Raising a teen is a daunting task, but being a teacher of teenagers has really helped. Over the years, my students have taught me a valuable lesson: the more mistakes you make, the less choices you get.
Students who make poor choices over and over again start to lose certain freedoms. They lose the trust of their teacher, they start to get referred to administrators, they lose privilege after privilege, and finally some get to lose the ability to attend our school all together. The ultimate heartbreak for me is when I find out that as adults they even lose their freedom and end up in prison.
So I warn my students and now my son that a red flag of bad choices is the loss of choice. When adults start limiting their freedoms to roam the hallways, use the bathroom, or even how they spend their time when school ends (aka detention), they are headed down a tough road. Some teens need this lack of choices as a wake up call. There are students who see these signs and decide to change their behavior. Others are triggered, and they proceed to escalate their behavior to try and gain control over a situation they will never win. They may win the battle, but they eventually will lose the war. Unfortunately, the war they are fighting only affects the quality of their own lives. The teachers and administrators who are stripping them of these freedoms feel no repercussions. These students and their lives are merely a blip in a thirty year career for these adults.
It is a sad series of events to witness, and twenty years of being a teacher have caused me to react more like Willy Wonka when dealing with difficult behavior: “No, stop, don’t,” I respond in the driest of tones because sometimes the words need to be said even when I know it may fall on deaf ears.
When it come to Cole, who recently turned 14, my tone is much more clear.
“Cole, please know, the better your choices, the more freedoms and privileges you will have. Your wrong choices will lead to less. It’s a give and take.” He stares at me and raises an eyebrow. He has heard this speech a lot throughout his short life, but it is taking on a new form in his mind because he wants more freedoms. “Think about it,” I continue. “When people continually make wrong choices, where do they eventually end up?”
“Prison,” he answers rotely. I am happy. Despite his dry, one-tone answer, it shows that he has been properly indoctrinated.
“The more you make solid, sound choices the more choices you get. It’s really that simple,” I continue.
It’s really not that simple, and perhaps that was the moment I needed to explain the dynamics of critical race theory and sexism and ableism in our society, but I leave it here for now. Those conversations are for another day. Right now, I just need my impulsive teen son who has shown interest in vaping to understand the direct result of uninformed choices.
Our conversation about choices has come to an end as he picks up our large, orange tabby and kisses him through his thick fur. The cat becomes a large rag doll in his arms and pushes his furry head into his mouth. Cole’s lips fill with hair and he spits and wipes his mouth on his sleeve.
“Well, that was a wrong choice,” he says. We both laugh.
Love and Light!