Sometimes we choose to not tell our parents about adventures we experience, thinking they won’t understand or approve. We may wait until years later, and laugh together.
Teenagers especially don’t want to tell their parents about experiments they undertake, like consuming alcohol, driving the family vehicle without permission while Mom and Dad are gone and smoking tobacco or marijuana. Frequently the parents know “something is going on,” because they did many similar things themselves.
When the conversation is opened about a difficult subject, the kids and parents can often relate and learn together.
I couldn’t tell my parents for four years of grade school (3rd to the 6th grade) that I couldn’t see the teachers’ writing on the blackboard wall, perhaps in more ways than one. The days of old-style blackboards in school are mostly gone, having been replaced with computers in the hands of most students and teachers.
During my middle years of elementary school I cajoled my teachers that I needed to sit in the front row, even though they usually wanted me to sit in the back row so I wouldn’t disturb other students. My teachers realized I couldn’t see the blackboard well and wrote letters to my parents that “Michael needs to have his eyesight checked.”
The nuns who were my teachers sent the letters home with me–big mistake. I destroyed the letters, until one arrived home because my 6th grade teacher figured out she should give it to my older brother instead of me.
When my older brother presented the letter to my parents at the supper table, my father asked me to stand behind the kitchen table and to read the dates of the calendar hanging on the wall a few feet away.
I could barely see the calendar, much less the numbers on it. I knew what would happen if I had to wear glasses.
Schoolmates would tease me, I proclaimed. I was right.
They called me “four-eyes” and “owl” when I got the corrective lens I needed. I hated wearing thick glasses because I was extremely near-sighted.
Years later I learned that nearsightedness results because the eyeballs grow too long in many youngsters, partly due to good nutrition. Myopia wasn’t the big flaw I had made it out to be in my mind because of the teasing I encountered.
By then I had readily adapted to wearing contact lens, for they became available when I was in college. As anyone might guess, I didn’t tease my children when they said they needed to have their vision checked, or were considering LASIK surgery.
There are some matters that are best not to worry parents with, however, if we are confident we are doing the right thing. I didn’t tell my parents that I witnessed people getting stabbed in knife fights when I was working in western states after completing college and that I got involved in altercations when I had to protect myself.
I was a researcher collecting data on migrant farm laborers’ adjustments to working long hard days and moving frequently to new locations. Fights sometimes broke out as laborers took sides in disputes and “went at it,” usually around their living quarters.
When a worker kicked me in the mouth I had to defend myself, even though I tried to remain neutral. Another episode occurred when two sets of family members were trying to settle rivalries and everyone was fighting except a fellow researcher and me.
The sparring families wanted us to take sides. We fended off attackers until the sheriff arrived and the stabbing victims were transported to the hospital.
In spite of the mayhem, I never felt scared. The fighting occurred within ethnic groups of migrant laborers, not between them.
As this project and additional later research indicated, perhaps their social conditions of distance from family members, having few familiar institutional supports (e.g., adequate healthcare and schools, spiritual congregations and a legal system and dominant culture that understood them) as they moved from one work location to another, uncertainty about work and wages and occasionally too much alcohol all contributed to their internal fighting.
I learned not only about migrant worker life, but how to take care of myself. I developed knowledge about my limits and confidence in my judgments.
How can parents deal with their children not telling them everything? It sends the correct message when parents let their children know that experimenting–within legal limitations–helps them figure out what they can and can’t handle.
It sends a signal that the parents trust their children to be responsible for their behaviors but it also makes it easier for the children to approach their parents if they find themselves in a situation for which they might need help or already regret. They usually aren’t mistakes.
Don’t use the word “mistake;” they are better called “learning experiences.”
Dr. Mike lives near Harlan, Iowa; he can be contacted at: www.agbehavioralhealth.com.