Talking Points

Adolescence is a period of rapid changes. Between the ages of 12 and 17, for example, a parent ages as much as 20 years.

I remember the day my eldest son came to me with that love-sick look in his eye. He was all of  13 years old, had just begun middle school, and within two days of the new school year, had fallen for one of the cutest, most popular 8th grade girls.

He may have said something along the lines of, “I just cannot stop thinking about her!” In any case, I wasn’t as prepared for it as I thought I’d be. Here I was, a 29 year-old mother of a 5’10 young man in the making…and my  normally shy-with-girl-matters kid comes bearing news that he is head over heels in love.

I wasn’t ready for it. And apparently, neither was he. Within 2 weeks, my silly, self-motivated, scholar of a son was reduced to a distracted mess of adolescent hormones. I saw him become easily frustrated, testy, and prone to tears. His preoccupation with this young lady was crippling him. Of course, I did what any well-rounded, reasonable parent would do…

I freaked out. I remember calling my own mother in tears, searching for advice, support, and an easy solution to what was quickly becoming an issue.

In the end, I had the first of many emotionally raw, heart-to hearts with my boy about the nature of love, lust, and everything in between. I gave him what we now reference as “The Binder Speech.”

In my effort to get my point across to my son, I had to revert to concepts that were familiar to him. Being that he is a Type A personality in all aspects of life, I thought I’d appeal to the part of him that thrives on organization & order.

I explained to him that our thoughts are like  sections in a binder. They are either neatly ordered & clearly divided, with an even amount of space designated to each subject… or they are in utter disarray, leaving us grasping to make sense of the contents. If you devote too much time to any one area, it is inevitable that another will be neglected.

In his case, I told him I was concerned that his “love interest” was taking up his entire binder, leaving no room for other subjects such as friends, hobbies, and education. These areas were clearly taking a backseat to his infatuation with the 8th grade beauty. The problem: she wasn’t half as interested in him as he was in her… thus his agony.          

During our talk, I suggested to my son that it would be wise to re-organize the binder of his thoughts, and give a fair amount of space to each priority subject in his life. Not that his feelings for this girl were without weight or importance, but that he try and refrain from allowing them to completely take over his state of mind.

I assured him that teenagers are not the only ones who struggle with controlling their thoughts. Adults also spend too much time musing over certain people, or situations to the point that it begins to interfere with their functioning.

How many times have you gone to work preoccupied with something in your personal life, only to find you have a difficult time concentrating on the particular task at hand until you are able to clear your mind of distracting thoughts?

In the end, he agreed that he was spending far too much time fretting over the girl and that it left little time for him to devote to his buddies and school work. Of all the talks I’ve had with him, The Binder Talk seemed to have the most lasting impression.

How can I be so sure? Because, occasionally, I’ll reference it and he’ll chime in, reiterating one point or another. That and the fact that the other night I came across an essay of his while cleaning out our desktop…and in it he wrote:

“I believe in being organized, not only with physical belongings, but with mental struggles as well. Being preoccupied on one thought, or issue can distract everything else going on in your life. To me, being organized isn’t just putting things away neatly, it’s living neatly as well. Its true, I leave things unfinished, trash my room, and create messes sometimes, like most other teenagers. But after all the reckless fun is over, I’ve learned to clean up and be prepared for the next task…”

Would it be uncouth to admit I silently applauded myself for this minor parenting triumph? 

Keep talking to them, parents…at one point or another,  they’re going to listen. And if we’re lucky, they’ll understand our advice. And if we’re really lucky, they’ll find a way to apply it to their lives,  as well.