The Biggest Mistake I Ever Made

teens-and-smartphones

I was blessed to have grown up in the seventies.  I was able to play outside until dark, walk downtown to the local candy store, and I was lucky enough to not have a cell phone.  My parents did not know where I was or who I was with.  It was up to me to figure out how I was to act, think and feel.

Did I make mistakes?  Of course.  I made a lot of mistakes, but I am here.  I am alive.  I survived.  And I learned a whole bunch of life lessons that have served me well.

I am an adult now, and have children of my own.  Teenagers and a seven year old, to be specific.  I do not envy them, growing up in a world where safety is even a question when they go off to school or to the movies.  Where I grew up in the disco era, they have grown up in the mass shooting era. As parents, all the violence makes us want to wrap them up, keep them safe, know where they are at all times.  I get it.  But we cannot control if something horrific happens to them, or even more likely, if they make a mistake.

With the development of technology, parents have been able to know where our kids are at all times.  We are able to track their cell phones, knowing if they are where they said they would be.  Now, we can hover even more.  As discussed in the article, How to Monitor Your Kids iPhone or Android This new device created by “Teen Safe,” now allows you to know every single text they send out, even those that they deleted.

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-images-parents-watching-teen-sending-messages-nosey-behind-teenage-son-text-image33029094

What is the result of tracking our kids to closely?  Children do not learn how to make their own decisions, navigate the world, and yes, break the rules.  We are attempting to prolong something inevitable.  It is called growing up.  We are so laced in fear, so afraid of our child making the wrong move, becoming disappointed, or not living up to our expectations, that we want to do whatever we can to prevent this from happening.

Mistakes are our biggest teachers in life.  They allow us to figure out what we think, feel and believe.  But society does not allow us to make mistakes without paying for them.  We shame and we judge.  Remember Monica Lewinsky?  How can we forget the national stage in 1998, that showcased her mistakes.  Do you know what she said about it seventeen years later?  It was not the affair, but the humiliation she felt, the judgements and the ongoing criticism she received, that nearly killed her.  “One of the unintended consequences of my agreeing to put myself out there and to try to tell the truth had been that shame would once again be hung around my neck like a scarlet-A albatross. Believe me, once it’s on, it is a bitch to take off.”

If we release judgement about making mistakes, allowing our children to fall down, brushing themselves off can be the biggest gifts a teenager can receive.  Psychologist Wendy Mogel’s book, Blessings of a B Minus she goes on to say, “As leaders of our children, it is essential for us to step back from the urgency, the mistakes, the heartbreaks, the rejection. “By taking a deep breath and withdrawing, you make space for your child to grow.”

Adolescents need compliments, attention and family dinners.  They need supportive, experiences of independence – taking the train by themselves, flying to another state or country, volunteering and hanging out with their friends.  Adolescents need guidance, not constant monitoring. They need to hear, “I love you no matter what,” as often as possible.

Yes, with cell phones, the stakes are higher for them to make a mistake.  In their fast paced technology packed world, they have little time to think about what they want to say before they hit send.  But that is not a reason to monitor their every move or text.  We need to reach down within ourselves, take a deep breath, and release the control.

We are trying to lock them up in a safe little box, so that we will not have to feel any pain at their mistakes, or God forbid, something worse happening to them.  But we cannot control any of it.  It is an illusion to think we can prevent our children from experiencing pain, sadness or disappointment.  We are all here to learn, grow and experience life.  It is not about good or bad, but how we grow, what we learn.  We had many years to teach our children, by the time they are teenagers we need to release our grip, ease up on the reins, give them some lee way so that they can develop their own moral compass, not continue to rely on ours.

The biggest challenge and yet most important job we have as parents is to learn how to let go.  The biggest mistake I ever made was not wanting my children to make the same mistakes I did. They just might, or even make a few of their own. We just need to love them no matter what.

 

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2 thoughts on “The Biggest Mistake I Ever Made”

  1. While I agree parents today hover and micro manage too much, the reality of our bad old world is that kids really are less safe. The perception is that tragedy is around every step a child takes out of a parent’s sight. That is no more true today than it was in our childhoods. The 24-hour news cycle just makes sure every incident and every risk is broadcast in minute detail with graphic images and repeated ad nauseam.

    However, the risks were always there… even in the 70s idyll you describe. The truth is, children were always less safe than the perception. I know because I was one of the minority that faced those terrors parents fear for their children. I and my sisters too grew up in the 70s; but my 70s was not the idyllic playground so many hold up to disparage todays childhood. I promise you, if I’d had access to the kind of technology we have today, much of the terrors of my childhood might have been avoided; certainly, I’d not have gone alone through so much of it.

    As someone who faced those risks growing up, I’ll never convince myself my son won’t face risks. I work very hard to overcome the urge to micro manage every aspect of his life — admittedly, not always successfully. I do always know where he is. But, I let him bike to the corner store without a phone; I let him go off to play in the neighborhood without a phone; I don’t even send a phone to school with him. Every time, I wish he had a phone with him, though.

    I do think parents may rely too much upon technology. Remember, it’s still new in the parental toolkit. But, it seems to me it’s fast becoming the equivalent child minder that the television was so often allowed to become. I think the bigger mistake is not using tech to watch over our children; it’s using tech to distract kids so parents don’t have to engage… using tech to raise kids — then wondering where kids got their skewed ideas of the world.

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