Category Archives: A Dude’s Guide to Teens

Will You Still Need Me, When You’re Thirty-Four?*

Letting go is easy.

Not grabbing them when they’re falling. . . that’s much, much harder.

Rearing children means that you’re responsible for not only their safety and well being at the very moment (and every moment), but that you’re supposed to be laying the groundwork for them to take control over their own lives and make good decisions on their own.Burning magnesium is really, really, really, really bright.

The first part of that last sentence is enough to drive just about anyone to the edge of sanity. The second part is what will take you, pick you up and hurl you like a caber so far over the line that even on a dark night you wouldn’t even be able to see it if it were etched in neon and burning magnesium.

Children are the living embodiment of the thought that everything has consequences. What you do with and to them now will have lasting ramifications in their later lives.

As parents, we want to make sure our little dudes and dudettes learn not only from their own experiences, but our experiences. That way, they won’t have to suffer like we did. That is the platonic ideal of parenting, but you know no teenager ever actually listens. Why would they? I mean, they already know everything already.**This is an example of a very stupid punishment. Firstly, twerking? That's what you're worried about? I'd think peer pressure would be enough to curtail that after a few tries. Secondly, if you think public shaming will teach her any lesson beyond "Don't get caught," you're crazy.

Which is why punishing kids ever more extravagantly as they grow older isn’t going to work all that well for you later on.

The most important lesson you can pass along to your little dudes is the instinct to, when they don’t actually know what to do or where to go, actually ask questions. Ask for help. And more, turn back to their parents for the first shot at offering said help.

Even now, I’ll use my dad as a sounding board before making certain decisions. I know he’s got my best interests at heart and has experienced a lot of what I’m already going through and he’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. And I say this long after the parent-worshiping phase has worn off.

It took a while, I will admit. I didn’t look to my parents as sources of help until some time after college. Before that, I was bound and determined to do it my way because I was the smartest man (I am a MAN!) in the room.

Fortunately, my parents didn’t start screaming at me when I made a bad decision or did something stupid as I was growing up. They offered advice, let me know what was expected and, for the most part, were calm but firm when I crossed the line.

The teenage years didn’t irreparably damage our relationship. Thankfully.

As the young dudes grow older and the consequences of their dumb decision-making become more significant, the urge to tighten our grip and tell them exactly what to do can become overwhelming. If you want to have any influence in your little dudette’s life as she grows older, you must let her make her own decisions.

That doesn’t mean you don’t set rules or allow her to do whatever she wants, whenever she wants. However, once you’ve made clear your expectations and the consequences of not meeting said expectations, you have to simply drop into an advisory role and pick your battles with extreme care.

I’ve always felt that, as long as it’s not disturbing class, my young dudes could wear whatever they wanted, have whatever hair cut they wanted. If I thought they looked horrible . . . Well, my being horrified by their looks probably was a plus.Didn't we already do that? When they were 18? I'm almost positive they were supposed to move out at one point.

Provide options, help them understand probable scenarios from various actions, but don’t’ try to force your decisions on them.

It’s never easy watching as your darlings make a mistake, but it’s one of the necessary steps they have to take if they ever want to grow up and be independent.

After all, we all want to use that extra bedroom as a place for us, not as the room for your adult child who’s moved back in.

Footnotes & Errata

* Still apologizing to the Beatles, still not regretting using the allusion even one little bit.
** For the sarcasm-impaired among you, that was sarcasm. Teenagers don’t really know everything. They just think they do. This has been a friendly reminder from Mr. Obvious.

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Will You Still Need Me, When You’re Twenty-Four?*

I knew there was going to be trouble the first time I had to wag my finger in admonition and look up at Sarcasmo.

Physically, it’s been apparent for a long while that I was going to be the shortest male in the family. Sarcasmo, our oldest, is around 6′ 4″ now and should be finally stopped growing at 21. Zippy the Monkey Boy is 6′ 2″ or so and Hyper Lad is 5′ 9″, but he’s only 14 so has a lot of growing left to do.

When I realized they were going to be all taller and probably bigger than me, I quickly realized that I would have to come up with a catch phrase that would establish my authoritarian position as the leader of our little clan. It would have to be persuasive and showcase the innate superiority of the position of listening to their father and doing what he says to the idea that they can go haring off on their own and do whatever comes into their swiss-cheesed brains.**

Here’s what I came up with: “You might end up being bigger and stronger than me, but I will always be sneakier and meaner.”

And it’s worked. So far. Of course, it’s meant in jest and I made sure my young dudes know it, but the meaning behind the joke is somewhat more serious.

It’s not that we parents tell our children what to do because we’re control freaks***, but rather because we have life experience and understand how there might be a better or safer way to do something. The problem with kids ageing is that I can’t expect to have them do what I tell them to do just because I said they should do it. That works when they’re younger for a variety of reasons.

Little dudes start off doing as they’re told because Mom and Dad are infallible, but that goes away pretty quickly. They’ll also do as they’re told because, to be blunt, they’re scared of what will happen if they don’t. Not that every kid is worried that their parent will hit them, but parents are, after all, in charge of who gets the TV or the computer, the person who will take them to the park. Parents hold a lot of keys to a lot of different treasure chests.

As the little dudettes get older, though, these subtle threats begin to lose their force. The words “You can’t make me” or “You’re not the boss of me” begin to make the first of their years-long lifespans as a major part of her vocabulary.

And, once she gets past a certain age, she’s right. We can’t. Legally, if a young man 18 or over wants to do something, there’s precious little a parent can do to stop him.

Which, again, is bad news because, as much as the young dudes wish it weren’t so, parents really do understand more about life and really do know better.

Parents are a marvelous resource for young sons and daughters. Unfortunately, there are too many instances in which those resources go untapped and unrecognized.

So. We’ve got that all set up. Come back tomorrow and we’ll discuss what you can do to make sure your son or daughter not only asks for, but listens to your suggestions.

Footnotes & Errata

* With my apologies to the Beatles, but the song lyric just fit too well to ignore.
** Not really Swiss cheese. I just use that as a visual shorthand for the fact that (and this is science, dudes and dudettes) the male brain doesn’t fully mature until at least 25 or so. If you’re lucky.
*** Which you will certainly believe. As long as you don’t listen to any of my children. Or my sister’s. Or my neighbors’. Or that dude over there. You get my point.

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High School Students Sleeping In For Health

Teenagers aren’t lazy.

They don’t sleep late because they’re slug-a-beds, who’s only enthusiasm is for sleeping as long as possible. Biologically, they can’t help themselves. And having to go to a high school where classes start far too early in the a.m. doesn’t help either.

The four worst years of my life coincided with the four years Sarcasmo spent in high school.

His school started at 7:20 in the a.m. That meant he got up at 6:15 and I got up 15 minutes later, just in case. I barely made it through those four years and I know for a fact that the early start made Sarcasmo even crankier than he normally would have been.

Researchers have found that during adolescence, as hormones surge and the brain develops, teenagers who regularly sleep eight to nine hours a night learn better and are less likely to be tardy, get in fights or sustain athletic injuries. Sleeping well can also help moderate their tendency toward impulsive or risky decision-making.

That’s all well and good, but what teenager have you met who will be getting a regular eight to nine hours of sleep? Not many. After all, it seems like they can’t even force themselves to bed before 11 or 12 at night. It turns out that the reason for that late bed time isn’t just because teenagers are, by nature, prickly and annoying.

During puberty, teenagers have a later release of the “sleep” hormone melatonin, which means they tend not to feel drowsy until around 11 p.m. That inclination can be further delayed by the stimulating blue light from electronic devices, which tricks the brain into sensing wakeful daylight, slowing the release of melatonin and the onset of sleep. A Minnesota study noted that 88 percent of the students kept a cellphone in their bedroom.

That’s only one of the reasons I’ve been advocating for years that high schools need to start their days later. Teenagers’ biology basically prevents them from going to bed early enough to get the requisite hours of sleep each night. By starting school early, the school districts force teenagers into being perpetually sleep deprived.

Sure, stating high school later in the day might make sports practices end later and cut into time for some extracurricular activities or after-school jobs, but I think it’s a sacrifice that’s worth making. After all, the job of high schoolers is to excel in high school, so they can get to college and learn what’s necessary to get a good job. That’s much easier to do if they’ve been getting enough sleep every night.

New evidence suggests that later high school starts have widespread benefits. Researchers at the University of Minnesota, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studied eight high schools in three states before and after they moved to later start times in recent years. In results released Wednesday they found that the later a school’s start time, the better off the students were on many measures, including mental health, car crash rates, attendance and, in some schools, grades and standardized test scores.

I think part of the problem with moving high school start times to later is that, for some reason, there’s this sense of being a macho manly type if you’re able to do without a lot of sleep. It’s as if folks believe that sleep is for weenies. Do we really need to start toughening up teenagers by depriving them of sleep and then demanding they perform as if they were well rested?

The University of Minnesota study tracked 9,000 high school students in five districts in Colorado, Wyoming and Minnesota before and after schools shifted start times. In those that originally started at 7:30 a.m., only a third of students said they were able to get eight or more hours of sleep. Students who got less than that reported significantly more symptoms of depression, and greater use of caffeine, alcohol and illegal drugs than better-rested peers.

“It’s biological — the mental health outcomes were identical from inner-city kids and affluent kids,” said Kyla Wahlstrom, a professor of educational research at the University of Minnesota and the lead author of the study.

If you’re a dude who, like me, thinks it’s time for schools to start actually making decisions that are good for their students, then you should head on over to Start School Later, an advocacy group for health and safety in education.

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