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Saturday, August 06, 2005

No! Never! Absolutely Not!

One of the women in my office has a daughter who is sixteen. Anyone who has ever raised a teenager knows what that is like. She now has a job, a car, and a thousand brilliant ideas to which her mother must say no.

Every day this mother's cell phone rings multiple times. It's gotten so bad that when it does, a chorus rises from the entire office (Hillary would be proud of us):
Under NO circumstances.
Only in your dreams.
Absolutely Not!
Don't even think of it.
Call the FBI and tell them your story - let's see what they say.
The girl met her mother at our office the other day, and as she walked through that a simultaneous and spontaneous "No, never, absolutely not", erupted from everyone's mouth. She looked quite confused, and by the time she arrived in the door of my office she was certain that we were a very weird group. I know, because she told me so when I looked at her and said solemnly "No - no chance."

I'm sure she thinks the entire world is full of irrational adults. When she was fifteen, she told such a tragic tale of maternal abuse that her friends reported it to the school and the school reported it to Georgia's child protective agency. Her father (a first child, they divorced and both have remarried) is a police officer, so he took interim custody and had a social worker come out to his house to discuss what would happen if she were put into foster care. It turns out foster care is even stricter than her parents, so the girl now knows that the conspiracy against her is truly vast, encompassing the entire state of Georgia. The horror of that revelation made her rethink matters somewhat and recant. She is now back living with her mother. The paternal gulag must have been even more oppressive than the maternal version.

There is nothing really wrong with this girl at all. She's just a teenager, with all that being a teenager incorporates. Her parents are good parents, and with a few more years in the oppressive parental regime devoid of even the most basic of teenage human rights she'll be fine. If they weren't willing to maintain the oppressive parental gulag, she'd already have gotten knocked up, gotten in a severe car accident, and almost certainly be up on charges for something or other. She likes the exciting life, no question about it.

The point of this story is not that you should not drive in Georgia ( she didn't get the car until she was properly sobered up about driving, and she will be quite responsible about that) the point is that the parental unanimity is absolutely essential for this girl. She is just beginning to develop the judgment to see that indeed some of her brilliant and highly reasonable plans to have fun could work out very badly.

The litany of "No, never, absolutely not" is the song that kept her, for example, from being in the car that one of her classmates flipped last year, killing several of the passengers and partially paralyzing the driver. It's what kept her from being able to go to the hot-tub sex party planned by her best friend (that, and her father taping her phone conversations). It's what prevented her from attending the preplanned inter-highschool basketball riot, which resulted in a really rip-roaring good time and criminal charges for the joyous participants. It's what forced her to keep her grades up high enough that now she qualifies for the good-grades car insurance discount, which is the only reason she can now afford her car insurance.

It is not, of course, that anything her parents have ever done has ever made sense. No, this whirling teenaged dervish of a trouble-seeking missile genuinely can't understand why her friends are so dumb. She would never smoke marijuana - they should have known that they'd be caught and wouldn't be able to get their licenses! She would never drive recklessly - don't they understand what could happen? You can't be a cheerleader and do gymnastics when you are pregnant - she would never be so stupid as to get knocked up by a boy she didn't even like!

The worldview is still the same - she still occupies an irrationally dictatorial parental gulag, the sole purpose of which is to torture her brilliant and absolutely reasonable self. But now an astonishing number of incredibly stupid teenagers have started popping up outside the barbed wire perimeter. Fortunately, she is far too reasonable and intelligent to be that dumb! Her baffled commentary about her friends' stupidity is entirely sincere. And so, realizing that deliverance is nigh, we grit our teeth and chant "No, never, absolutely not" right along with her parents.

The point of this story is not that it takes extreme fortitude of character to be the successful parent of many teenagers (although that is a point one might reasonably derive from this story).

The point is that mixed messages are fatal when there is a collision of cultures. You have to stand firm on the "No, never, absolutely not" or give up the battle altogether. And what made me write about this saga of teenage despair and suffering under brutal despotism was Sigmund, Carl and Alfred's post about multi-culturalism in the UK:
In a yet another 'thoughtful' and 'culturally sensitive' piece, UPI's Kathleen Hwang wrote a piece called 'Muslim youths face conflict of cultures.' In what has to be a new height in journalistic mediocrity and relativism, Ms Hwang is asking us to accept the reality that Muslims are faced with cultural alienation and turn to bombs in a response.

In an exercise in intellectual gymnastics, we are asked to 'undestand' the phenomena rather than be outraged- which is perhaps the biggest outrage of all.
See, understanding doesn't work. Sometimes there is just an inevitable collision between worldviews, with both parties sure of their own absolute brilliance and reasonableness, and you just have to grit your teeth and fight it out. Unless the west can summon the strength to announce "No, never, absolutely not" about violence being an acceptable means of political debate, we aren't going to prevail. We just have to say no. No to the theory, and no to the practice. No. No. NO!

The west has been handing out mixed messages. The problem of homegrown terrorism in the west is not really that there's a conflict of cultures. It's that there hasn't been the conflict of cultures. We can't afford to exalt Palestinian terrorists as freedom fighters in our universities, and then act shocked when the same students who have attended them go out and blow up a few subways and/or buses. So say it with me:
Absolutely not,
No, you can't do that,
No, you're wrong,
No, only criminals do that,
No, killing people to make a political point is always wrong,
You lost the argument,
My way or the highway.
After a while we'll get the hang of it. And shortly after that, we'll start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

EXCELLENT post, MoM! Wish all parents would take a page out of their book. She is truly a lucky young teenager.
Yes, and we won't even talk about our teen years, right? Of course we were brilliant and everyone else was unreasonable.
My parents were both total assholes and my mother was right about one thing, and one thing only: everybody should spend a couple of years in New York on their own.

All the rest was bullshit. I didn't like them then, and I don't like them now. Saying "no" and all the rest of it when it lacks either content or love is zilch.
Howard, I'm not getting something here....

Yes, tons of parents are jerks, and saying no just to say it doesn't do anything. These particular ones are fighting it out, and it is a royal battle.

This girl loves to fight. Genuinely loves trouble. Has a real instinct for it. Can't stand prosperity. She's just got to have something to fight against right now, because she hasn't gotten in the habit of having goals to fight for. I think in about two years she'll be a world-beater, but right now she's just beginning to get over the hump.

And maybe you were a reasonable teenager. I have known them but I wasn't one of them. People are really, really different. I have no idea why.

I have also known quasi-abandoned teens. P's give them money, etc, but don't really stick with them and try to help them get a hold on themselves and on life. Sometimes they seem to treat them like emotional punching-bags.

In my family most kids go flat nuts when they are teenagers. I have no idea why. It must be hormones or something. Anyway, there's no dividing line in my family. It's jail or success, but honestly it really is either/or. It might have something to do with genes for addiction. A lot of us have them. Or it just might be that we're an intense lot.

Anyway, I find it rather comforting that there are other teenagers in the world that are just about as bad. Somehow you don't strike me as having been the quiet type.
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