Jewish World Review Oct. 4, 2002 / 28 Tishrei, 5763

Lori Borgman

Lori Borgman
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Consumer Reports

Lessons of a childhood survivor --- my children's | As of last week, I have attended a grand total of 35 back-to-school nights. What's more, I figure I have logged enough mileage to the drugstore for poster board, markers and glue sticks in my lifetime to lap the globe twice. I've played piano for one kindergarten musical (once was enough for everyone), baked 3,000 brownies for room parties and suffered through six science fairs where every other parent was a rocket scientist. My contribution was suggesting a different type face for the display board.

As someone who has survived the elementary, middle school and now high school years, may I tell you what I've seen?

I've seen parents who are devoted and attentive to the infant, the toddler, the preschool child and the elementary school child. They make sure the kids eat vegetables and acquire a taste for yogurt. They preview videos, get to know their kids' friends and are judicious about television. They talk with their children, spend time with them and share meals with them.

Then middle school hits and those things become harder. Sports and extra-curricular activities fragment the family. Kids dart here and there, and before long it is easier to nail Jell-O to a tree than round the entire family up for a simple sandwich.

High school sneaks up on you and you lie awake at night listening for the garage door to go up. You wonder if you've told them all the important things you meant to by this stage. You wonder if you're nosing in where you're no longer needed.

Friends you used to think you were on the same page with host co-ed slumber parties. There's a spring break trip to an island where the drinking age is 18 and the hotel rooms of underage kids are stocked with booze - supplied by the parents.

You're swimming upstream, and you feel it. You hit few bumps in the road. Something unexpected comes at you out of left field, and some days you think, "Aw, what's the use in trying. I quit." That's exactly what you want to do. Just quit.

Quitting is certainly an option, but rarely a good one.

Teens have a way of spooking adults. They look big, act big and eat big, but they're still kids. They still need parents. And parenting. What do they need? Talk, touch and boundaries - the same things all kids need.

Teens need to talk. With you. Of course, the trick is to catch them first. Trapping them in a speeding car can work. Ditto for walking, hiking, strolling through the mall, or luring them into the kitchen with salsa and chips. And when a teen is ready to talk, you better be ready to listen.

Teens still need a parent's touch, too. Just because a kid grows facial hair doesn't mean he's outgrown his need for affection. Tousle his hair, slap him on the back, and if you can get by with it, grab him in a bear hug and hold on until he shakes you loose. Just because a girl wears mascara doesn't mean she no longer needs an arm around her shoulder or a hug now and then.

Boundaries? They're not exclusive for tykes with scooters. Big kids with driver's licenses need them, too. They need guidance and direction as to right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate, what's acceptable in a family and what is not.

Despite their imposing height, mass and decibel level, teens still need it all - talk, touch and boundaries. And when they turn a deaf ear, slam the door, roll their eyes or go nuclear, so what. We parents need to hang in there.

Nobody likes a quitter.

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JWR contributor Lori Borgman is the author of I Was a Better Mother Before I Had Kids. To comment, please click here.

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© 2001, Lori Borgman