Good Parenting Makes You Unpopular: Teens That Make You Go Hmmm
“A child, like your stomach, doesn’t need all you can afford to give it.” ~Frank A. Clark
A Funny Thing Happened..
A funny thing has happened at our house lately. It appears that our kids might have realized that we’re smart.
You see, this weekend the kids saw their dad for the first time in about eight years, give or take. After many years of mostly nothing there was a final push and a little negotiating and Viola!, a temporary visitation schedule was hammered out. Cool. But that’s not the story, just the catalyst for bringing everything together.
In the process of preparing them for seeing this guy they didn’t really know or remember, we had to have lots of talks. How do you feel about this? What do you expect? What is the best thing that can happen? What is the worst thing that can happen? And they had questions too. Why is it this way? What is going to happen? Why did that happen?
And in the midst of all those discussions, especially during the tangents, sometimes you could look in their eyes and see the light of understanding… and sometimes there were even audible gasps… “Ooooooh!” Personally, those have always been my favorite parenting moments of all. That long drawn out, “Ooooooooh” just makes me grin every time, maybe even dance a little.
You see, we’ve crossed a big line with them recently. Not that the hard stuff is over yet, not even close. But they are finally old enough to visit The Land of Logic and Reason. This is my favorite place. I don’t really hang out over in Drama Land very much. Not my thing. So it’s good to have them visiting now.
Cell Phones: A Brief History
The Story of the Cell Phone and the Land Line is a good example of an Aha Moment that happened this week. It’s a long-ish story, so bear with me. It begins like this:
Hannah is certain that she is one of only two kids in her whole school (population +2000) that don’t have cell phones, and the other kid got one last week. Now, long long ago when the subject was first brought up at home, we were open to the idea, but not dumb enough to hand over a $300 piece of technology to a 13 year old. I mean, at the time, she never knew where her iPod was. So, we said we’d get them a phone line of their own at home.
And that’s what we did. We set up a land line in the kitchen, just like the old days, you know, back in 1990. We dug out a recently retired cordless phone and installed it right next to their computer… um… cause that’s where the phone jack was. Ta-da! The lines of communication were activated. Can you guess what happened?
A cordless phone handset is pretty big. At least four times bigger than a cell phone. You’d think a certain someone would be able to find it pretty easily. Especially since it had this handy locator beep feature. But that beep will only work if the phone’s battery is charged, which is pretty hard to do if the phone is never on the cradle because it’s always buried under a mountain of dirty laundry and stuffed animals. Finally, most likely from being walked on, the handset got broken. No more phone.
A little while passed while we let nature run its course. (Grief, agony, despair!) At this point, we wondered what was the right thing to do? We decided that it was important that she could talk with her friends, and that she really should have access to a phone. But we didn’t really want to go spend another chunk of money on a phone that would most likely meet the same fate.
So, in a flash of inspiration…. we got a cheap corded phone and set it up! OMG! How 20th century! That is SO 1980! But, it’s genius, if I do say so myself. That phone still sits there, my friend, three years later. It’s operational, never needs charging, and always available. Not one phone call from a friend or relative has been missed because the handset could not be found or the batteries were dead. Success.
More About Cell Phones
But what about cell phones? Don’t you think she is old enough now to have a cell phone? Sure. Everyone who can hold a cell phone is old enough to have one. It’s the keeping it that is the issue.
Our house policy is that any kid who wants a cell phone is welcome to have one. We don’t care if they all have three cell phones. But no way are we going to pay for them. Mom has helped both girls do the research and price out phones, regular and prepaid. If they want money, they can decide at any time to do extra chores around the house for cash ($5 to clean the car windows, $10 to mow our tiny little yard, the list goes on), and all the neighbors offer them odd jobs any time they like (dog sitting is a primo gig, and our neighbors travel pretty often). And both girls are planning to babysit all summer.
But has anyone actually saved up enough? Heck no. If a kid has cash, and they usually do, that cash gets spent on trinkets, candy, and movies. And we figure if a cell phone isn’t important enough to them to spend their OWN money on, then it’s certainly not important enough to spend the family’s money on one.
Making the Connections
Now, is this the version of the story that Hannah told to her dad when he asked about her phone? No way. Her version was more along the lines of my evil parents make me use a land line. With a cord! OMG! In the kitchen! [Gasp!]
But after we sorted it all out and realized what had happened, we had a conversation with Hannah and discussed what really happened to make the phone situation at our house the way it is today. And that’s when IT happened.
You see, she knows what happened just as well as we do.. what with her being the star of the story and all. She just never put all the pieces together in a way that deviated from her own personal Cinderella story. (It’s got a cord. A CORD!) Seeing the story from our perspective was a new thing for her. And about halfway through the discussion, The Light of Understanding started to shine from her eyes. It was beautiful to behold. And for one brief moment, just a few minutes, she thought we were smart. Really.
She had gone to The Land of Logic and Reason and seen The Dawn of Realization. She realized it was kinda nice there. After all, even she couldn’t deny that if we’d given her a cell phone, it would have gotten lost or broken and she would have never been able to talk to her friends, but our way guaranteed that she got to talk to her friends any time.
Awesome. Parents aren’t as dumb as they look after all. They might even be smart. Who knew?
Does she still want a cell phone? You betcha.
Is she going to go work and earn the money to get one on her own dime? Highly. Doubting. That.
Will she hit up dad for the cash? Most likely. And that’s fine. That’s between them.
So Where’s the Unpopular Part?
The funny thing is, and the reason that I said good parenting makes you unpopular, is because while you expect the kids to think you suck, it’s really surprising how many adults will read this or hear that we won’t GIVE them cell phones and think we are being mean. It seems that people these days have a really hard time separating NEED and WANT in their heads.
And before you give me the talk about how we might need to get in touch with them blah blah blah… I will tell you that we do have a cell phone for them to use when they go out with friends. It’s a simple no frills cell phone that they are only allowed to use to call home. Needs have been adequately covered. This is all about ‘want’.
Need vs. Want
I think it’s more important than ever to teach your kids the difference between need and want. Being able to determine the difference between needing something and wanting something can be the difference between them driving you, and later themselves, into poverty, or being able to successfully navigate an increasingly materialistic world in order that they might find peace and happiness.
A person NEEDS water, but WANTS soda. A person NEEDS nutritious food, but WANTS cake. These are simple distinctions, but somewhere we’ve disconnected as a society.
There was a great editorial on CNN today, which is what inspired me to write this post. In it, the author, discussing his own struggles as a parent says, “Friends bow to peer pressure. Parents say, “No, and that’s the end of it.””
I think that is an incredibly important statement, because even though it sucks a lot to stand firm on principles now and suffer the wrath of the wronged teenager, the payoff is that one day in the (hopefully) not so distant future, they’re going to understand and be grateful that we did it.
And if only for a few minutes, that happened at my house this week.
Celebrate the small victories, because they are where happiness dwells.
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