Making sense to teens: A common Saying with an Uncommon Beginning.
Peer pressure and bad ideas
We are all looking for answers in life and sometimes things can get quite challenging. The everyday ups and downs we face sometimes force us to create our own reasons for doing things. We rationalize, we deny, but most of all we try to make sense of our world. Every once in a while someone may come up with a real hair brained explanation for what they are doing or why want to do something. This is fairly common among young people when they just really want something because their friends have it or their friends are doing it.
A few years ago my sixteen year old son wanted to go on a camping outing with a group of friends. There would be no adults supervising, all of the participants were still minors, and I was guessing alcohol could be involved. Of course, he claimed ‘everyone was going’ and for this reason alone he should be allowed to join them. I balked at the idea as I often do when it sounds like a potential disaster and let him know. I wasn’t really interested in a.what other parents were letting their unsupervised teens do and b. everyone wasn’t going because I knew for a fact that my child wouldn’t be participating.
Being a reasonable parent though, I told him he could try to convince me by showing that going on this trip would in some way be beneficial to him, that not going would in some way irreparably damage him, and that there was a good reason for there to be no adult presence on this trip. Like any good lawyer, he tried to marshal an argument that made some sense but his main point seemed to be how guilty I would feel as a parent by denying my child a basic right to socialize with his friends.
I of course countered that I was concerned, as I very well should be, because every year some young person goes off camping with their High School buddies and either ends up seriously injured or dead in a car accident or drowning accident and when the devastated parents are interviewed after the fact, they inevitably say they thought it wasn’t a great idea but because their child was with friends they had allowed them to go.
Now I am not going to judge parents who allow their children the freedom to develop autonomy and their own sense of direction but I also wasn’t going to be that parent being interviewed after a tragic accident. While working with teenagers I have seen enough to know that their frontal lobes still aren't fully developed and that one teen has a hard enough time making rational decisions on his own; a group of teens left unsupervised would likely demolish any hope of logical decision making. We still had a few camping trips left ourselves before he was fully an adult and I wanted him to be there for them.
It helps if teens know what we are saying: A common saying with an uncommon beginning
Suffice it to say he continued to try to make his argument, relying more on attempts to guilt me and veiled threats that his misery would ruin everyone’s weekend. I was pretty sure I could handle a little extra drama for the weekend and I let him know. He then looked at me and insincerely said he could tell I didn’t love him the way his friends parents did because if I really loved him I would let him go. I chuckled and looked at him and said I think you’re grasping at straws now. He turned in disgust and said over his shoulder I have no idea what that means, you have said that to me so many times and it makes no sense. You want me to make sense but then you say that. What would I need straws for anyway? What does that even mean?
I guess from his point of view it didn’t really make any sense. I was asking him to give me a rational reason for going on his outing and here I was saying something that made no sense to him. I had used this saying a lot because of an image I had in my head, but I had never shared it with him. Sometimes the common saying as we use in our everyday vernacular really doesn’t conjure the image and idea we want it to. What I had just been saying to my son had sounded like gobbledeegook to him for all of these years.
I called him back and let him know that the phrase grasping at straws wasn’t about someone trying to grab a handful of straws for their slurpee. It was an old phrase that originally was a drowning man grasps at straw or grabs at straw. I explained that when his arguments seem more and more desperate it reminds me of the drowning man grasping at straw. Well why don’t you just say that then , he replied, at least it makes sense. You know I really don’t understand old people.
I guess sometimes sayings do change over time and the way we say things doesn't always make complete sense, especially to younger people. The original version of a common phrase often makes perfect sense but the truncated version that ends up being used by us in everyday life, although intended to have the same meaning, doesn’t really make sense any more. The next time I hear one of my kids making a desperate argument or rationalization I will try using a drowning man grasps at straw and see what kind of reaction that gets. I am guessing they will still be angry I have used my parental veto again but at least I will no longer be suggesting irrelevant images of them reaching for a cup filled with sipping straws.