by Jeffrey Eberting, D.M.D., M.S.
It’s 7:30 a.m., and I’m braving the morning traffic and the cold weather as I weave my way through West Knoxville. Next to me, in the passenger seat, is a young lady who seems intently focused on something outside her window. Or so I would like to think. In reality, it is probably more that she simply doesn’t want to focus on any interaction with me. The music she has selected for our listening pleasure is something which seems to have been created if Nine Inch Nails and Evanescence had a sonic love child and unleashed it upon the unsuspecting public. I can feel the angst and torment radiating off this person in waves. I attempt to engage in light banter, but the monosyllabic responses accentuated with the occasional grunts leaves me frustrated. The silence is almost worse.
Is there a demon in my car? A throwback to Cro-Magnon man? Sadly, neither. I am the parent of adolescent children.
I always believed that I would be ready for the teenage years. After all, as an orthodontist, adolescents are the bulk of my patient base. As a musician, I try to keep up with the music trends, and believe me, I enjoy Daft Punk, Macklemore, and Arcade Fire as much as I enjoy my Fleetwood Mac, Boston, Van Halen, and Beatles albums. I try to keep up with the cultural trends (but I draw the line at the Kardashians and Honey Boo-Boo). So, you would think that this transition into adolescence would be a cakewalk, right? Well, sort of…
Let me make a disclaimer. I am by no means going to tell you how to manage your child. I am not an expert in early childhood development or adolescent behavior. You can read all the books and listen to the experts as you like, but I believe that parenting is a dynamic process – one that undergoes constant reinvention. A parenting style which works for one child may be a complete failure for another. There is no rule of thumb for adolescent management.
My dynamic is not uncommon. I am a divorced man who has his children in a less-than 50/50 situation, so my time with my children has to be about quality. Their mother and I have different parenting styles. I am not saying that one’s style is better than the other – we just have what works for us in each of our households. As I am a parent to 14-year-old and 12-year-old daughters, a 10-year-old son, and my girlfriend’s 9-year-old son, my advice only comes from my experience.
During the teenage years, these young people are trying to figure out who they are and what they believe. Some of the shaping of their values will come from us, but much of it will come from their peers. So, for me, good communication with my children has been the biggest asset in helping to navigate these adolescent waters. They know that they can discuss with me just about anything without me judging them or forcing my values down their throats, which has helped them open up to me about a variety of subjects. When I say that we as parents need to keep the lines of communication open for them, I do not mean that we barge into every aspect of their lives. I have always believed that parents who hovered over their children do a disservice to them. They are going to make mistakes. They NEED to make mistakes. With my children, I will let them make mistakes, assuming that no one gets killed or seriously injured, property isn’t destroyed, the fallout doesn’t cost me a lot of money and/or I don’t have to post bail.
I also believe that there should be a time and a place for when these discussions take place. Having a conversation about human sexuality while you’re driving your car might not be a good idea, because your adolescent could surprise you with the amount of urban knowledge that he or she knows. And, explaining to a police officer how it was your car ran off the road and hit a telephone pole can be embarrassing…
Adolescents have lots of things going on in their heads, and often they just want, nay, they NEED, a little guidance or direction. I would like to share with you a story about a conversation my older daughter and had about a year ago. It was a Saturday morning, and I was at the kitchen drinking my coffee and reconciling some bank accounts. My daughter sat down at the table and began to tell me about a fight she had with her mother. I was half-listening until she said the fight was about her religious beliefs and how they may have jibed with her mother’s. I closed my laptop, set it aside, and gave her my full attention. We talked about Christianity, how I do not necessary believe what her mother believes, but that religion was pretty malleable and that, at the end of the day, He is a forgiving God. She felt much better about things, finishing the conversation by saying, “Good talk, Dad.” Seize that moment and revel in it – your kid just told you that you did something right.
I am lucky – my children are a true blessing in my life. At this time, they seem to have good values and try to be good people. I have to credit their mother for that as much as I credit myself. This adolescent time is a roller coaster ride, that, if successfully handled, can be perhaps the most rewarding role you will play in your child’s development. What do I mean by “successfully handled”? I’ll tell you that when I figure it out. If you figure it out before me, please let me know.
Dr. Eberting owns Hardin Valley Orthodontics and holds degrees from Duke University and Temple University in both General Dentistry and Orthodontics. He is a member of the American Dental Association, the TN Dental Association, the Second District Dental Society, the American Association of Orthodontists, the Southern Association of Orthodontists, and the TN Association of Orthodontists. He is a Fellow in the Academy of General Dentistry. Dr. Eberting enjoys theater, music running, politics, reading and movies. He has three children.