Sailing Through Adolescence? by Bozemama

September 28, 2012

Posted By: Shaunescy

So, like a good mama looking for all the help she can get, I trotted off to this lecture given by Maria Trozzi, a nationally recognized consultant to the Child Development Unit at Children’s Hospital in Boston. A mother of two grown women who has worked with the families of Navy SEALS and 9/11 survivors deal with loss, Trozzi probably knows a whole lot more stuff than I do and so I should probably listen to her.

I’m so glad I did, because – in just a few hours – Trozzi helped me see the whole parenting thing in a fresh light and now I'm going to share it with you. Ready?

Trozzi says that we 21st century parents are so crazy hell-bent on raising high achievers that we are coddling, cocooning and pushing our kids out of their sense of self. (This is nothing new really -- we all recognize that unhinged wild-eyed agitation as we spot one another chauffeuring the kids from activity to activity after school). We are so desperate for 7-year-old Julian to practice his Rachmaninoff after dinner that we don’t ask him to bus his plate. But this isn’t doing Julian any favors, because – and this is the gospel according to Trozzi and many other  experts-- the key to being a high-achiever isn’t how many languages you speak or how you scored on the SATs, it is what she calls, “a sense of agency.” A sense of agency? What, you ask, the hell is that? Well, it’s this:

--Being able to manage yourself 

--Delaying gratification

--Controlling your impulses

Yikes, I don't know about you, but I'm not certain I can do any one of those three on a good day (clearly not a high achiever), so isn’t it a lot to ask of a teenager? Yes, it is. And that’s why we need to start helping our kids with this yesterday. Trozzi says our job is to act as a scaffold (thinning, right?). Imagine that you are always about a foot away from your adolescent, ready to catch them if they need you (never mind that they weigh over 100 pounds at this point). You are a consultant (who doesn't get paid). You set parameters and then you stay out of it. This is so hard, because we don’t want our kids to fail, but it is the only way to help them become problem solvers. And, unless you want Julian living on the couch eating your meatloaf and drinking your beer until he's 38, you want him to become a problem solver. Trozzi says that if you are a problem solver that means you are emotionally intelligent and can do the following:

--Know what you feel
--Express those feelings safely
--Manage your feelings
--Determine appropriate behavior to express/relay those feelings

Wow. Once again, I could personally use a little help with some of this stuff (clearly not very emotionally intelligent), because I’m pretty sure that throwing a hairbrush across the bathroom isn’t a safe way to express my feelings. OOPS. Maybe this is obvious to you, but Trozzi says that all feelings are OK (phew), but not all behavior is OK. Since we are supposed to be models for our kids, I guess I need to remember this when I want to bitch-slap the next person who gets in the express lane at the market with 73 items. 

I hope I haven’t overwhelmed you. And, please don’t be put off by what you think might be psycho-babble. As I see it, it’s pretty simple and here’s the takeaway: I don’t need to worry that my nine-year-old Charlie will be living on disability in a van down by the river just because he isn’t a black belt in Karate or doing trigonometry. I can breathe easier knowing that he’ll be OK as long as he can tell me how he feels and remembers to wipe his butt.

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