives parents the tools to do so, offering reassuring advice on:
· why influence is more effective than control
· teenage narcissism
· living graciously with rudeness
· the surprising value of ordinary work
· why risk is essential preparation for the post–high school years
· when to step in and when to step back
The Blessing of a B Minus is an important and inspiring book that will fortify parents through the teenage years.
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About the Author
Wendy Mogel, PhD, is a practicing clinical psychologist, international public speaker, and the author of Voice Lessons for Parents, the New York Times bestseller The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, and The Blessing of a B Minus. She lives in Los Angeles. Please visit her website at WendyMogel.com.
Table of Contents
Author's Note xiii
1 The Hidden Blessings of Raising Teenagers 1
2 The Blessing of Strange Fruit: Accepting the Unique Glory of Your Teen 9
3 The Blessing of a Bad Attitude: Living Graciously with the Chronically Rude 29
4 The Blessing of a B Minus: The Real Lessons of Homework, Chores, and Jobs 49
5 The Blessing of a Lost Sweater: Managing Your Teen's Materialism, Entitlement, and Carelessness 71
6 The Blessing of Problems to Solve: Letting Your Teen Learn from Bad Judgment and Stressful Situations 95
7 The Blessing of Staying Up Late: Making Time for Rest and Fun 115
8 The Blessing of Breaking the Rules: Real Life as Ethics Lab 135
9 The Blessing of a Hangover: A Sanctified Approach to Substances and Sex 155
10 The Courage to Let Them Go 177
Reading Group Guide
The Blessing of a B Minus
Parenting Group Discussion Guide
I’ve written this guide to provide parents of teenagers with a framework for discussing the topics of The Blessing of a B Minus in a group setting. Teachers and school administrators can also use the guide to form a group of their own. Talking about your concerns and getting the perspective of peers can be cathartic, reassuring, and eye-opening. Yet parents of teens are less likely to participate in parent education programs or discussion groups than parents of young children.
I witnessed this reluctance firsthand when I decided to hold my first classes for parents of teens a few years ago. I expected the classes would be similar to the ones I’d held for parents of children in elementary school, when the participants would arrive at my office like butterflies, wearing happy colors and alighting gracefully in their chairs. They talked a lot, commiserated, and smiled. We had fun. But when I walked into my first class for parents of teens, it felt as though the lighting had changed in the room. The parents wore darker clothes and darker expressions. They raised their hands to speak, and even when I called on them they didn’t speak much. A few of them admitted reasons for their reticence: they were afraid of betraying their teen’s privacy or worried the others would judge them for having poor parenting skills. After a few sessions, however, the parents discovered how much they had in common, even though their problems looked different on the surface. Once the ice was broken these parents were movingly honest and very funny. The payoff for overcoming the initial inhibition was a sense of proportion, a deeper understanding of the normal pain of raising adolescents, a feeling of hope, and an appreciation of the power of fellowship.
Despite reservations you might feel about sharing your parenting worries, I encourage you to give a parenting group a try. Here are a few guidelines I’ve developed over the years to create strong groups and get the discussion flowing.
Nuts and Bolts
Group size is an important element. A group that is too small can devolve into a chat session; one that’s too large will lack intimacy. Aim to have ten to twelve members in your group. (If you have a professional leader, such as an adolescent development specialist, counselor, or psychologist, the group can be larger, with up to twenty members.)
When and where should your group meet? The answers depend on the group’s composition. Parents working outside of home will be available on weekday evenings; those who have more flexible schedules may prefer to meet in the morning shortly after school drop-off. Weekend meetings are often harder to schedule because they conflict with teens’ activities and parental driving obligations. An exception to this rule occurs when parents whose children attend Sunday school together form a group of their own. If the school or your synagogue or church can offer you a meeting room, your group can conveniently assemble while the children are in class.
Most book discussion groups are held at members’ homes. The advantage of rotating among member’s residences is distribution of responsibility for hosting and traveling, the advantage of meeting at the same place each time is ease of navigation and familiarity.
I suggest scheduling an hour and a half for each meeting if you can start promptly, two hours if you want to allow for a brief schmoozing period at the beginning. Consider holding meetings weekly for a predetermined period: six to eight weeks is a typical duration. Of course, you can alter the schedule or extend the group as the members wish.
Groups can also meet in cyberspace via videoconferencing sessions and online discussions. But because of the technological requirements and the challenges of maintaining privacy, I recommend virtual meetings only when in-person groups are not possible.
How to Find Participants
As I mentioned, parents of teens are notoriously reluctant to discuss their problems. At one high school, the school counselor, desperate to boost enrollment in her parent education programs, changed the title of her discussion group from “Understanding Teen Social and Emotional Development” to “A Workshop on How to Get Your Child into College: The Impact of Teen Social and Emotional Development.” Since few parents got as far as the subtitle, the room was packed. I doubt you’ll need to employ trickery to find group members, but unless you already know several parents who want to start a discussion group, you’ll need persistence as well as a light touch. Try submitting an announcement to your school, church, synagogue or community center newsletter, or message board, or post it on a social networking site. You can write something like, “Escape from your teenagers! Meet new people with similar problems, make new friends; sharing of personal stuff is encouraged but not required…if you are a perfect parent with perfect child, you are not invited.” Or pass a similar email message announcing your group to anyone who has regular contact with parents of teens. This includes school administrators, coaches, private music teachers, tutors, the librarian, the head of the parents’ association, or the mom in your neighborhood who knows everyone. Ask these people to forward the message to possible group members. Another option is to look for members on Goodreads.com, a book lovers’ website that offers opportunities for its three million members to form book discussion groups.
Almost everyone knows of a book club in which books are never discussed. If you want your parenting group to have some meat on its bones, consider hiring or appointing someone to lead it. A leader helps provide some structure; structure allows the members more confidence; and confidence leads to a deeper conversation.
If your group elects a moderator from one of its ranks, the members should grant her the authority to say things like, “We’ve gotten off track,” or “Let’s hear from someone else now,” or “That’s a great point. We’ll talk about it more in a few weeks.” A professional leader can perform these services and also offer expertise in adolescence. You can ask a counselor, social worker, or member of the clergy to take on the role. Make sure the leader has experience with teenagers. Although school administrators and teachers can make capable leaders, avoid using someone who works in a school attended by children of group members. (An exception is an exclusively school-based group led by a counselor from that school.) Otherwise the familiarity can make it difficult for parents of teens to be candid.
A few good ground rules will keep the group members feeling comfortable and protected. Here are some possibilities for your group:
- If the group leader is not in charge of organizational details, appoint someone else to manage this task. This person will maintain contact information, send out meeting reminders, and handle other logistics as they arise. Members should contact this person if they are unable to attend a meeting.
- Meetings will be held at a regular time and won’t be rescheduled to accommodate the needs of individual members. Group members will do their best to arrive on time and stay for the full meeting.
- Group members acknowledge the privacy concerns of both parents and their teenagers; they also acknowledge the honor of being trusted with information about others’ families. What is said in the group will be kept confidential.
- No one is required to share personal information about themselves, their families, or their teens. The group agrees that members can opt to “pass” out of a discussion and remain quiet, without being badgered about this decision by other members.
- Members also agree to stay aware of the natural impulse to monopolize the discussion. They will refrain from excessive interruption and attempt to give equal airtime to everyone.
- Members will phrase comments about one another’s parenting decisions in respectful, positive terms. They agree to do more listening than advising and to refrain from psychoanalyzing, haranguing, or offering predictions about the fate of other members’ children.
Curriculum for a Blessing of a B Minus Parenting Group
Below is a curriculum for a parenting group that meets for eight sessions. Each session includes a reading assignment and discussion questions. Don’t be alarmed by the number of questions; I’ve included more questions than a group can reasonably expect to discuss in a ninety-minute session. The leader or group members can pick and choose from the questions according to the group’s interests. Questions should be forwarded to members in advance of each meeting, since some of them require personal reflection or a bit of research.
Chapter 1. The Hidden Blessings of Raising Teenagers
Chapter 2. The Blessing of Strange Fruit: Accepting the Unique Glory of Your Teen
Open the first session with introductions. Invite members to say their names and the gender, ages, and grades of their teens. If they wish, members can describe topics they hope the group will cover. Next go around the room and share brief general reactions to the assigned chapters. (“What stood out? What did you relate to?”) Then move on to the members’ answers to the chosen questions. Remind members that they are entitled to say “pass” when their turn comes up. Expect the class to take a few sessions to hit its stride. Be patient and as tolerant as possible, both with yourself and the other members, as many of these subjects are delicate and/or sensitive.
1. Discuss the idea that adolescence can be compared to the Israelites’ journey across the desert. In what areas are your teenagers still too green to enter the Promised Lands they long for?
2. How would you characterize your own teenage years? Do you wish to shield your child from what you went through, or would you like him or her to have some similar experiences?
3. How would you describe your child’s adolescence so far? What are your fears about their journey? What are your hopes for the next few years?
4. What is your leadership style as a parent? Do you tend to micromanage and worry a lot; do you issue orders from the top and expect them to be followed; or are you more laid back? What are the benefits and disadvantages of each style? How can you cultivate the quality of ‘compassionate detachment”?
5. Think of parents whose teenagers have grown into happy, productive, non-neurotic adults. How would you characterize their parenting style? Or interview one or two teachers or school administrators you admire. Ask them about the strategies they use to detach themselves from dramas while remaining respectful, effective leaders. Share these with the group.
6. What are your dreams for your child’s future? Where do they differ from your child’s own dreams?
7. Take an inventory of your child’s innate gifts and inclinations. Have you expected your child to change in ways that may not be possible due to his natural temperament? Where can you reasonably ask your child to stretch?
8. When is it appropriate for a parent to insist that a child develop skills that will contribute to a well-rounded, successful adult life? What is your view about requiring teenagers to master a musical instrument, become fluent in a second language, play at least one sport, or develop a specialized area of academic knowledge, even if the child resists?
9. Looking back at the past week and month, make your own appreciation list similar to the one on page 28. Try viewing your teen from the standpoint of a cultural anthropologist. What do you appreciate about your “strange fruit”?
Chapter Three. The Blessing of a Bad Attitude: Living Graciously with the Chronically Rude
1. Are teens today truly less polite than teens of previous generations, or do elders always despair of the callowness of youth?
2. What manners did you learn at home that stood you in good stead in your adult life? Were any oppressive or unnecessary? What was neglected in your social education?
3. Fill in the blank: I wish to foster mutual respect and decorum in my home but consistently struggle with ___________.
4. Make a list of standards for minimum politeness in your home. How does it differ from mine? From others in the group? Do you find that there is a general consensus, or does there seem to be a lack of community agreement about what constitutes good manners in adolescents?
5. Many of the parents I work with guiltily describe their pattern of interaction with their teens as “Nice, nice, nice…mean!” In other words, they accommodate their teens’ challenging behavior until they explode in fury. Does this describe your own pattern? What would a more productive pattern look like? What can you do to shift your rhythm of emotional responses?
6. Is it possible that your child is too polite? Is she a people pleaser? Inhibited? Not as forthright with peers as you would like him to be?
7. Do you believe in double standards for parents and teens when it comes to salty language, keeping your word, and being on time?
8. Do you wake your teen each weekday morning? Do you mind starting your day this way? What are the potential disadvantages of this courtesy?
9. List some ways you put “money in the bank of goodwill” for your teen. Are they effective?
Chapter Four. The Blessing of a B Minus: The Real Lessons of Homework, Chores, and Jobs
1. What are your own household chores? What is your attitude toward doing them?
2. Make a list of the tasks you’d like to add to your child’s to-do list. (This list could include specific chores, or responsibility for keeping track of homework assignments, or getting a paid job.) Then list the obstacles that may prevent you from following through on this list. If you wish, share the two lists with the group and ask for suggestions for overcoming hurdles.
3. How much parental involvement in homework is appropriate? Is a hands-off approach ever best? How has your view changed from your child’s earlier school years?
4. Do you agree that a teen should be allowed to have a messy bedroom, or do you feel that a disorderly space means a disorderly mind?
5. If your child lets stuff pile up in his room, is it ever appropriate to go in and sort through the notebooks, clothes, paper, and junk? What about discarding these things without your teen’s permission? What are the costs and benefits?
6. In an economy where jobs are scarce, unpaid internships are becoming more and more popular as a way to gain work experience and build a resume. Yet in this chapter I compare such internships unfavorably to ordinary, unglamorous paid jobs. Do you find my view old-fashioned, impractical or sensible?
7. Does your teen have a job? What are the best opportunities for part-time work in your area?
Chapter Five. The Blessing of a Lost Sweater: Managing Your Teen’s Materialism, Entitlement, and Carelessness
1. What was your favorite item of clothing, sports equipment, room decoration, gadget, tool, or other “toy” as a teenager?
2. When you were a teen, were there specific items you coveted but never received? Did you feel deprived? Did this feeling have a negative impact on you? Or was there an advantage in it?
3. Is your child too materialistic? How might the example you set reinforce this tendency?
4. Some teens like to look sharp, while others prefer worn out, sloppy, or dirty clothing. If your child is uninterested in what you consider proper attire and grooming what might he or she be trying to communicate with this style? What role do you wish to take in enforcing standards of dress?
5. Invite a member of the group to read the story of Lily and the rejected BMW aloud in class. What is your reaction to Lily’s parents’ response? How would you react if your child complained about a generous gift?
6. Think of an exchange in which your teenager was angry with you for not providing a particular item or performing a particular service. How did you react? If you wish you could have handled the situation differently, try role-playing it with another parent in the group.
7. Do you possess “healthy narcissism”? What are some ways you can demonstrate conviction about the importance of looking nice and caring for your needs?
8. Re-read the graduation dress story. Do you find yourself sympathizing with either Mom A or Mom B? Why?
Chapter Six. The Blessing of Problems to Solve: Letting Your Teen Learn from Bad Judgment and Stressful Situations
1. Where is your child too intolerant of suffering? Is it in math, sports, or dull tasks such as proofreading or memorization? Do you see your child as oversensitive to teasing from friends or criticism from adults?
2. And where is your child too tolerant and unable to stand up for himself when a legitimate problem arises?
3. Do you frequently rush in to save your child from unpleasant situations? Think of a specific instance. Are you glad you intervened or helped out, or do you regret your actions? If you wish to respond differently in the future, how can you remind yourself to stop and reflect before rushing in too quickly?
4. Teens have a right to make mistakes and learn from them—and so do parents. How do you feel when you realize you’ve made a parenting misstep? Are you modeling the self-acceptance you want your teenager to develop?
5. Page 102 describes the need to distinguish dramas from emergencies. Share ideas with the group about ways to tell the difference.
6. What were your experiences of good danger during adolescence? Did you travel without adult supervision? Spend time with people very different from your own family or community? Lie to your parents about your whereabouts to gain some freedom? How did these experiences prepare you to navigate life on your own?
7. Do you suffer from “mean world syndrome”? How can you cultivate a nonalarmist but realistic view of your environment?
8. Did you ever experience danger that left a lasting, upsetting impression? Did the experience teach you street smarts? Or did it wound you in some way? How do these experiences affect the way you raise your teenager?
Chapter Seven. The Blessing of Staying Up Late: Making Time for Rest and Fun
1. Did you take your children to religious services when they were young? If so, is your teenager enthusiastic about attending now? What are the best ways to handle a teen’s reluctance to participate in religious activities?
2. Did you celebrate Shabbat or a day of rest when your child was smaller? Do you now? What are ways you can draw the spirit of Shabbat into your week?
3. Does your teen have enough time for sleep and relaxation?
4. How do you feel about stepping in when an overworked, overtired teenager insists that she “likes being busy” or that he “doesn’t need to sleep”? Where do you draw the line between letting a teen learn the downside of overscheduling and protecting him from the pressure of our hypercompetitive culture?
5. What activities provided you with the most fun and flow as a teenager?
6. What is your teenager’s preferred method of chilling out? Does it offend, frighten, or annoy you?
7. Many parents of teens say they feel left out and depleted. What pathways to flow have you tried? Have you expanded your social world? What is working? What isn’t?
8. What’s your policy about your teen entering your bedroom? Do you have a private space that is entirely your own?
Chapter Eight. The Blessing of Breaking the Rules: Real Life as Ethics Lab
1. Re-read pages 136 through 139 about the “traps” parents fall into when their child breaks rules. Which of these traps lure you most often? How can you avoid them?
2. When you were a teenager, how did your parents discipline you? Were they hands-off? Did they use physical punishments or humiliation? Did they follow through on the consequences they threatened? Ask yourself which aspects of their disciplinary techniques helped you acquire an ethical sense, and which aspects left you feeling rejected or ashamed.
3. Think of three or four common teen misdeeds and come up with an example of teshuvah for each. Share these with the group.
4. Quickly, name your child’s five worst traits. Don’t think too hard! Now recast each as a talent, gift, or positive attribute. Resist sarcasm. How can you provide your child with channels for the productive expression of these traits?
5. Explore your double standards (we all have them) by answering the questions on page 152. Can you spot any contradictions between what you say and what you do? Can you make changes? What obstacles do you anticipate facing if you try to improve?
Chapter Nine. The Blessing of a Hangover: A Sanctified Approach to Substances and Sex
Chapter Ten. The Courage to Let Them Go
1. What did your parents or childhood religion teach you about the role of pleasure in life? Were you taught that sex or inebriation is shameful? Were you around adults who couldn’t control their drinking, drug use or other impulsive behaviors? How do these experiences affect the way you are raising your teen?
2. What is your stance toward teenage experimentation? Are you the pleasure police? Or do you cover your eyes, ears, and intuition?
3. Were you surprised by my philosophy that teens may benefit from experimentation with substances and physical affection while they are still under their parents’ protection? How do you feel about expecting teens to remain celibate and sober until they are in college or on their own?
4. When your teen approaches you about a delicate topic, do you tend to overreact? Or underreact? What strategies can you use to remain composed while feeling embarrassed or unsure?
5. Come up with a couple of situations in which a parent might have to make a difficult decision about a child’s readiness. (Some ideas: A teenager wants to go out with a friend whom you distrust; wants to study in the bedroom with friends of the opposite sex; asks you to help procure birth control.) Ask yourself how a thoughtful parent would break down the request and apply the “natural laboratory” concept to make a decision. Role-play the request with another parent in the group.
6. Where do you stand on the concept of “friends with benefits”?
7. Do you agree with the idea of “truthiness” as a parental stance?
8. Take an inventory of your daily delight quotient. How might you bring more sensual pleasures into your life?
9. When your child leaves home to attend college or live independently, do you expect to feel as sad as the father in chapter ten? Or mostly nervous? Or joyful? Or relieved? Or all four? If your child has attended sleepaway camp or an out-of-town program, use your reaction to that experience as a guide.
It’s so enlightening and such a relief to get together with other parents who are fellow travelers in the desert of adolescence that it may be as difficult to end your group as it was to begin it. When the eight sessions are over, say a warm goodbye…or exchange email addresses or become Facebook friends with those members whose company you particularly enjoyed. You can also consider holding further meetings. The Jewish custom of the havurah, a small group of people who meet regularly to celebrate Shabbat, lifecycle events, and holidays, provides a model for a possible Promised Land for parents, especially those who have an empty nest facing them in the near future.
Q&A with Wendy Mogel, author of The Blessing of a B Minus
1. Why did you decide to write a book about teenagers?
A-I wrote this book for all the good, intelligent, devoted, otherwise sensible parents who are terrified by perfectly normal teenage behavior. So many parents believe that in our ultra-competitive, unsettled world there is no longer any room for the errors of adolescence. That there’s no leeway for kids to be dopey, sloppy, sarcastic, lazy, or erratic. These parents are so panicked about the future—especially about college admissions--that they place an intimidating amount of pressure on teens to excel in all areas: academics, sports, and the arts. Driven by the fear that teens will spoil their transcripts if allowed to make their own decisions, parents tightly supervise their homework schedules, protect them from potential errors in decision-making, and keep a close eye on their choice of friends and daily Facebooks posts so they won’t miss any warning signs of trouble. When their teen inevitably does something goofy, they exaggerate the significance of the child’s poor choice. They imagine it’s a sign of a permanent character flaw or of a limited capacity to grow. They think: My son got a B minus! He’ll never get into college! Or Her new best friend is kind of slutty! That must mean that she’s already kind of slutty too! Parents also take their teens’ histrionics very, very personally: She says she hates me! I must be a lousy parent! Parents have become as dramatic and shortsighted as their teens.
I wrote this book to help parents take a step back from the culture of frenzied, fretting parenting. A good alternative parental stance is one of compassionate detachment. Parents should offer guidance and set limits, but they should also allow adolescence to unfold in its naturally awkward, uneven fashion without constant surveillance or intervention. Parents can model their actions on one of the greatest leaders of biblical history: Moses. Like parents of teens, Moses was charged by God with leading a group of whining, exasperating wanderers on a journey from slavery (childhood) to freedom (the promised land of adulthood). Along the way Moses learned lessons in leadership. As he took his people across the hot sand, they made wrong turns and bad choices. They complained and worshipped false idols. Moses became angry with God for giving him such a seemingly impossible job. But eventually Moses learned from experience: If he tried to reason with his flock too much or micromanaged or overprotected them, they actually had a harder time gaining confidence and wisdom. Only after turning to other adults for support and allowing his followers to learn to tolerate hardship did he see his people reach maturity. They were finally ready to survive in a new land without him. I want parents to understand that adolescence has to be like this trip across the desert: dangerous, exciting, and full of promise. This is the normal and necessary time for teenagers to make missteps, to moan and wail, to learn from their errors, and mature at their own pace. That’s how they grow up.
2. How does The Blessing of a B Minus differ from The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, besides the fact that it concerns older children?
A-Three proverbs come to mind. One is Russian: “Little kids little problems, big kids big problems.” One Italian: Little children headache, big children heartache.” The final is Yiddish: “Small children disturb your sleep, big children disturb your life.” The main difference between raising small children and teenagers is the danger involved, both perceived and real. There’s a difference between teaching your child to ride a two-wheeler and teaching her to drive a car. Between worrying that she will eat too much sugar at a birthday party and fearing that she might take Ecstasy at a rave. Between your disappointment that he wasn’t placed in the top second-grade reading group and worrying that he won’t make it into college.
There are other differences, too. Teens are awash in hormones, while your own hormonal supply is on the wane. These physical transitions leave both teens and their parents prone to grumpiness, irritability, and emotional flare-ups. And while young children are silken and cuddly, teens are large and intimidating. It may feel strange, even scary, to issue a consequence to a rule-breaking teen who stands six inches taller than you. Teens are also deft at using emotional weaponry. They strike your most vulnerable spots with devastating precision. They say things like “Everyone knows your obsession with organic food is just a cover-up for your unsatisfying emotional life, Mom.” They blame you for their failings: “I just know I would have made the team if you had signed me up for private coaching like I asked you to!”
For all these reasons and more, it’s hard to develop confidence as a family leader. Instead, many parents slip into a slavish combination of stage manager, butler, and human ATM for their teens. But that’s not good for anyone. It wears out the parents and creates anxiety in the kids. The Blessing of a B Minus is about how to reclaim compassionate authority, to be both flexible and firm, to shrink what appear to be huge problems down to their appropriate size, and to put your teens’ heartaches in the context of normal adolescent development. It’s also essential to nourish yourself with pleasurable activities, to counter the inevitable chaos created by having teenagers in both your house and in your head.
3. The Blessing of a Skinned Knee talks about raising “self-reliant children” and The Blessing of a B Minus about “resilient teenagers.” What is the significance of that word: “resilience”? Are the goals of raising self-reliant children and resilient teenagers the same?
A-Fostering self-reliance in children means teaching them how to do things, to develop skills ranging from tying their shoes to washing their hair to filling in the homework worksheet without parental oversight or assistance.
Teens also need to learn lots of ordinary but essential skills. They need to plan and execute their own study schedule (again, without parental oversight), take care of their clothing, take out the trash, and keep on top of their bank balance. If they aren’t taught basic survival skills, they will grow up to be “handicapped royalty”—entitled young adults who believe they are too special or fragile to participate in the tasks of daily living. Handicapped royalty are not popular with roommates, professors, or prospective employers.
However, teens have an additional challenge, which is learning resilience. Although chores teach teens how to do things, developing resilience means learning how to take things, how to handle setbacks and frustration. Teens are subject to rejection by their friends, unfair treatment by teachers, humiliation from coaches, and lots of other hard knocks. Parents may feel the urge to smooth their teens’ path, saying, “Honey, let me just call the coach and tell him to take you off that bench!” While this looks like protective devotion, it’s a much greater gift to children when parents teach the elements of resilience: flexibility, problem-solving ability, tolerance of temporary discomfort, and patience rather than panic in the face of difficulties. It’s critical for teens to practice some of these skills before they go college, when the pain of every unfair situation or setback can be temporarily wiped away with a lively round of beer pong.
4. You mention tzar giddul banim, the necessary pain of raising children. Why is this concept especially apt for parents of teenagers? Do you think adolescence is more painful for the teens or the parents?
A-Adolescence is hard on teens, but the parents absolutely suffer more. Imagine it’s 2 a.m. on a Saturday night, with no sign of your teen. You text her. You call her cell. No response. You’re frantic, choked by grim imaginings, wondering whether to call the police… while in fact she is having so much fun at a friend’s party that she’s lost track of time. And then, when she comes home a full two and a half hours late with lots of excuses and tales of extenuating circumstances, you get the job of thinking up a consequence for her lapse of judgment and following it through, while she flops on her bed, texting her friends about her bizarre, backwards, Amish mother or father.
No one suffers more than the parents.
5. In each chapter of the book you take a frustrating or difficult aspect of adolescence and reconceive it as a blessing. Why is it important for parents to shift their perspective in this way?
A-If your teen does at least one and possibly several, of the following, it’s a good sign he’s progressing normally: --pursues a bizarre or unpromising hobby instead of developing what you see as his God-given talent
--brings home grades that shock and disappoint you
--lets loose in an angry tirade against your whole awful family
--breaks or loses or crashes something of sentimental or high monetary value
--demands that you provide a steady stream of goods and services
--hurts your feelings by missing an important event because he forgets or oversleeps
--shoplifts (and possibly gets arrested)
--drinks or tries a few drugs
--gets suspended from school for a prank or egregious rudeness
--has sex, possibly with no protection
You don't want to pretend that teens don’t get into serious trouble. They can. But if you allow yourself to become completely undone by predictable adolescent mistakes and experimentation, you won’t be able to think clearly. By viewing the upsetting aspects of adolescence as normal and necessary, as blessings that represent healthy growth, you develop perspective. And this allows you to react thoughtfully instead of impulsively. For example, you can see that rudeness toward you doesn’t stem from a lack of love. It’s a sign that your teen is performing the necessary work of separation with those she trusts the most—and it’s a chance for you to model and teach tolerance and respect. Or take teenagers’ runaway materialism. Teach them the virtue of moderation, but don’t miss the blessing of living in proximity to creatures with such a lusty capacity for delight, who vibrate with the perfection of the universe when they find the perfectly perfect pair of skinny jeans.
6. What part of raising teenagers did you find most challenging personally?
A-I had hoped that my professional expertise, and the fact that I’d written a bestselling parenting book, would give me a relatively easy ride through the typical anguish of parenting teens. It didn’t. What was especially demoralizing was the feeling that I’d been here before. Late nights, crying, food issues, tantrums, testing the rules…I wondered: weren’t we supposed to have left these problems behind with preschool? What did I do wrong? When I remembered that adolescence is a second toddlerhood, it was a great relief. That recognition was a lifeline. If we expect teens to behave like mature adults we’re sunk. And they will be too.
7. If you had to choose one piece of advice, one mantra, one rule for parents to take away from The Blessing of a B Minus, what would it be?
A-They have to do a lot of dumb stuff in order to get smart.
8. What do you think teenagers want their parents to know?
A-Nothing! They say, “If I tell my mom anything she gets more worried than I am, and if I tell my dad anything he gets mad.” Of course, what they are really saying is that they wish their parents would behave more like adults, that they would listen to their kids’ problems without reacting too emotionally or immediately jumping in to solve the problem. Teens are not able to articulate this desire, but most of them would like their parents to set consistent limits while offering their acceptance of the teen’s unique, still-developing spirit. Surprisingly, research on adolescent attitudes also shows that teens would like to spend more time with their parents--not being nagged or harangued, just being together. Both boys and girls talk about wishing to spend more time with their fathers.