My oldest daughter is 15. Last weekend, her school band teacher organized a music retreat complete with master classes, section sessions and the dreaded sleepover. Her band teacher is excellent. The music program at her school is top notch. When I go to their concerts I always get all choked-up: I have excellent memories of high school music class. We also had a few “music retreats” although there wasn’t much music during our nuit blanche. They were strictly a team building exercise where much nerdy fun was had. In my days, only the nerds played music. Now it’s cool. At bed time we would pull blue mats out of the gymnasium’s storage unit and crash all co-ed on the floor. Two male teachers, music and English, would sleep over and we would all head to the greasy spoon next door first thing in the morning for some bacon and eggs. I’m sure the teachers had some coffee too.
(Open parenthesis: weren’t those the days eh? When two male teachers could supervise a mixed sleepover party at school? Now, at my kids’ elementary school a few years ago, the custodian was the only male staff. Everyone else was female. My 2nd-grader would come home literally groaning in pain from needing to go pee day after day. One day on the drive home I told him: “Why don’t you go pee just before the end of class? This way you can make it home”. He answered that he never went to the toilet at school because the stalls didn’t lock properly and the older kids would barge in and pull you out as you did your business. Nice. I went and talked to someone about it and was told that this was going on in the male bathroom and there was no male staff to enforce discipline in the male bathroom. In other words, unless the custodian was handy, those kids could have been snorting cocaine in the boys bathroom, no female teacher would dare walk in there and chance a disciplinary hearing. That’s brat power for you. Close parenthesis)
As far as team-building goes, this may sound self-serving in light of what’s coming later in this post, the sleepovers were fun but nothing more. Massed bands concerts and band competitions, when we got to work, anticipate and sweat together were far more instrumental in building team spirit than watching scary movies and eating chips late in the night in band class. Anyway, it doesn’t really matter whether this was the be-all-end-all of team building because our family has a strict rule against sleepovers in any way, shape or form. Our daughter was going to participate in the music retreat but be excused from the sleeping part. I’ll let you guess how this went over.
I will not replay the (many) conversations we had with our daughter on the subject but they replayed themselves on a call-in show following the decision by a local high school to — as it was reported — ban yoga pants as part of the school’s dress code.
One of my daughter’s complaint on the unfairness of the sleepover rule was that parents would be supervising the retreat and that everybody else was allowing it. A local call-in show was asking parents what they thought of the yoga pants ban and spray-painted-on apparel. One after the other, parents were repeating variations of the same platitudes about how “Teens are gonna do what teens are gonna do” and “We did the same thing at their age”. In other words, there is nothing we can do about it. Girls are going to wear inappropriate, revealing, clothing and boys are going to be turned-on by it and that’s the way the world goes round. Banning yoga pants is not going to change anything so why bother? And I’m supposed to feel all warm and fuzzy that some of these similar-themed parents are supervising the sleepover retreat? So when Jimmy and Jessica decide to go find a quiet spot somewhere will they brush it off as “Teens are gonna do what teens are gonna do” and “We did the same thing at their age”?
Being a teenager is not an end-state. It’s a transition to adulthood. I often joke that toddlers and teenagers are surprisingly similar: self-centered with poor impulse-control, an unrefined sense of fairness and a complete unawareness of their limitations. Teenagers have one foot still firmly set into childhood and the other in their future. Teens will challenge and push limits, this is their job. But if pushing is the defining feature of teenage-hood we are not helping them by removing what they are pushing against. Growing into adulthood and responsibilities is not learning to live without limits but learning to manage them. As a parent, my job is to form and to educate and this is achieved by giving teenagers something to push against, like a tutor on a tomato plant. And of course, as teenagers grow in age and wisdom and as they show their judgement to be trustworthy, limits gradually evolve. Some of them are removed, others morph into something else. And others will remain for the rest of their lives, hopefully.
I am not raising teens. I am raising adults. It takes a lot of work, self-awareness and constant re-evaluation. Some days I suck at it. But this is the game of parenthood. Play ball.