Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Wonder Years

She can't help it. At least that's what the experts say. Her cerebral cortex, the section of her brain which  perceives higher reasoning, logic and consequences, is disengaged. The clearinghouse for most brain activity originates within her hypothalamus, a primitive region which instructs the body to either fight, flee or freeze. She evaluates all information and then acts based upon how it affects her and her immediate needs. Any perceived threat causes her brain to completely shut down and posture for a fight. How old do you think this human might be? Six? Three? Eighteen months?
Nope. Fourteen.
My wife and I have been taking a weekly class at the local high school about all things teenager: their social and physical development, their emotional progression, methods for parents of coping with them and listening to them.
It's been really helpful, since the one of the first lessons taught is that your teen is your ally, not your adversary. Believe me, this is a highly underrated piece of advice. It allows me to look beyond some of her recent statements, such as:

1) Teenager: "Dad, what time is The Office on tonight?"
    Me: "Nine o'clock."
    (Ten seconds elapse)
    Teenager: "Dad, what did I just ask you?"

2) Teenager: "Dad, can I drive to the store?"
     Me: "No, you're fourteen."
     Teenager: "That's not fair."
     (I don't follow up on such statements with any sort of logical inquiry as to why it's not fair.)

3) Teenager (at school, calling me while I'm at work): "Dad, I forgot my volleyball socks. Can you bring
    them to me?"
    Me: "No, I'm at work."
    Teenager: "That's not fair. Can't you go at lunchtime?"
    Me: "No, it would take me an hour-and-a-half."
    Teenager: "That's not fair."
    Me: "You've made that clear."

As I mentioned a couple of months ago, I dearly love this girl. She's smart and kind and funny. The hard part is the clashes we have in between her smart, kind, funny moments, and my struggle to keep situations from escalating. Our class instructor maintains that the best way to convey requests (orders, actually), without appearing confrontational and invoking the kid's caveman brain reflex, is to swoop in, succinctly state the information, and swoop back out. Kind of like "Whack-a-Mole." Anything to avoid a face-to-face stand-off is good, and this technique does appear to be working. Any more droning on, and I sound like Charlie Brown's teacher, and nothing gets through.
Well, time to make sure the Volleyball socks are clean.

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