Don’t you hate needlessnesses?
It is the exception when a young person is able to move through their teen years totally free of some kind of TRAUMA. And while it is virtually impossible to totally eliminate TEEN TRAUMA, so much of it is needless. OH! Really?
Assuming a normal birth, we are all born with a bundle of physical and psychological needs. These are built-in, innate needs and the degree to which they are or are not fulfilled, will end up determining the quality of our lives.
The physical needs are food, air, and water. Clearly, without these needs being met, we will not survive.
The psychological needs are a little more complicated.
Fr. Thomas Keating, in his priceless book INVITATION TO LOVE (which I wish my wife and I had read prior to beginning our child rearing odyssey) notes there are three pairs of these innate needs. They are a need for a sense of security and survival, affection and esteem, and power and control.
While in our early years we have no conscious awareness of these needs, eventually and one way or another, we will spend our entire lives seeking ways to meet these needs.
We start out as bicycles. (Not to worry. There is a reason for this metaphor.)
And we have a little tool box which, through trial and error, we fill with tools to keep our bicycle running. In other words, to meet those psychological needs.
For example, you are in your crib, you are hungry and feel all alone. You cry out. Someone comes and feeds you and holds you. Aha! When I’m hungry and feel all alone, all I have to do is cry out and someone comes and feeds me and holds me. I feel more secure. I feel I will survive. I subconsciously put this little tool in my tool box.
You are three years old and with your Mother at the grocery store. You are in the cart. As you go down an aisle, you see something that appeals to you. You reach over and put it in the cart. Your mother says, "put it back, please". You say, “no, I want it”. Again, this time a little more forcefully she says, “put it back”. The two of you go through this a couple of times. You throw a fit. She relents. Aha! When I show out in public, I can get what I want. I subconsciously put this tool in my little tool box for future use.
Let's say you are in fourth grade. The teacher is giving the class a test. Your best friend is sitting next to you. You think he is smarter than you. There is a multiple choice question that stumps you. You cut your eyes over to your friend’s paper to see what he marked. You mark your paper the same. You pass the test. Aha! It is OK to cheat as long as I don’t get caught. Another tool for my tool box.
You’re small for your age. While you hate being smaller than a lot of your peers, you are clearly smarter, more clever than most of them. You unconsciously discover that you have the gift of manipulation….that you can use your superior smarts, your cleverness to prevail in a lot of situations. It begins a pattern. Aha! Another very useful tool for my tool box.
In 7th grade you experience a growth spurt. By the 9th grade, you are the tallest, largest boy in your class. But you are also pretty smart. You get good grades. However, and primarily because of your size, the High School football coach comes calling. He makes you feel very special. Unconsciously, you come to think of your exceptional physical attributes as being more important than your intellectual abilities. After all, you like the attention and your good grades are not getting you much of that. Sports become your ticket to recognition, esteem and how you feel about yourself. Aha! Another tool in your tool box.
At age 9, your mother begins telling you that you are pretty, that she is sure you are going to be a beautiful young woman. She says to you: “pretty girls always have an advantage over girls who are not pretty”. That sticks with you. Interestingly, you experience a number of situations where that proves to be correct. You certainly don’t have any problem attracting the boys like some of the other less attractive girls. You come to believe that looks matter. How you “look” starts becoming more and more important to you. It tends to crowd out the importance of who you are as a person. A pattern is born. Hey, looks must be the ticket. Looks matter! Another tool in my tool box.
(These are just a few examples. Everyone is different and will have different experiences that determine what tools end up in your tool box.)
From birth to puberty, and through trial and error, we all accumulate tools that enable us to keep our bicycles running. But somewhere between ages 11 & 13, after beginning to feel like we’ve got this living thing all figured out, WHAM!...things start changing. It starts with physical changes.
With boys, their voices changes, they have hair where they never had it before. All of a sudden they begin having feelings and urges they never had before, especially when it comes to girls. And, there is a definite yearning to launch out and do more “man things”.
With girls, the physical changes are also pretty dramatic. They begin to have menstrual cycles, breasts, and an increased interest in how they look, how they measure up, and BOYS! Yes, BOYS! They begin learning they have a certain power over boys which they find enjoyable and they find it difficult not to experiment with it.
In sum and as noted previously, in those pre-teen years, we are bicycles. But in a very short span of time, we turn into a Mercedes, a Porsche or Maserati.
Do we wonder then, why those years from 12 to 20 are so difficult for so many?
It is because we are trying to keep our new Mercedes running with bicycle tools.
Security and survival, affection and esteem, and power and control are basic, innate needs we all have. And as we move through life, through trial and error, and in most cases unconsciously, we accumulate tools to help us fulfill these needs.
Like most anything, preparation makes a difference, e.g. the more prepared we are for life, the more we know and the better we end up being equipped to deal with it successfully.
Try sitting down with your pre-teen and explaining this to them. And use this “bicycle/Mercedes” metaphor. You will be amazed. Trying to keep a Mercedes running with bicycle tools? Although most male brains are not fully developed until the mid-20's, female brains develop somewhat earlier, most pre-teens will get this.
No, they may not act like it, but they understand cause and effect, they understand fairness. And if patiently and respectfully explained to them, they understand “choice”....that “choices determine outcomes”.
They also understand “stupid”. In the framework of this metaphor, explain to them that this is why they have parents, aunts & uncles, coaches, teachers, youth ministers, guidance counselors, mentors, etc. all to help them to not only identify the new tools they are going to need but show them how to use them.
Although there will be times when you are not so sure, they are not stupid. You can take comfort in the fact that the single most abhorrent moniker for a pre-teen is “stupid”.
Most of them will get this, especially if you prepare them to receive it by simply saying to them, “you are not stupid, you will understand this.”
And, take the time to revisit your years as a pre-teen, and share with them how in some way, some or all of the above referenced individuals helped make a difference in your life.
And, don’t fail to tell them how many times you wish you had more willingly sought out and listened to their advice.
There is a dictum that is often quoted: “Experience is the best teacher.” While there is a measure of truth in that statement, sadly, it is not wholly true. “Someone else’s experience is the best teacher”....if you are humble enough and smart enough to learn from it,
Go over this with your pre-teen. You’ll be amazed. They will get it.
OH, Really? Hmmm