Jeni Marinucci: Panic Button Years


Teenagers and Natural Consequences

Live and (Hopefully) Learn

There are consequences to everything in life. What was it they taught us in physics class? Every action has a reaction? Something like that. I can't be sure because during physics class I was cutting class at home making grilled cheese sandwiches and watching "The Flintstones."

Sometimes consequences are awesome—like when you buckle down and work hard at something and then reap the rewards from that hard work. Sometimes the consequences are not so fun; maybe like when you spend your afternoons eating grilled cheese sandwiches and watching cartoons when you should be in physics class and so then you don't graduate high school until you're thirty-four-years-old and have a nursing toddler attached to your hip at your graduation ceremony. So it goes; we make choices in life and then we pay for them.

When our children are young, we look out for them in all sorts of ways. We make sure their clothing is seasonally appropriate, we shield them from the sun, we fill their bellies and their minds, and we hold their hands when they cross the street. We do this because we are parents—good ones, most of us—and because in general children are helpless in many ways. My son at nine-years-old can make his own sandwich if driven to do so by hunger, but it's more likely he'd head straight for the sugar cereal if I left the choice to him when hunger strikes in my absence. Sure, he'd learn soon enough that a sore belly is the only consequence for eating a box of Super Sugar Glucose Insulin Blasters, but he'd have to get that far to do it in the first place, which he won't because I am here to prevent it.

But what of our teenagers? They are growing up and becoming adults. They are learning to forge their way in a world we cannot shield them from forever. They must learn to navigate the way on their own, they will have successes and failures and crisis and, yes, good things will happen. But so will bad things and maybe even terrible, horrible, really super shitty things. What can we do to prevent this? Sweet diddly-squat. Letting go is hard and from what I hear it only gets harder as they veer into adulthood. It sucks, but that’s life, and no one promised you grilled cheese sandwiches and cartoons forever.

Luckily, teenagers give us lots of opportunities to practice standing back and letting consequences take place. When you're 6'1 and 50 pounds heavier than me, I can't force you to wear a hat, and if you leave your lunch money on the counter (AGAIN!) then you are going to learn that a.) being cold sucks; and b.) so does being hungry. We can give them a hat and we can give them money for a hot lunch but ultimately we cannot force them to take it.

We can't chase them forever. It’s up to us to provide the materials and opportunities for learning and then we need to stand back and let the cold heads and hungry bellies fall where they may. There’s no magical number for the amount of times a mistake must be made and all teenagers are different in how quickly they learn. But I will tell you, when it comes to someone forgetting their lunch money and having several requests to deliver it go unheeded, the answer is two.