Teen Talk: Of Course We Trust You...
Teen Talk - Live
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Of Course We Trust You
Trust, respect, privacy, and personal rights are high on the wish (read ‘demand’) list of all teens. They will protest loudly if for any reason they believe they are not receiving copious amounts of all four at any given time, (Or radiate disdain at a level set to stun.) As the adult you may feel honor bound to give them as much as you can. On principal you may feel they should at least have privacy.
I believe you need to be considerably more pragmatic. You need to know exactly what they are doing – not for any personal gratification – but for the safety of the changelings, literally to protect them from themselves. The caveat is that they absolutely must not find out, thus the title of the chapter, you really do need to channel your inner spy. You need to know how the latest technology works, and not be afraid to use it. You need to know their associates, and their friends, especially their best friends. You need to check for contraband and be aware of every latest development in communications. And, whatever you discover has to remain private. By this I mean it cannot be used in arguments or point scoring interactions with your child (or your friends). Discussing with your spouse/partner or a professional is, of course necessary, especially if you discover things outside your comfort zone.
Even with critical information to hand, you need to be as proactive with guidance as possible, not reactive. The problem with that is you are very likely to over-react due to all the adult alarm bells ringing like crazy in your head. It still surprises me how innocent our teens are, especially as they mask it behind an attitude of worldliness. Part of the problem with the spy role is that you don’t have an impassive “control” sitting all Judi Dench-like in a wood paneled office in London. You have to handle both roles. My hope is that a better understanding of the changelings can help with that. Remember you don’t need a license to raise children (just to drive, fish, or own a dog!) and you do not have a license to kill!
A good starting point would be to examine the components of trust, respect, privacy, and personal rights from the teen perspective. All are critical components of selfhood, indicators of independence, and building blocks of adulthood. It might help to reflect on how you feel, when any of these four things are taken from you, in either a personal, or professional situation.
It is important that the changelings understand that trust and respect are earned. They tend to go hand in hand. It is also very important that they be given opportunities to earn your trust, that they have the chance to demonstrate that they can be trusted. For this to succeed needs two things, an incremental plan and a reset button. It also means that you can not assume anything. Attitude and forgetfulness will come into play at some point, thus the reset button. Whatever plan you carefully construct can end up resembling a game of chutes and ladders, with moments of great joy and moments where you feel you are right back at square one. And you don’t give them your trust, you loan it.
I have been told countless times by parents that “my child doesn’t lie.” I hated breaking it to them, but all children lie, and adolescents are semi-pro. It is a very natural extension, or real world application, of creativity. I also believe it is not a moral black or white, lying-is-a-mortal-sin, scenario either. The changelings recall incidents in an ultra egocentric manner, and will tell you things in the way most advantageous to their purpose. For want of a better term, I would call it me-spin or teen-spin. It is modeled very effectively for them on TV by loosing sports stars and caught-in-the-act politicians. There is little, if any, interest in finding or presenting truth in any kind of universally accepted ‘pure’ form. Self-preservation is key, along with, if absolutely necessary, an admission of semi-guilt with the objective of minimizing any personal involvement, and maximizing the impact of others.
As a police officer I quickly recognized the same kind of responses I would get from hapless criminals in the interview room, as I got from my middle schoolers. The inclusion of the word ‘honest’ or ‘honestly’ was a red flag, along with ‘I never lie’ (which is a lie) and “you’ve got to believe me.” The last statement should have the caveat; “because I’m putting on my honest face and acting my heart out for you,” tacked on at the end. No, you don’t have to believe them. Your gut instinct is probably right, trust yourself, and play it right back at them. I do not suggest head to head “I’m right, you’re wrong,” but take a tip from bullfighting. The great toreadors do not stand in front of the bull, but deftly slip to the side at the last moment, (Olé!)
For example, ask; “Why would you put me in such an awkward situation? Do I believe you or your teacher/coach/principal/security guard/police officer? I want to trust you but I’m not sure what to believe.”
This is where the more creative teens will introduce multiple ‘misunderstanding’ components; I didn’t mean… I thought I heard… I thought I saw… oh, you mean…No, that’s not what I meant…and proceed to move one shade closer to the truth you know is out there. The less imaginative will throw their hands up, followed by throwing their entire selves upon your mercy. Crying is used as a modifier, and you may actually hear that they love you. (It happens so rarely it’s a great sucker punch). Anger is often the only reaction that tells you that you are right.
Obviously we would prefer that the transgressor be honest, and I always make a big deal when they are. It is not easy for the adolescent, and I’d like to explain why I think that is. It comes down to power. From their perspective, living in their egocentric universe, the outside world is the oppressor. The adults have all the power. They have money, cars, authority and what the teen sees as freedom. If you think back to any angry exchanges between you and teen, either as the adult, or if you can remember, when you were their age, how many times did the interaction reinforce that power base? “Because I said so”, “When you’re in my house you live by my rules”, “I’m not made of money” etc, all true, but all reinforcing the “power structure” in the relationship.
Now, I’m not advocating change here, or suggesting the adults are doing anything wrong, my point is that we should simply be aware of how this is seen from their perspective. If you believe you are the weaker half of the equation, it is easy to justify using anything you can to redress the balance. This includes lying, cheating, and stealing.
As adults our first reaction is often denial, but faced with evidence of the criminal trifecta, we then assume that the actions represent a moral watershed with the adolescent on an inevitable path to a life of crime. However, from their perspective, they were not lying, or cheating, or stealing, they were just redressing the imbalance of power. It is still wrong of course, but not quite with the same gravitas, the same intensity.