Why does EVERYTHING with teens have to be an emergency? Just within the past 24 hours, I’ve received several 911-like calls from my teens with ‘OMG, Mom!! Hurry up, there’s a fire, life-or-death’ urgency to them. Here are just a couple:
1) Before leaving the house yesterday morning, I asked my 17-year-old daughter 3 separate times if she was ready and if she had everything she needed. “All good” she said. So, just after dropping her off at school (which is 30 minutes from our home), I’m half way to my yoga class (to de-stress and prepare myself for the next set of emergencies), when I get a call: “Mom, I forgot my uniform for the hospitality program! And, the bus leaves in 40 minutes! And, if I don’t get it by the time we leave, I can’t go! And if I don’t go, I’ll have to sit at school in the library for 3 whole hours with nothing to do!” I seriously consider scrapping my plans so that I can get home. But… What goes through my head in a matter of seconds: Even if I did rush all the way back home and drive all the way back to school to drop off the uniform that she is responsible for, I wouldn’t make it in time. Plus, come on…I’m foregoing Yoga (aka: relaxation, exercise, and sanity) to rush around like a crazy person, fight traffic, and take on even MORE stress and insanity? All while relieving my daughter of ANY responsibility? Nope. What I actually did: Calmly explained to my teen that her natural consequences (being ‘stuck’ in the library) should be seen as an opportunity to catch up on homework and maybe even get ahead! And, learn to be a bit more responsible next time – write yourself a note or put the uniform in the car the night before…
2) On my way to work today, I get a phone call from my teenager yelling “Mom! My dad’s out of town and the dog sitter is at his house trying to get in, but she’s locked out because stupid Thomas (her teenage brother, my teenage son) used the latch and the key doesn’t work! And, he left the garage door opener in the house, so there’s no way to get in! And, if we don’t get in, the dog will DIE! I told Dad I would take care of him…Mom, DO SOMETHING!” Wait, what? What just happened here?? What goes through my head: First, how did we go from Zero to a full blown Four-Alarm Fire in a matter of seconds? Second, why am I involved in my ex-husband’s dog-sitter being locked out of his house and what exactly does my teenager think I can do about it? Third, why is she acting as though a massive, blazing asteroid is hurling itself directly at her father’s house, about to obliterate the poor helpless mutt inside? What I actually did: I told her to CALM DOWN and take a deep breath. I ever-so-gently remind her that this is not my responsibility, but that the dog will be fine and she will simply have to call the dog sitter and tell her to unlock the back door.
Whew. Another crisis averted!
When parents of teens receive those types of calls (whether on a daily basis or hardly ever), an instant physiological reaction takes place. Our cortisol levels spike through the roof and we immediately feel compelled to put on our Parenting Superhero cape in order to save our child. I mean, I’d like to think that my daughter likens me to Wonder Woman, ready and able to fix any problem with my magic lasso and those cool indestructible bulletproof bracelets . But, guess what? Sometimes, they don’t actually need saving. And, sometimes, if they do, maybe they need to save themselves! We must remember that teens are just learning to manage their time, build organizational skills, and yes, even be responsible for their own actions. They’re also learning how to navigate those pesky unpredictable curves that life throws at us now and then. Just like when they were little and learning to walk, if we never let them fall; never let them experience scraping their knee – if we catch them every single time, how will they learn? Now, I’m not saying that all teens have this habit of ‘crying wolf’…my kids come from a long line of over-reactors, to be sure. And, of course, I’m not talking about truly serious or harmful situations. But, what I am saying is that we as parents have enough on our never-ending daily To-Do list. I’m sure I’m not the only one who often feels like I’m drowning in responsibility. We, as parents, professionals, counselors, nurses, maids, cooks, and chauffeurs, do not need to add more stress to our daily lives when it is not actually necessary; especially when we can create an opportunity for our teens to learn important life lessons from the experience. So, parents: It’s ok for your teen to stumble and sometimes even fall. It’s more than ok for them to experience the natural consequences (within reason, of course) that come with the choices they make. It would benefit us all for parents to step back every once in a while and let their teens realize for themselves that it’s probably not the smartest thing in the world to call 911 for every situation. We should give ourselves a break. So, the next time you get one of those 911 calls from your teen, take just a second to think the situation through. Is this a teaching moment or do you really have to bust out the Superhero cape? You know, after all, that when the sirens really do go off and you are seriously called to save the day, the cape is there and ready to go. Just don’t forget to breathe!