"Adolescents are not monsters. They are just people trying to learn how to make it among the adults in the world, who are probably not so sure themselves." – Virginia Satir
When I first met Kyle, my step-son, he was a bubbly 5 year old with energy to spare. He sat in the front, passenger seat, buckled up next his mother as she gave me a tour of Stillwater, the scenic St. Croix Valley, the woods of Taylors Falls. Kyle would glance around his seat and beam a smile back to me. Every so often, he’d throw his hands above his head and ask, "Can you help me, mister?" I’d reach my arms around his seat and tickle him. His giggle was infectious.
At that age, Kyle had energy to spare. He always challenged me to be the first to run to this tree or that, or to be the first to get to the car. Not long after I married his mom, we took Kyle to Lake Elmo Park Reserve, just north of our home in Woodbury, and put him on a two-wheeled bicycle for the first time. I told him to pedal and that’d I’d run along with him and make sure he wouldn’t fall. After a dozen running steps, I let go and Kyle was riding solo like he had been doing it all his life. And he hasn’t looked back.
Kyle has always been independent, sometimes stubbornly so, not wanting a hand to support his journey as much as the freedom to figure things out on his own. He’s like a baby bird who comes out of the nest wanting to fly. As soon as his wings are just barely capable of supporting him, he teeters on the edge and jumps. A flurry of feathers and a few seconds later, he’s on a nearby branch, craning his neck out for somewhere else to go.
My growing edge has been to let him fly.
It hasn’t been easy – relying only upon trust that he will be safe, giving him his space, letting him make mistakes, watching from afar as our young boy has grown into a young man, seeing the tears of his mother when he nudges himself farther and farther away.
I have learned that raising a teenage son or daughter is about being in the flow, of knowing when to step away, of knowing when to come close, of knowing when to speak and when to be silent. It’s about providing a structure, a way of being, and then letting the teen express him or herself as they will. Expect intensity, and thunder. Set guidelines and watch them become compared with those of friends. Set boundaries and watch them get stretched. Set your own expectations and watch them fail.
This is an incredible time of changing roles. Parents of a young children are in full control. They produce the character, write the script, direct the action and play leading characters in the story. But before long, the young bit player becomes the starring actor. And not only that, the fledgling star begins to write, direct and produce simultaneously.
The story of each of our young adults now is being scripted as they live life. Our challenge, as parents, is to be humble and to step away from the camera, realizing that we no long are in full control. We now wait for an invitation to appear in a scene with our young people. And when that invitation comes, accept it graciously, with love – not with resentment, not with hurt feelings because your youth has grown up and no longer needs you like before.
Loyalties are to the friends. This coming generation is communal. Our teens prefer a floor of a friend’s room over a bed in their own. They gather like tribes and stay up into the early morning hours. Internet chatting, it appears, was invented so they could stay in contact with any of the thousands of names of their list. Ditto for cell phones. They cannot be separated.
Now on spring break from classes as a high school junior, Kyle surprisingly chose to join his grandparents on a round-trip drive to Dallas, Texas, just one of many travels he has taken over the years with two of his biggest supporters. And as I sit here, in the silence, it gives me an opportunity to honor a soul who has matured in the twinkling of an eye.
Kyle is a highly sensitive being who understands more in a given situation than is being said. He is a good soul who intuitively can find the answers he is looking for. With his charisma and passion, I am sure he can attain any goal that he chooses.
I am proud of Kyle. And I am grateful for having been given the opportunity play a role in his life.