For those of you who are still in the throes of raising teenagers, let me share with you something I learned when I was in the midst of this harrowing ordeal myself: There are just two ways to respond to the crises you face every day. There's the Army response, and there's the Tennessee Fainting Goat response. I wouldn't recommend the latter.
In case you've never heard of the Tennessee Fainting Goat, it's a breed of domestic goat that, when startled, actually goes into a mild shock. Its little legs stiffen, and the poor thing just falls over in a dead faint. As I said, I wouldn't recommend responding to your teenager's various crises in this manner, but unfortunately, many of us can't help it.
A much more practical way of dealing with the situation is to use military tactics. Now obviously the kinds of circumstances the Army endeavors to prepare its recruits to face aren't likely to be the same ones that we as parents of teenagers have to deal with, but in my opinion, ours are every bit as difficult. Our problem is, we haven't had the benefit of formal training. No boot camp. No drills. No maneuvers. It's a wonder any of us make it out alive.
That's why I've come up with a Survival Manual for Parents of Teenagers, and I even bought a copy of the official "Department of the US Army Field Survival, Evasion and Escape Manual FM 21-76" to use as a guideline. It starts out by saying, "You must accept the fact that as a soldier you may find yourself in a survival situation for an extended period of time, alone, with minimum equipment. You must understand that this situation could come about without warning and you must be prepared." (See why this is perfect for parents of teenagers?)
The Army manual also uses the letters in the word, "SURVIVAL" as a guide for a plan of action. It then provides a handy phrase to put into practice. Using that method as my template, I borrowed the same phrases from the guide, and then added my own application for parents of teenagers. Here's what I came up with:
Size Up The Situation. (Application) Your son plans to spend the weekend with a buddy at the lake. So far, no problem. Then you find out the friend's parents are in New Zealand. Next you learn that there are sixteen boys on the "guest list" and they have all invited their girlfriends. Now really, parents…THINK! Don't waste time calling your son's bluff by phoning all the other parents to see if they're letting their kids go. It wouldn't matter if the Pope himself was planning to attend. A bad idea is a bad idea! Say no. Period.
Undo Haste Makes Waste. (Application) Your 13-year old returns from the mall with her ears double-pierced. Don't rush her to the E.R. to have the holes "surgically removed". Just take out the studs. Trust me, a hole in the earlobe the size of a caviar egg will close up on its own in a few days.
Remember where you are. (Application) You're in the kitchen stuffing cannelloni shells when your son calls to say he missed the team bus back to the high school after a track meet twenty miles away. Do not drop everything to go get him. Simply inform him that all his cross-country running training is about to pay off. (Advise him, however, to stick to the main roads.)
Vanquish fear and panic. (Application) This is easier said than done. When your daughter calls to say she's had "just a teensy wreck" (her fourth in two years), make sure everyone is okay, whip out your AAA card, and take an aspirin. Or three.
Improvise. (Application) When your son brings eight pals home unannounced for dinner, press 3 on your speed dial. The pizzas will arrive in thirty minutes.
Value Living. According to the Army manual, "Lack of will to keep trying, lethargy, mental numbness, and indifference creep in slowly but they can suddenly take over and leave you helpless." (Application) Try visualizing your teenagers as independent adults. It's usually enough to keep you going.
Act like the natives. (Application) Be careful on this one. The natives usually turn out to be "everybody else's parents", and you know how risky that can be!
Live by your wits. (Application) Learn to turn down the car radio before you start the ignition. Never loan a 16-year old your VISA card. And ALWAYS wait up for a teenager!
Of course, the best advice for any parent is to expect the unexpected, and just try to handle the ordeal the best you can. But believe me it isn't always easy. I recall one day when my teenage son announced that instead of going out with his buddies, he was going to stay home all weekend and study for the upcoming SAT exam. I was so startled I actually went into a mild shock. My little legs stiffened, and I fell over in a dead faint. Like I said, some of us just can't help it.