Wes: This is our last Double Take of the year. In 2007, John, Julia and I discussed teen sexuality, sex offenses, the increasingly manic lifestyle our teens face and the effect it has on their mood, their sleep and their ability to focus in school. We've prompted many lines of online debate representing all sides of the issues, some of which were exceptionally intelligent. We've debated the wisdom of public policy guiding teen life and even provoked an implausible response from our friends in the Johnson County prosecutor's office. We've offered guidance for kids struggling with school, love, their parents, their emotions and their peers. We've addressed suicide, diagnosis, therapy, bullying, shyness, anger, teen technology, diet, leaving home, eating disorders, violence and college prep. This week the newscast suggests that the pregnancy of 16-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears will "promote a national dialogue on teen pregnancy." It will be nice for the nation to join Lawrence, Kan., and Double Take. We've been discussing it for three years. This week we'll do something different.
Every generation is sure that its teens are the worst-behaved in history, which then becomes expressed through its media, national conversation and individual attitudes and behaviors. As but one example, America has become far too interested in trying teens as adults, believing somehow that prison terms with violent offenders will set those pesky kids back on the right road.
There follows an inevitable "the kids are all right" backlash chastising teen-bashers and reminding us that the vast majority become competent adults. Only a small fraction fall among the throes of the addicted, the imprisoned, the failures at life. Even the interest in adult prosecution is beginning to ebb.
In the end, teens are like all people - a complex mix of good and bad, right and wrong, astonishing humanity and astonishing cruelty. Taking either a love 'em, fear 'em or hate 'em approach is foolishly reductive.
The holiday season is a fine time emphasize the love, to spend time reflecting on what we like about our teens. I always remember those unexpected acts of kindness I've seen my children share with others or myself, moments of insight and growth, occasions of excitement in discovery or words of poignancy that make me remember why I desperately wanted them despite their foibles.
I spend most of my life - 30 hours out of a 50-hour workweek - standing by kids and/or their parents as they face each other in moments of pain and desperation, terrified that their struggle has reached a turning point from which they will never recover. Will these kids become the adults who reflect back on their adolescence and their home life with resentment and disappointment, mirrored with that of their parents? Or will they somehow get out of this intact? In those moments I like to tell them these stories, and ask them to think of their own to recall why they desperately wanted their kids.
This holiday season, remember what's good about your kids, and relate it to them. Ask for nothing in return. Expect very little. I remember the times my dad did this for me - yet he died having no idea how valuable those comments were. Teens are not thankful for these little things until they pass our shadows as adults. Then your offerings of appreciation will be remembered long after the Christmas 2007 Wii, Xbox and PlayStation are obsolete.
Julia: This time of year, it seems obligatory for children to set aside differences with their parents in order to receive their gifts and for parents to force a cheerful family atmosphere to conform to the holiday season's sentiments. Regardless of how many slammed doors, rolled eyes and "you aren't the boss of me's" you've let fly this year, the holidays are a good opportunity to reflect on how you've changed and get a fresh start, even if that means strengthening some family ties. There's no instant fix for poor teen-parent relationships, but being able to look back and appreciate your parents can put things in perspective.
Remember to always look at the big picture and not all of the little bits and pieces that made it up. There is always going to be strife between parents and teens; families don't solve any problems if there isn't. However, looking back at your parents and seeing that, yes, they may have taken away your cell phone, and sure, they might have yelled at you a few times, but in the general picture, they had your back every time something went wrong. None of the seemingly life-ending fights lasted more than a few minutes. Be proud that both you and your parents remained civil with each other during a time of raging hormones for you and midlife crises for them.
Another way to look at your parents is to put aside all of the parental duties that bug you and see them as a friend. They are always supporting you, be it through sports, the arts or financially. They are great for conversation and games, and no matter how mad you make them, you're their child, and they can't not love you.
Finally, always keep in mind that, although it may seem like a constant uphill battle, parents are eager for you to succeed, be happy and be safe. Many seem overly strict or protective, but it's such a crushing blow to lose a child or to see them unhappy that parents do anything it takes to keep you alive and happy. You're the jewel of your parents' eyes. Appreciating all of the things they do, even if you can't stand them while they're doing it, will make your relationship with them stronger.
Next week: New Years resolutions for teens and their parents.