In our Sunday church Sacrament meeting, years ago, a psycho-therapist spoke about raising teenagers. I paid particular attention because I had four of them at the time. She had the gift of being able to boil things down into usable tools for the average Christian parent. She said three basic things every teenager needs:
2.) Flexibility in the Rules
3.) Unconditional love from at least one person.
She expounded a bit on all of these.
There need to be just a few rules. “Don’t micromanage your families.” she said.
Sometimes the rules need to be respectfully broken. Even Eve, the mother of all mankind, broke a major rule. But it is my deep belief that this was not from any weakness or spontaneous reaction to temptation. The adversary used the truth to harm her, as is common even to this day, and the truth was she could not progress and fulfill other commandments without the knowledge of good and evil (represented by the fruit she ate). But what harmed her brought opportunity to her as well, and to all of us waiting in our heaven place for the chance to have bodies. Oh Eve, thank you for breaking the rule, with wisdom and respect, knowing it would require tremendous sacrifice for you and Adam.
Lastly, the church speaker commented on rule #3. “Every teenager needs to have someone who will give them unconditional love.” At this point I was squirming in my pew, that old friend Guilt sidling up beside me.
“And,” she continued…”that person is rarely the parent. Parents, because of their stewardship to teach and discipline, don’t have the luxury of making their kids feel that way, at least when they are kids. The person who gives unconditional love is more often a grandparent, or an aunt or uncle, a teacher or an adult friend.” Boy, was I relieved. And I nodded my head, because I understood right away that this was our truth in the Connors household. Our kids had a number of people who gave them unconditional love. Their Grandparents, their aunts and uncles. Gram was the ultimate champion for our kids, for all her grand kids. She was more than just a timid giver of love. She was truly their champion. If a teacher was unfair, if friends were cruel, if a stranger was rude, Gram would purse her eyebrows, roll back her shoulders and say “Want me to go hit them for you?!” We had relatively normal, intelligent, good hearted kids. They knew right from wrong, and of course they didn’t want vindication or revenge (usually). But they did need someone who believed in them no matter what, who supported them no matter why.
Intelligent people…both intellectually and spiritually intelligent people… know how time and the spirit of goodness that prevails over mankind eventually leads us to correct our mistakes, forgive others, and move forward. We really don’t need to be preached to. It is a basic human need to feel understood, and being understood is the first step in unconditional love.
Jesus Christ, the most unconditional of all lovers, took that first step in loving us without condition when he sought to understand us. He lived among us, he suffered the pains of the flesh, and he accepted the burden of sorrow, suffering and sin first, so he could atone and advocate, and second, so he could understand us. The first step in real love: understanding.
I HOPE to remember those three general needs of teenagers: to have rules, to be flexible with those rules, and to find unconditional love. I am channeling my mother in giving that kind of love to my own grand kids whose adventure in teenage-hood is just around the corner..