Saturday morning. Comfy in bed. Scrolling through dreamy pics of perfect lives on Instagram. My house is quiet. “My favorite time was midnight,” my mom-in-law would say. Her 5 weren’t the night owls my eldest one is, that’s for sure. Quiet time here is 7-10 AM.
Overwhelmed by the somewhat predictable changes some teens underwent during “college in a box” as freshman pandemic year in New England was called, I come to a letter:
“Dear Mom and Dad: Please – stick with me. I can’t think clearly right now because there is a rather substantial section of my prefrontal cortex missing. It’s a fairly important chunk, something having to do with rational thought. You see, it won’t be fully developed until I’m about 25. And from where I sit, 25 seems a long way off.
My brain is not yet fully developed. It doesn’t matter that I’m smart, or got a perfect SAT score.
The same thing that makes my brain wonderfully flexible, creative and sponge-like also makes me impulsive. Not necessarily reckless or negligent but more impulsive than I will be later in life. Here’s what you can do for me now:
- Model adulting. I see all the behaviors that you are modeling and I hear all of the words you say. I may not listen but I do hear you. I seem impervious to your advice, like I’m wearing a Kevlar vest but your actions and words are penetrating. I promise. If you keep showing me the way, I will follow even if I detour many, many times before we reach our destination.
- Let me figure things out for myself. (This one is rough). If you allow me to experience the consequences of my own actions I will learn from them. Please give me a little bit of leash and let me know that I can figure things out for myself. The more I do, the more confidence and resilience I will develop.
- Remind me of perspective. Keep reminding me of the big picture. I will roll my eyes at you and make all kinds of grunt-like sounds. I will let you know in no uncertain terms that you can’t possibly understand any of what I’m going through. But I’m listening. I really am. It’s hard for me to see anything beyond the weeds that I am currently mired in. Help me scan out and focus on the long view. Remind me that this moment will pass.
- Keep me safe. Please remind me that drugs and driving don’t mix. Keep telling me that you may bail me out of any dangerous situation, no anger, no lectures, no questions asked. But also let me know over and over and over that you are there to listen, when I need you. (“19 year olds need to push the envelope. Take risks. Find out how far they can go. In a pandemic, living in dorms with restrictions like they did, it’s particularly rough,” your doctor friend said. Listen to him).*
- Be kind. I will learn kindness & patience from you and if you are relentless in your kindness & patience* to me, someday I will imitate that behavior. Don’t ever mock me, or my siblings please and don’t be cruel. Humor me-I think I know everything. You probably did as well at my age. Let it go.
- Show interest in the things I enjoy. Some days I will choose to share my interests with you, and it will make me feel good if you validate those interests, by at least acting interested.
Please stick with me.
When you look at me like I have ten heads after I’ve done something “stupid” or failed to do something “smart,” you’re not really helping. You adults respond to situations with your prefrontal cortex (rationally) but I am more inclined to respond with my amygdala (emotionally). And when you ask, “What were you thinking?” the answer is I wasn’t, at least not in the way you are. You can blame me, or you can blame mother nature.
- Show interest in the things I enjoy. Some days I might choose to share my interests with you, and it will make me feel good if you validate those interests, by at least acting interested. One day when the haze of adolescence lifts, you will find a confident, strong, competent, kind adult where a surly teenager once stood. In the meantime, buckle in for the ride. Please stick with me.
Love, Your teenager(s)*
Letter by Helene Wingens, Nov. 3, 2020.
*= my edits. “Children are a loan from God.” – Samuel 1:27.
Submitted May 22, 2021, by Robin DuCharme Pastore.