“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished by how much he’d learned in seven years.” – Mark Twain
Recently I ran across this photo of my daughter taken during a trip to beautiful Paris, the week of her spring break. She was 14 years old at the time, already a very difficult period in teen years, which explains why her back is to me.
When I discovered her sneakily placing a call back to the U.S. to talk to a certain guy from school, it thrust me into a state of fear, disappointment and parental guilt.
“What did I fail to teach her? What went wrong that she lacks adequate self-esteem to keep herself from saying, “yes” when a “HOT” 14 year old boy who smokes pot and drinks alcohol asks her out?”
“I’ve raised her better than this!”
It’s a parent’s nightmare. Her father, nor I, has exposed her to self-destructive living. We are both present in her life, involved, and love her. I’ve been intentional to foster in her a healthy self-esteem. I’ve worked on me my adult life so that I can be equipped to model for her a healthy self-esteem. Yet, regardless of the good work we’ve done, she was ensnared by this teenage boy’s smooth and enticing facade, which hides a manipulator.
Prior to this exasperating moment, I felt confident that my daughter was making emotionally healthy decisions, based on her prior choices. During these confident, quiet, peaceful moments, I think she’s kryptonite strong and can handle any hurdles that come her way.
But the roller-coaster ride that are the teen years, guarantee peace to no one. Unabashedly, and without apology, a parent’s peace is abruptly interrupted, when our child’s (and our own) vulnerabilities become quickly exposed. All it takes is one intruder getting through the fence of protection that we masterfully worked so very hard to weave.
The year prior, this very guy approached her with weed and she turned him down saying, “I don’t need that!” She didn’t think highly of him back then. However, a year later, he notices her more, and pursues her harder. He is charming, funny, and better looking now. In teen years, that spells T-R-O-U-B-L-E. Come to think of it, a lot of adults fall for the same.
This alerts me to the fragile nature of things not yet set in stone. She is still a child, and still in evolution. She hasn’t had to learn about manipulation, until now.
I’ve invested years of dialogue with her, about boys and many things to beware. But that week in Paris, it seemed, this all went out the window. She was pining away for him, was moody and pouty. She preferred to have stayed back home, than to come to this magnificent city.
I brought her to Paris five years prior, and she was a delight! She enjoyed discovering this beautiful city and she was in awe of the experience. Back then, boys had cooties.
This trip, her hormones were in full revolt. Her secret phone calls to him made me realize the extent of his hold over her. This made me angry. I was angry with her for going behind my back, but more so, I was angry with him for all that he represented. He was the threat to all that I strived so hard to build in my daughter, to protect her from sinvergüenzas like him.
[Sinvergüenza is Spanish for: scoundrel, rogue, shyster, son of a gun, bad egg, cad, scab, shameless person, cheeky devil…you get the picture]
Regardless of her state, I realized she was trapped for a week with me (and some friends who joined us on the trip) and I was going to maximize this opportunity to try to reach her. My friends talked to her and offered observations about guys like him. Thankfully she was attentive to what they shared, though still under his spell.
I took her shopping, which of course I knew would perk her up and get her mind off of him. She soon became distracted with the city’s energy and activities. The periodic moments of moodiness and isolation popped in, such as one sunny morning when we strolled along the Seine River, while my darling daughter opted to walk several feet behind me, pretending not to know me. But by the end of the week her moodiness and angst eroded and my familiar daughter began to re-emerge.
I prayed a lot during our time there, and also the days after our return, asking God to open her eyes to see that this guy was not good for her.
When we returned back to Texas and school resumed, I continued to drop her off in the mornings and pick her up after school. I went to great lengths to insure not to be late because I wanted to prevent her from spending extra time with him. I knew she had a window of opportunity to see him in the cafeteria during lunch. I didn’t forbid her from seeing him at lunch, because I had no power to reinforce it. Also, forbidding usually drives secrecy (which was already occurring), and increases the desire to do what is forbidden. I wanted her to come to the right conclusions about him, on her own (with my guidance, but without mandating it). Giving her some freedom (the time she had during lunch) would be an opportunity for her to test and learn, without giving her full freedom (spending time after school or on weekends).
I tried to arm her with empowering thoughts, every day before I set her free into the minefield that is junior high. “You’re smart and capable and I know you will choose to do the loving and respectful thing for yourself. People who don’t respect and love themselves turn to distractions like drugs and sex to find happiness. They’re looking to these outside things because they don’t realize God already made them precious and deserving. Loving ourselves enough to take care of ourselves, protecting ourselves from destructive behavior, is how we honor the life God gave us. God made us all to do great things with our life. If we hang out with the wrong people, we sabotage our lives. We don’t get to grow into the best we were meant to be, and we miss out on the beauty God has in store for us.”
Not only are the teen years a time for her to grow up, but also for me as a parent, it is a time of transition—Less of me telling her what to do, and more of me encouraging her and supporting her abilities to make the right choices. One day soon she’ll be on her own and I don’t want her to feel unprepared, or paralyzed to handle life because I was always there telling her what to do and think.
My daughter soon began to learn the truth about this guy. One friend shared that he took a girl to his house after school, while his parents weren’t home. Then she heard about a different girl. My daughter then realized he couldn’t be trusted, and henceforth, referred to him as, “man-whore.” She confessed, “I don’t know what I ever saw in him!” This of course was like harps and angels, to a parent’s ears!
The fallout for being around him those couple of weeks was felt well after she stopped dating him. People assumed that she engaged in drugs and sex with him, because that’s what he does. This annoyed her to be judged this way. I used this teaching opportunity to explain that right or wrong, people judge us and our character by who we choose to associate with.
Fast forward to present day, recently some other sinvergüenzas have been attempting to get my daughter’s attention, as it appears the world is not in short supply of them. Though she learned her lesson a few years ago, I notice that teens (like most adults) need reminding, but without shaming them in the process.
Perhaps it’s the hormones. Perhaps it’s how time has a way of dulling the pain and consequently the senses. I figured I needed additional reinforcements (other than my voice), and bought her a book, “Safe People” by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. She couldn’t put it down. She highlighted it and began taking notes in her journal while reading it.
“We cannot fail to be influenced, for better or worse, by the people in whom we invest. It will always show: “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33). And good company builds up our hearts.”
The book has been a valuable resource for her to differentiate between safe and unsafe people. Though she realizes this now, she still must take heed to guard her heart daily to keep her mind strong to protect her values and boundaries. I shared with her that no one—no matter how strong—is super-human. Any one of us can weaken and forget our focus, if we don’t intentionally and continually remind ourselves of the positive and healthy traits to look for in people.
As I write this, my daughter interjects, “The most important thing is to change the friends you were talking to. If you lose those people, you’re already better off, even if you haven’t yet started doing work on yourself. Everything else follows.”
“People you hang out with affect how you are. I just know it based on personal experience. I knew it all along. I was just denying it all along. I put it out of my mind, so it wouldn’t bother me.”
Curious I ask, “What drove you to stop denying this to yourself?”
“You reminded me with our talks. Reading self-help books and the Bible also helped. Keeping a journal helped a lot too, because I could relive the anger, which reminds me why I stopped talking to certain people and why they’re not good for me.” We have to remind ourselves of our past lessons learned. Not in a beat yourself up fashion, but as a loving reminder that we deserve better.
No matter how hard we love our kids, no matter how many sacrifices we make, no matter how hard we try to set an authentic example, no matter how involved we are in their lives, no matter how much we talk to them, no matter how in touch with the real world we are and thus openly talking about dangers and traps, no matter how we make them our priority, no matter how many times we tell them and show them we love them, they must walk through their own trials to test the very rails we’ve erected to guide them.
The things we do to protect and instruct them, we must continue doing. Even in the moments of our own parenting despair, we must persevere. We must reach out to friends and resources available for support. When we feel weak and overwhelmed, God is always available to renew us. He is the rock that doesn’t falter, while everything else around us may crumble.
Our boundaries, our guidance, by way of our unrelenting love, will eventually bring them off the roller coaster to level ground. My daughter’s own words reinforce just how important it is for parents to “Never, never, never give up.” (Winston Churchill)
Copyright © 2011 Ella Venezia. All Rights Reserved.
1st image- © All rights reserved Ella Venezia