"Old Days - Good Times I Remember"

By Stephen C. Schultz
 
“Old days - Good times I remember
Fun days - Filled with simple pleasures
Drive-in movies - Comic books and blue jeans
Howdy Doody - Baseball cards and birthdays
Take me back - To a world gone away
Memories - Seem like yesterday”

The first shadows of evening were starting to settle across the street. Summer was now in full swing and I was casually making my way to the corner filling station. I pulled to a four way stop and noticed what seemed to be a sister and her two brothers setting up a lemonade stand. It was obvious they had ridden their bike and scooters to the corner in hopes of making a little summertime spending money.
 
The pitcher of lemonade sat proudly on the table while the oldest brother made his way to the corner with a sign reading;

“Fresh Lemonade – 25 Cents”
Oh…the innocence of childhood! As I sat at the stop sign, drifting back to days of my childhood, the song “Old Days” by Chicago coincidentally played on the radio.

With two of my four children now making that transition into young adulthood, it’s interesting to see the differences as they have moved away from home, attended college and are experiencing adult situations in life. 


 
I thought I would share some thoughts and information for all of those families that are struggling with a young adult and the transition into becoming an independent, productive and responsible member of society. My hope is to adequately address the inevitable “Family Drama” that parents will deal with sooner or later. This information is based on my 20 years of parenting experience with my own children as well as over 25 years of working with families through delicate familial situations.

Please allow me to share a parenting principle that I hope will create a foundation for further discussion. For those who have young children, I know this will make perfect sense. The concept is that of an “Extinction Burst”. The “Extinction” refers to a behavior or attitude that parents would like to see their child stop. The term “Burst” represents a description of the behavior once “Benevolent Structure” is put into place.

We have all seen the 3 or 4 year old who we catch in the kitchen with an open package of OREO’s.  There are crumbs on their mouth as well as on the floor where they are sitting. As a parent, you know it probably isn’t a good thing for them to eat an entire package of cookies, so you reach down to take them away.  All you want to do is “Extinguish” the behavior. But, before you even bend down all the way, the child is grabbing a handful of cookies with one hand a shoving two more cookies into their mouth with the other hand. They also let out a blood curdling cry of “NOOOOOOO” and stand up to run away! As a parent, you stand back and say, “WOW where did that “burst” come from?”

As children mature into adolescence, the “Extinction Burst” principle still exists; it’s just a bit more refined and manipulative. You see kids who ask one parent to do something and get a “NO” answer, then immediately run to the other parent and ask the same question. If the answer is still no, a temper tantrum ensues, or the “quiet treatment” or some other physical or emotional means of “Upping the Ante”. Over time, the methods that parents use to provide structure transition from “Taking the cookies” to the sharing of input, advise and wisdom.

Most children and teens over time develop an understanding of “Benevolent Structure”. They realize that when their parents provide “Structure”, the parents really do have their best interests at heart.  Even if they don’t like the structure, advice or input from their parents, they recognize that their parents are interested in their safety and wellbeing. By the time someone is in their 20’s, there should be a pretty good understanding of Benevolent Structure.

So, let me address the “elephant in the room”. The majority of parents have provided benevolent structure to their children over their lifetimes. Parents generally work through the cookie thing when the kids are younger and manage the advice and suggestion thing just fine as they transition into young adulthood. However, sometimes these young adults don’t like the “benevolent structure” we as parents provide and they do a 20 year old version of “grabbing cookies and running away”.

Once your children are in their 20’s, working and away from home at school, Parents need to realize they have limited influence. However, we as parents still have knowledge and life experience far beyond our young adult children. While they may technically be an adult, we are not their peers. Just because they refuses to take into consideration some of the advice and recommendations of us as parents concerning their personal lives, does not mean that we have an obligation of any kind to change our views or relent to their “Tantrums”.

I worked with some parents whose daughter was dating someone they weren’t happy about. They mentioned to me that;

 “Trish is trying to make this about her boyfriend, when in reality, it is really about her. It has never been about him. It is about Trish having a core sense of self and sense of direction in her personal life. While she has done great in her academics, the people she chooses to hang out with, room with and associate with are a reflection of her choices. She is not choosing a peer group that is goal driven and working to accomplish a life plan with age appropriate integrity or character. This is a reflection on her, not them. If Trish was on the road to becoming a mature young adult by associating with others based on the family standards she was raised with as well as the intelligence she was blessed with, she would be interacting and associating with a different peer group. This is the bottom line. She knows it, but doesn’t like it.”

The parents are right about Trish. They have many years of life experience behind them and can “see” where this relationship is headed. So, where does the drama come from? The drama comes from Trish’s rationalization  and the associated cognitive dissonance that she is experiencing.

As mentioned in my blog post, to sit back and not address the issue would be irresponsible on the part of any parent. Again, it is important to remember that as parents there is limited influence unless your young adult child seeks to have an adult conversation. In most instances, there are only two choices for the young adult child:

1)      They can recognize there is wisdom, experience and parental knowledge that drives the “Benevolent Structure” of you as parents. This will take some courage as well as humility on the part of the young adult. This is not an easy road.
 

2)      They can continue to stay engaged in a perceived power-struggle and continue to make life decisions independent of parental consideration. (I say perceived because, as mentioned, parents really don’t have any power. Our young adult children can do what they want. Part of their rationalization is that having “Mom & Dad” be the bad guy somehow justifies their behavior and thought process.)

This information doesn’t seem very encouraging if you are a parent in this situation. Obviously, if there are extenuating circumstances such as chronic substance abuse, self harm, depression, or debilitating anxiety or other mental health concerns, it is important to intervene and do all that can be done to provide appropriate professional assistance.

As parents, we love our kids and try to provide the best opportunities for their continued growth and development. As parents, we also realize early on that these little beings we bring into this world have a mind of their own and a constant drive for independence, or in other words, that lemonade stand on the corner.

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