As my household moves from the realm of little kids to the treacherous pre-teen/teenage years, I find myself facing new sets of challenges. Immediate physical needs are replaced by more complex problems; short-term calamities give way to long-term considerations. The discussions about what is right and what is fair have become much more frequent and nuanced.
Teenagers live in a world of complex and changing rules, and I can remember how often it felt hard to keep up. On a recent afternoon, as my oldest son and I were discussing some of his concerns about the new school year, I heard myself give him some advice that resonated unexpectedly deeply with both of us.
“Are you sure you’re not confusing an inconvenience for a tragedy?”
Now that I live with a teenager, it’s easy to be reminded how easy it is to turn an inconvenience into a tragedy. Not an actual tragedy, mind you—one created entirely in one’s own mind, thrashing and fighting against how unfair everything is.
It seems to me that many of us, myself definitely included, are feeling a lot like moody teenagers recently. In this confusing time (post-pandemic? Maybe, but not anymore?) of constantly changing rules, norms and procedures, it’s so easy to lose the ability to distinguish between what feels important in the moment versus what actually matters. Many things ARE inconvenient lately, and often unfair. We want to do the right thing, but it feels harder than ever to know what that is. Every decision has to be weighed against changing information, and it’s exhausting.
I have to believe that’s why we’re attacking each other lately over so many things that are ultimately inconveniences. Wearing a mask in certain circumstances, even when we thought we were done with masks? For most people, an inconvenience. Definitely not a tragedy.
As parents, it’s especially important that we don’t give in to the impulse to turn these inconveniences into reasons to be angry and unkind. We need to model the importance of flexibility, of assessing what’s really important, or self-reflection on why we’re feeling and acting the way we are.
When my son and I were talking on that recent day, he realized that he was giving something that was really just an inconvenience (the possibility of having to wear a mask—because again, rules are changing so fast that we didn’t know if he’d actually be wearing one) a lot of power over his mood and attitude toward school. We talked about the fact that he could be mad that he might have to wear a mask, be aware that it was the right thing to do in the current moment, and not let it dictate his whole day. All of those things could be true at once.
We’re all navigating these exhausting times in different ways, but it’s so important to remember how our words and attitudes are affecting our children. If we want them to be able to handle the changes and disappointments in healthy ways, we have to show them how. Even when we feel like moody teenagers ourselves, we have to remember that they’re watching. It’s no small task to try to guide our kids through these strange days, but it also offers constant lessons in perspective. In a time when so many people are facing real tragedies, we can’t let the inconveniences dominate our attention.