By Shoshana Hayman, director of the Life Center/Israel Center for Attachment Parenting, http://lifeCenter.org.il
The sign on the door was hardly welcoming. It read, “Warning! Restricted Area. No Trespassing. Use of Deadly Force Authorized!”
I was invited in. The younger siblings in the house tried to prepare me before entry, thinking I’d be taken aback at their brother’s taste in décor. It was a small room. The walls were painted the color of a cloudless blue sky on a summer’s day. However, only thin strips of blue paint were showing between the larger-than-life sized posters of Led Zeppelin and the Bratz.
The dresser on one wall held an impressive stereo and a stand of CDs that included a variety of discs from rock to blues. A guitar leaned against the dresser. It was easy to imagine listening to Led Zeppelin at full volume, with guitar in hand, feeling yourself part of the spike-haired, ominous-looking group of musicians looking out from the posters on the wall.
The opposite wall held two shelves of books about baseball and several trophies won at little league games. I suddenly recalled that at the assembly at the end of his seventh-grade year, this boy gave a talk about the lessons of morality that can be learned from the rules of baseball.
A large poster with a picture of Albert Einstein hung among the posters. Alongside Einstein’s image were his profound and thought-provoking quotations about life and the universe. Behind the door was another bookcase that held a Bible, a prayer book, and several books about philosophy and religion.
If I could change the sign on the door to this room, I’d hang one that reads, “Maturation Unfolding. Occupant is in the Vital Process of Integration. Please Enter with Respect and Honor.”
When a child reaches adolescence, and development is unfolding as it is meant to, there is much work taking place within this person who is crossing the bridge between childhood and adulthood. A teenager has a lot to reflect upon. When he is alone in his room, he ought to be able to fill the solace with his own interests, express his feelings with his own music, and contemplate the meaning of his own prayers. He would naturally come to compare and contrast the words of Albert Einstein with Led Zeppelin. Little by little, he would be able to integrate approaches and ideas in order to make sense and create meaning of his world.
When parents understand and honor this process, they are making room for their child to grow into mature adulthood. They can create discussion to help their child define his beliefs, interests, preferences and values. When parents make room for this development, their children can be secure in who they are and at the same time show consideration for the beliefs and values of others.
This “making room” for children happens when there is a context of an attachment relationship. Parents provide generous doses of closeness when their children are young. Babywearing in a sling has become popular in modern culture, and parents are increasingly aware of the need to provide comfort to small children. What we are less aware of is that as children grow older, they continue to need this closeness and comfort. Although we would not hold or cuddle with a teenager in the same way we would a toddler, the 15-year-old still yearns to be close, special, comforted and loved. They still seek out someone with whom they can share their stories and secrets. When teenagers are securely attached to their parents in this way, it gives them a safe home base from which they can reflect on the conflicting thoughts and feelings that characterize this period of development, and find harmony as they integrate these dissonant elements.
Our task as parents is to see beyond the “No Trespassing” sign, knowing that it is temporary. Now is the time to create regular times of closeness, express interest in your child’s interests, and withhold judgment when you hold a different opinion. Although it can be challenging to express love to a teenage boy whose length of hair exceeds that of his sister’s, or show genuine happiness to be with your teenager when the sound of The Bratz fills the background, this is your calling so that he can cross the bridge of adolescence and reach mature adulthood. Reaching adulthood is his destiny. If we are in right relationship, we can trust this process to unfold as it should.