Follow-Up to “I Bit My Tongue”

On March 14, I promised to keep you posted on the ongoing saga of “Will-He-Make-Me-Late-Today?” About a week after I wrote that blog, I stopped by my son’s room on a Wednesday evening. “Do you know what tomorrow is?” I asked. “Yes,” he said with a sigh. “It’s a Stressful-Early-Day.” That’s all I needed to hear. The next morning we were up and out the door exactly on time.

But there’s been a new development in the process: his baseball coach has been requiring before-school study halls at 7:00 on Wednesday mornings. Can’t you just feel the temptation I’m facing? On the Tuesday night before the first study hall, he reminded me, “We need to leave by 6:30 tomorrow, Mom.” I raised my eyebrows at him and he quickly said, “I know, I know. Now it’s my turn to have a Stressful Early Day!”

I so wanted to dawdle and make him late, just so he could see how it feels. But I have to remember that I am the adult here. Besides, what would making him late prove? Just that I hold all the power, and he really doesn’t need me to keep throwing that in his face. The point is that he now understands the tension I experience at the thought of having to face someone in authority after arriving late.

Empathy: it’s a two-way street. Teaching it to teens is just as important as showing it to them.

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R-E-S-P-E-C-T

“But what about this B?”  We were in the middle of a student-led conference, and the mom was interrupting again.
“Mom!  I already told you I have a plan for that!  It’s no big deal!”
“No big deal?  You have A’s in all your other classes, so it seems to me like this is a big deal! Are you even trying in this class? If you really cared, you’d. . .”
“Let me finish and I’ll explain! You never let me talk!”

At this point the mom turned to me and said, “You see what I have to deal with? All this interrupting and talking back? She doesn’t respect me!” Having listened to the two of them bicker back and forth for 10 minutes, I thought it was time to make a point. “It seems to me,” I said cautiously, “that the two of you are very much alike. You’re going to have to figure out a way to communicate with each other.” And the other three parents at the table (step-dad, dad, and step-mom) all nodded their heads in amused agreement.

I have a poster in my classroom which reads, “If you want to get respect, be the first to show it.” This is so very true when parenting teens. Spend a few moments in self-assessment. What tone of voice do you use when talking to your teen about unpleasant topics? Is it dripping with sarcasm? How about harsh and angry? Do you interrupt or brush off comments you deem unimportant?

Once your child reaches the age of 12 or 13, you can pretty much expect him to respond to you the way you speak to him. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a parent and a middle schooler going at each other in the hallway, and I can see exactly why the teen sounds the way he does. They’re just echoing each other!

This is another area where you should begin to treat your teen more like an adult and less like a child. Approach your teen with more respect, and you’ll have the right to demand it in return. Just be sure you’re actually modeling the kind of behavior you are expecting.

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

“I didn’t put that there!”  The agony in his voice was apparent; I could see by his expression that he knew the more he protested his innocence, the less I would believe him.  We were at a standoff, with all the evidence stacked against him.  If I didn’t handle this carefully, I would find myself in the very type of power struggle I strive to avoid.

This little drama had begun before school even started, when I’d had a chat with the young man – let’s call him Ted – about the recent rash of pranks and mischief he’d been involved in.  The discussion had gone well, and he’d assured me he could get himself under control, so I did not need to call for reinforcements (aka his parents).

Then after lunch, another young man – let’s call him Hank – came into class, laid his literature book on the table, and left to use the restroom.  When he returned, his book was missing.  Since he sits next to Ted, I confronted Ted directly, “Did you take his book and hide it as a prank?”  With great sincerity, Ted held up his hands and said, “I did not.  This time I really didn’t do it.”

We checked the name inside his book – yep, it said “Ted.”  We checked everybody else’s books.  I turned to Ted, gave him The Look, and asked again, “Are you sure you didn’t take his book to be funny?”  “I swear I didn’t!” he protested.  “You can even look in my backpack!”  With that, he unzipped his backpack, and we both leaned over to peer in.  At the bottom lay a familiar-looking book.  He pulled it out, opened the cover, and  – you guessed it.  It was Hank’s.

Hence the standoff.  On the one hand, I didn’t think Ted was dumb enough to claim to be innocent and then lead me right to the evidence that would convict him.  On the other hand, I couldn’t figure out any way for Hank’s book to get into his backpack unless he’d put it there.  We agreed to let it be a mystery for now, and to continue on with the class.

As soon as the period was over, one of the girls at the table squealed, “We’ve solved the mystery!”  When I heard the explanation, it all made sense.  Turns out the books had been accidentally swapped yesterday:  when Hank returned to his classroom, he’d taken Ted’s book with him.  Ted, in the meantime, grabbed what he thought was his book and put it in his backpack at the end of the day.

Then today, after Hank left to use the restroom, Ted spied the book on the table, checked the name inside the cover, and picked it up, not realizing he had another copy in his backpack.

There was relief all around, as you can imagine, and I was so glad I’d given Ted the benefit of the doubt rather than accusing him of what seemed like out-and-out lying.

The moral of the story is that we don’t always need to be quick to believe the worst.  Certainly kids lie, and we have to be ever-vigilant for dishonesty.  But sometimes it pays to take a step back, listen to the denial, and consider other possibilities.  This situation ended well, with Ted feeling like I’d treated him with respect, and with me feeling like I had been right to trust my instincts.

This time, at least.

I Bit My Tongue

Even though I’d reminded him the night before that we needed to leave early, one morning last week my youngest was running late.  As I headed out to the car without him, he assured me, “Five minutes or less, Mom.”  I sat in the car fuming until I couldn’t take it anymore.  Storming back into the house, I ran into him, laden with all his gear and bags.

“I TOLD you that today was a Stressful Early Day!  I TOLD you to put your stuff in the car last night!”  That was all I said before huffing back to the driver’s seat.  He wisely said nothing.

Once he’d dumped his stuff in the trunk and crawled into the front seat, I backed out almost before he had his door closed all the way.  The silence in the car was not our usual companionable I-know-you’re-not-awake-and-neither-am-I peace and quiet.  There was definitely an edge to it, and I know he was bracing for a motherly tirade.

But I bit my tongue, despite feeling like my blood pressure was up and needed to be vented.  This whole scenario has played out before in our house, with each boy taking his turn (more than once) at being the cause of us running late.  Over the years I’ve learned that an outburst has no value, because

  • it doesn’t get us to school any faster,
  • I can’t turn the clock back, no matter how angry I get,
  • the more angry words we exchange, the worse we both feel,
  • he already knows how mad I am, and
  • it’s going to happen again.

It’s fifteen miles from home to school.  It took me about half that distance to calm down.  When I finally did speak, it was to ask him – calmly – about his after-school schedule.  I could hear the relief in his voice as he replied, because he had braced himself for Ranting Mom (after all, he’s met her before).

Late days happen.  Life goes on.  In the big picture, it’s not worth damaging my relationship with my son when it’s already too late to change anything.

This week I’ll remind him again when “Tomorrow is a Stressful Early Day.”  I’m thinking he’ll be ready on time.  I’ll keep you posted.

Not Really MIA

I don’t know if you’d noticed, but I WAS blogging every Wednesday and Sunday nights.  This week my schedule is messed up, and just in case anyone missed me, I thought I’d quickly fill you in:

My husband and I have been in Southern California since Wednesday night, helping to clean out my mother-in-law Emma’s apartment, since she is now in assisted living.  She and my father-in-law lived in that apartment for 35 years, so you can imagine how much stuff there was to go through.  The largest amount – and the most time-consuming – were the boxes and envelopes of photographs.

I found one taken of  Emma on her 13th birthday in 1939.  I gazed at it and pondered how much the world has changed for a 13-year-old today.  Imagine – 1939 was during the Depression, before we entered World War II, and long before PC’s, cell phones, electric cars, and iPods were anybody’s brainchild (brainchildren?).

In some ways her struggles to be independent from her parents were the same as those our teens face.  Yet without the influence of  TV and texting and the Internet,  I’m sure her world was much smaller than that of teens today.

I offer no great flash of insight or wisdom, other than to remind you that those same influences on our children can also be great resources for parents today.  Please share this blog with anyone whom you think might be interested, and may I also encourage you to leave questions or comments that I – or another helpful reader – might address.

One last thought – please label the backs of your photos.  Someday someone will be looking at them and wondering, “Who ARE these people?”

Zing!

Thanks to the Bubble effect, junior high teachers grow thicker skins.  Not because students are malicious (they can be, but we put a stop to that), but because some of their well-meaning-est comments are delivered with a zing.

Case in point:  The other day I arrived late to school, due to a medical appointment.  One of my students said, “When are you gonna be gone again?  We really liked the sub.”  Another student came to my defense, saying, “That’s not a very nice thing to say about Mrs. Acuña. . .”  Before I could thank her, she went on, “. . .when she’s in the room.”  Zing!

On another occasion, some students were discussing teachers who play favorites.  I interjected, “Do I have favorites?”  “No, you like everybody. . .” said one student.  Before I could feel proud of my ability to treat all students fairly, he went on, “. . .because that’s your job.”  Zing!

One last example:  “Hey, Mrs. Acuna, nice haircut!  It looks better than usual.”  Zing!

I always say it’s part of my job to civilize my students.  That sometimes means pointing out that what they said didn’t come out quite the way they wanted it to.  Adolescence really is a hybrid time; we’re dealing with fascinating half adult/half child creatures.

When they zing us, we need to gently point out why that comment was actually a little hurtful.  Most of the time they will be surprised but then see immediately how that could be true.  Accept their apologies, try to minimize their embarrassment, and let it go.

Then grow another layer of skin.