My son’s always been an energizer bunny with a penchant for mischief. He doesn’t get into real ‘law breaking’ trouble mind you, but the kind of shenanigans that might earn him an hour in the after school detention hall from time to time. And from time to time, like any kid, he goes too far and sparks fly around the house.
I’ve always understood my son’s ‘penchant for mischief’. His desire to stand out and be different on the other hand…not so much. I grew up in a very conservative home, and it never really bothered me. In fact at times I think I might have been even more conservative than my parents.
While my parents listened to Neil Diamond and The Beatles and my friends listened to Roxette and Ace of Base, I was busy listening to Vivaldi, Mozart and Nana Mouskouri. I never understood all the rebels and troublemakers. The most rebellious thing I ever did as a teen was to go to a church my dad didn’t approve of. It was actually a really good church with a fantastic youth program, but boy was I in trouble for that.
My husband says he was very similar to our son when he was young, just more so, and got into trouble with his parents and teachers because of it.
He tells me his parents were both very reasonable people. They were very strict about some things, yet really relaxed about most others. It was the ‘some things’ that caused all the problems when he was a teen.
How to respond to a kid that’s pushing the boundaries
I’ve had many conversations with my husband about being a teenager, our very different experiences, and how that applies to raising children.
Here’s what some of those conversations on being a teen sounded like from my husband’s perspective
The rules that made sense, even the rules I didn’t like, as long as they made some sort of sense, I would follow those. When my parents or any adult, would give a reasonable explanation why I wasn’t allowed to do something, I was much more willing to submit to those rules. But rules that were there for the sake of being rules, the ones where I felt I had no elbow room. I had a real problem with that as a teen. I was never really the rebellious bad kid type, that wasn’t my style. But sometimes I’d stretch rules and the boundaries, even though I knew there’d be consequences. I needed room to grow.
When I started showing up at home with some crazy haircuts, punk rock boots and combat pants at 14, surprisingly my parents were really not that fazed. My older sister’s had already broken some ground there I suppose. Dad teased, asking if I was trying to impersonate a rooster, but that was about it. Mom was not impressed, but it didn’t fall into her category of things to be really concerned about.
I didn’t wear any of that stuff or listen to crazy music to upset my parents or teachers. I remember that I just wanted to be different. Of course I soon learned that some teachers and adults see you dressed a certain way and, rightly or wrongly, they typecast you. I was nearly thrown out of a youth camp, largely because of the way I looked. There were a few kids sneaking out at night getting into some real trouble. When I was wrongly accused of partaking in that activity, well, let’s just say I was no shrinking violet and was not intimidated by authority figures. They didn’t appreciate my vigorous self-defence, and that I wasn’t intimidated by authority, and so I had to phone my parents to tell them to come get me. I was being sent home early. On the phone, my parents asked for my side of the story. I wasn’t being sent home for actually breaking any camp rules. The camp staff just didn’t like the way I responded to the accusations. After hearing me out, my parents asked to talk to the head of the camp. I’m not exactly sure what my parents said, but I was allowed to stay for the remainder of the camp.
As my teen years progressed, I kept pushing boundaries. Even though I got into some shenanigans, my marks were good, I was a good athlete and on just about every school team, etc. Sometimes I pushed too far and got into trouble, sometimes I pushed just enough to let my parents know that I was getting older and needed more elbow room. I made it through my teen years, graduated with distinction from college, and I’ve had a great life.
I remember a time when I was about 20 years old. A little more mature by then, my teen shenanigans were behind me. I was visiting home, and our pastor’s son, PK, was staying with my parents for a few weeks while they were away on church business. PK was in his senior year of high school and I got along great with him, partly I’m sure because he had a very similar personality to mine. He had that same penchant for mischief.
So I’m in the kitchen in the morning eating a late breakfast. My parents had already both gone to work, and I assumed I was home alone, as PK should be on the school bus by now. I’m sitting there munching on my toast and PK comes walking around the corner into the kitchen, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.
‘What are you doing home?’ I asked.
‘Yeah, I was meaning to talk to you about that. I think I’m going to skip school today. I need you to call the school and pretend to be my dad and tell them I’m sick.’
‘Oh, no! No, no. No. And No. I’m not making any calls.’ I replied. I knew how stern his dad could be regarding PK’s mischief. (Really stern!). He and PK were always knocking heads over broken curfews and rules and I wasn’t getting involved in any of that business.
PK was unfazed. He picked up the phone, and in the deepest ‘dad’ voice he could muster, dialed the school pretending to be his father, calling in sick. I could hardly contain my laughter while he was on the phone. We became good friends. The thing is, he was really a good kid who just needed to stretch the rules a bit. I’ve lost touch with him, but years later he went on to fight in the Iraq war, even winning a medal for bravery.
It’s easier to consider an adult who pushes boundaries, bucks tradition, and finds their own way in life as a maverick, as someone bold or assertive. Now, as a parent, I’m careful about extinguishing that trait when I see it in our kids. Occasionally there are fireworks. But often, that trait just needs a nudge in the right direction. ***Read fine print!
What to do when your kid wants a Mohawk or Green Hair
When the kids want to have a crazy hair style or color, or get tattoos, we look at the motivation first. The thing we really want to avoid, as parents, is the angry, rebellious stuff. We decided to try to circumvent some of that pain and aggravation with our son, way before it became an issue.
(my husband talking again)
When he was really young, I gave our son the option to have any hair style he wanted, as long as it was during the summer holidays. (His school has a hair/dress code and they wear uniforms, so he has to stay fairly conservative through the school year). I told him about my hair styles and some of my shenanigans when I was young, and of course, he wanted a mohawk. So, starting at 8 years old, he sat down on the chair in the bathroom and with hair-buzzer in hand, I gave him his first mohawk. Every year when summer holidays were approaching, our son would be counting down the days until he could get his dad to give him his summer-hawk. It was really fun stuff.
My brother in law seemed less than impressed. Here’s what I told him; “Some kids, like me, hit a bump in the road when they reach their teen years. They like to push the boundaries and rules. Some kids hit that bump a little harder than others. I think the kids that hit it the hardest are considered ‘rebellious’. I’m letting him do this now because he thinks it’s fun and cool and there’s nothing else attached to it. He’s the same little boy who likes to build forts in the garden. There’s no negative rebellious connotations to his haircut. And when he’s a teen, he won’t be able to come home and shock mom and dad with some crazy hair or whatever because it will be old news by then. His dad’s the one who gave him his first Mohawk.
Our son had a mohawk every summer for several years. Initially his friends’ parents were not impressed because their kids begged for one too. Eventually though, they relented, and let their sons have mohawks too. They all learned that it was really no big deal. Kids just being kids, trying something different, trying to push the edges and be “cool”, explore their individuality or whatever. By the time my son hit 13, that phase was clearly over and done. Now he likes to dress very smart, his hair groomed stylish but not crazy. Even his musical tastes are much more mellow than his dad’s. When my husband works out in the gym, the music’s loud and heavy. Our son doesn’t care much for loud music, he likes pop music with a beat and even country music. Cool!
How to respond when your kids want a tattoo
My husband has some tattoos, and of course both our kids want one too. Now before I met my husband I had fairly strong opinions about people with tattoos. Yes, I had all these neat little boxes in my head that people fitted into, except this man…who wouldn’t fit in any of them.
He made me realize that the fact that someone had a tattoo said way less about them then what they chose to put on themselves. Make no mistake; I’m still not crazy about tattoos. I don’t have any and I don’t intend ever getting any but I no longer make character assessments based on someone having one. I can also acknowledge that it’s a personal choice.
As for my husband’s tattoos – I love them. His tattoos are as much a part of him as his skin itself and I love every inch of this amazing God-fearing man.
Now back to my children. When they first asked if they could have tattoos I said “Great, start putting together a scrapbook of ideas that would make a great tattoo someday when you’re ready.”
“But I want one right now” they said.
“Ok, design a tattoo, and we’ll discuss it again in 6 months, see if that’s what you still want. “
Six months later, of course, they’ve outgrown that idea.
Aside from painful and expensive laser removal, a tattoo is a fairy permanent thing, so you need to use wisdom and discernment. You don’t just want anything on your body, and you want to be careful who puts that on your body too. If you’re wise, you won’t just walk into any tattoo parlor and pick any tattoo artist. You’ll find one who’s good. Someone talented, whose work you know and respect. You want the artist to be careful and clean, both medically and spiritually.
“What was the coolest thing back in grade seven. They laugh and give me a few examples. Ok, what if you tattoo that stuff on your arm now, how cool would that be?”
Yeah, not happening. They’re more mature now, they believe, and could pick something now that will be really cool for the long term.
Ok, so now imagine when you’re 28 years old. Would you go to a junior high school and let a kid there pick or design a tattoo for you? Nope!
Yeah, exactly!! A thirteen year old isn’t likely going to make a choice that a grown adult would be happy with.
So my advice is to be wise. Wait until they are well into their twenties and have some meaningful life experiences behind them that they can incorporate into a tattoo. By then they’ll be more mature and make better decisions about what and what not to permanently put on their body. If they even still want one by then.
That conversation, a couple of years ago now, made sense to them. The tattoo thing is something they may do….. someday.
My husband always says to let them get some of this stuff out of their system while they’re kids so that they don’t feel the need to do silly things when they’re older. Have fun being kids while they are kids.
My kids have had blue and green hair respectively; my son had a Mohawk phase that lasted about 3 years. Today when you look at them, you’d never know it. None of those things turned them into unruly rebels and together we’ve learned not to ‘sweat the small stuff’.
*** Fine Print.
YMMV. It may take numerous frustrating nudges, over frustratingly loooong periods of time. 😛