How To Have a Fun Vacation with Your Teenager
As a single mother, I’m often asked, “How do you do it? Raising a teenaged daughter alone… you both seem so normal [not really], so well-adjusted [sometimes]. What’s your secret?!” It is perhaps an understatement to say that being the parent of any teenager is not easy, but it is my feeling that girls, in particular, offer distinct challenges because of their propensity for drama. Drama at home, drama at school, drama in the washing machine; it is everywhere. And if it’s not, they will create it. Unfortunately, in today’s social-media driven world, there are so many more opportunities for engaging in useless, tear/rage/anxiety-producing drama than when I was growing up. I’m chartering dangerous new territory here.
On the eve of our road trip during which we will be spending countless hours together, I’m doing my best to prepare: car, food, maps, methods for angst dissolution. This astute readiness will hopefully ensure that we both have a wonderful, rewarding experience. Or at least that we arrive home on speaking terms and in possession of all our respective teeth and limbs. In any case, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to share with you my top three FUT’s (Frequently Used Techniques) to
control encourage my daughter to be the best she can be through positive discipline, fostering intrinsic motivation toward pleasant behavior for the common good, and esteem-building experiences.
I will begin with the general edification that vocal and bodily expressions of any sort in public can be extremely helpful at encouraging your daughter to “snap out of” potentially explosive displays of emotion. As anyone who received my 2010 Holiday newsletter may recall, the article “Power In Penis” describes how the word penis has a calming effect on pre-teen girls: when you feel the onset of an irrational argument, just say the word penis in a controlled but lively fashion and the agitation will subside. Typically, the girl will then stare at you in horror and walk away. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of penis wears off by the time a girl enters her teen years, when repulsion for the curious, gross, and irresistibly mysterious male body has been deflated by Health 101 and dubious information from classmates and their older siblings. In fact, it can have quite the opposite effect, so best to retire penis after the age of 12.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t alternatives. My favorite?
1. Public Dance (preferably Liturgical)
1) Study Stephen Colbert’s video, commit to memory. 2) If the spirit moves you, embellish with unique dress, jewelry, lyrics etc, but the dance itself is pretty effective. (I keep a pair of turquoise maracas on hand for situations that require emphatic sound and gesturing. They will be on-the-ready in the glove box.)
Bonus: in addition to discouraging your teen daughter’s unwanted behavior/attitude, Public Dance produces the added benefit of dispelling her erroneous, but age-appropriate belief that she is the center of the universe, now and forever. Because for those precious few shining moments, you will be. Trust me.
2. The Coraline
[Disclaimer: If you and your teen haven’t seen Tim Burton’s Coraline, this might not make sense to you. Plus, you’re missing out on a great movie.]
Capitalizing on the primal fear of parental replacement/transfiguration so delightfully explored in the movie, The Coraline is a wonderful way to “get your message across” in a non-verbal, completely non-violent manner. No wailing, exploding heads, or collapsing in frustration.
Materials: two large buttons, two pieces of tape.
Procedure: If your daughter has “stomped off” in furious indignation over some unfairness or another, do not follow. Resist the urge to stalk and verbally abuse, cajole, or sweet-talk into a more acceptable reality. Let her go. Ignore the sound of the slamming door. Rather, 1) Go to your special Coraline Box, take out the buttons, roll the tape and place on the backs, stick to your closed eyelids. 2) Calmly feel your way into the room where she sits seething and just stand there. Obviously, you will not be able to see when she notices you, so wait until you hear a soft gasp. 3) Turn, walk away in silence.
This beauty of this opportunity to be pro-active rather than re-active is almost unbearable for its simplicity, cost-effectiveness, and ease of execution. Invariably, results include a greater appreciation of all you are and all you do, not to mention living in a safe place where there are no secret disappearing doors.
3. Let Her Be the Hero
Last, but not least: take advantage of (or create) opportunities to let your teenager be smarter than you, prettier than you, stronger or more capable than you. Think of it as the Parental Non-Compete Clause. For example, in our household, whenever a medical crisis arises (read: I cut my finger), I call on Isabella to administer care. She takes great pride in her strength and level-headedness in the presence of blood, while I teeter dangerously on the edge of hysteria. I pant, heave, and shiver, she glows. On this trip, Isabella will be in charge of directions and maybe audio books; I will follow. If she reads the map correctly and we actually arrive to Nebraska by Sunday, the glory is hers to bask in. If she guides us incorrectly and we’re lost in a wasteland with nothing but bad literature to keep us company, I’m ready to be lost (remind me to bring extra water). Either way, she will be Hero of Maps and Directions. There is only success.
That wraps up today’s FUT’s, I hope they have been helpful. And before I forget, I would like to introduce you to the third traveler who will certainly add to the fun of our vacation: Velma, our excessively-devoted whippet x pit bull who has carried on a five-year love affair with my shoes.
The thing I love best about Velma is that her tail is always wagging. Unless she’s lying down or getting in trouble for raiding the trash,
her tail is always.wagging. Eternally optimistic and content with her place in the world, wanting to be nothing more or less than what she is. Velma brings no judgements, attitude, or hostility, her behavior is easily modified with bad dog voice, she loves being with her pack. She’s a great teacher and we’re so happy to have her with us. Bon Voyage.