for release Friday September 19, 2003
by Melodie Davis
Editor's Note: The final installment of a three part series on Parenting Young Adults. Muddling Our Way Through
We've looked in the last two columns at the fears and issues we face in parenting young adults. Now, you want some solutions. You want a magic formula to get you though these years that will make everything turn out okay. Ha. Ha. If there is any age where there is no "one-answer-fits-all," this is it. I don't think there is any way to have a set program or formula that will guarantee successful outcomes. It is trial and error, trying something one parent tried, and finding it may not work, but then trying a little different approach.
As one older parent wisely said, "Kids and parents need to know if they make one mistake they probably haven't ruined their whole life, but it may mean they now have another set of choices." An unplanned pregnancy doesn't mean the end of your life. It may mean having a new set of unwanted choices but proceeding the best you can from there. It may mean having to quit school or to take a job earlier than you planned to support a child.
One mother aptly noted that the "teen years are relatively uncomfortable for a reason: it's time for a certain type of separation. Perhaps today's parents have never differentiated between themselves and their child. It is okay to be glad when they've moved out. You can still communicate and get along. We change our style of involvement as the child matures."
Trying to keep open communication with your young adult is of course both vital and difficult. If they are doing things they don't want you to know about, they are going to be close lipped, and perhaps tempted to lie. But try and try again. Not in a badgering way, but lovingly going the second and third mile to not cut off communication.
I'm struck that sometimes these days communication, especially with young people, is easier via e-mail or instant message. One mother said she read something in her son's online journal that made her lose sleep a couple of days. The journal - which her son knew she read - said he was "super teed off." His mother figured he was mad at them as parents because they had had frequent arguments about transportation. Finally she e-mailed him: Was it the car issues again? No, he e-mailed back. He was mad because there was a rock concert he really wanted to go to and it conflicted with something he had to do at school.
Judi Williams, a parish nurse, and for many years a trainer for youth peer-counselors, gives a good communications tip. She says, "Strike the question 'why?' from your vocabulary. Instead, use open ended questions to get more feeling and information." For instance, your young adult doesn't want to go to the family reunion. Instead of asking, "Why?" try asking, "What is it that you don't like?" "Why" often puts people on the defensive and sets up a conflict.
Here is a true situation: a 16-year-old guy went through Judi's peer training on communication. He asked his parents what time he needed to come in. The parents indicated the time. The guy was all poised to scream "Why?" when he remembered his training. So instead he asked, "How do you guys decide when I should be in?" Later he said this resulted in the best conversation they'd ever had on this topic and also resulted in him getting to stay out later than they first said, even though it wasn't as late as he wanted.
Regarding curfew, do you set one once they're 18? Maybe not, but for safety, you should discuss certain guidelines, like how unsafe you feel it is to be driving home from somewhere at 3:00 a.m., and house rules like at least letting someone know where you are. You can stress common courtesy and their safety, rather than rules. Finally, we can't leave the subject of young adults without discussing depression, mental disorders and suicide.
These years are frequently a time when a mental illness first shows signs and young adults are at great risk for suicide, chiefly because of all these issues we've discussed in the last three columns. These are often "in-between" years and kids seem to flounder for a while without the structure of high school or college. The church needs to deal with these issues, and help meet mental health needs. No matter how tough it gets, don't cut yourself off completely from your children during this time. Let the natural love you have for them-however dim it may feel sometimes-draw you together to communicate and work at solutions that work for you.
If you missed the other columns in this series and want copies, write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
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