The Skirball is full of parents. I see them pushing strollers, picking up sippy cups, and chaperoning elementary school groups. But I have a hunch that another set of parents is lurking in the shadows. They are the mothers and fathers of teenagers. They probably try not to go anywhere with their kids who are between the ages of twelve and eighteen.
Our society focuses on teens in many funny and entertaining ways. Even though I am well beyond parenting a teenager, one of my favorite comic strips is Zits, which follows the adolescent adventures of a high school freshman and would-be musician named Jeremy. Creators Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman totally get the joys and challenges of being a teen and parenting a teen. Teens are also the focus of many popular TV shows, including Modern Family, Parenthood, and Gossip Girl. We have seen children grow up on television—the best example being The Wonder Years, in my opinion—while Lisa and Bart Simpson remain perpetual pre-teens.
On a more serious note, the October cover story of National Geographic was entitled The New Science of the Teenage Brain, which offered great insight on the “impulsive, moody, maddening” behavior of a typical teen. Meanwhile, in its January 26 “The Saturday Essay,” The Wall Street Journal published What’s Wrong with the Teenage Mind?. This much-commented-upon (and highly tweeted) article noted that “children today reach puberty earlier and adulthood later. The result: A lot of teenage weirdness.” Oh my!
As head of the Skirball’s adult continuing education initiative, Learning for Life, I have offered many courses and seminars for parents about parenting. The goal is to foster a strong parent-child bond that results in healthy families—an important first step in creating the sort of healthy, civil society that is central to the Skirball mission. For the most part these offerings have focused on parents of young children—those bringing kids “aboard” Noah’s Ark at the Skirball—because that’s the family audience we see here most frequently. We assumed that these moms and dads, many of them struggling through the notoriously “Terrible Twos” or the triumphs and tribulations of tweenhood, were most in need of expert help.
But as any experienced parent can tell you, the first ten years are nothing compared to the next ten. Feedback from last year’s Parenting Seminar indicated that parents craved information on how to raise teens. Who doesn’t want a kid to turn into a responsible, caring, and secure adult, but how do we make that happen? And was National Geographic right: are the most exasperating traits of a typical teen in fact the key to success in adulthood?
Working with clinical social worker Susan Weinberg as my guide, the Skirball will offer a half-day seminar for parents of teens on Sunday, March 4. “Teenagers: Wonder Years or Worry Years?” will help parents learn how to harness the latest advances in brain science to improve communication, recognize opportunities for optimizing development and emotional growth, and understand the vulnerabilities facing teens these days. Our keynote speaker, Dr. John M. Watkins, has had years of experience working with teens. He’ll help us answer the question that has baffled parents of teens for generations: What were they thinking?
We’ve also arranged for a panel of teens to respond to Dr. Watkins’ presentation. These young men and women will provide a reality check for us. Will we wonder or worry over their responses?
Finally, after a brief refreshment break, participants will join small breakout sessions led by mental health professionals associated with our partner, the Institute for Contemporary Psychoanalysis. With backgrounds in clinical social work and psychology, these discussion leaders will pick up where Dr. Watkins left off, helping participants work through real-life scenarios while keeping in mind the lessons of brain science.
If you are feeling stumped by your teenage kids, this may be the help you’ve been looking for. If your child is only four, well… enjoy the innocence while it lasts!