With your shield or on it, fun advice for teenagers

“Work it out.”

When was the last time you said that to a child?

Growing up, I heard it all the time. It was my mom’s go-to response for any host of problems:

“Michele put tuna fish under my pillow!”

“Michael keeps looking at me!”

She would sigh and tell me and my siblings to work it out. If I complained about friends?

“Cathy threw a book at me in the hallway!”

The response was almost always the same. If I had a real problem, something that went beyond the realm of workable issues like when a boy made fun of my flat chest all through junior high, she’d tell me to handle it.

Handle it.

My boys started high school and advice such as “work it out” or “handle it” are a thing of the past, like part-time jobs and Jolt cola. Nowadays, kids hear new phrases like “restraining orders” and “lawyer fees.”

Adults are taking over and solving the problems themselves. They call the principal and schedule interventions “before everything gets out of hand.” Kids are losing opportunities to problem solve, think quickly, and pair the right curse words with sarcasm.

On top of all this, adults aren’t so good at working things out – getting their “help” is sometimes a lose/lose for everyone. Grownups need serious assistance coming together with other grownups and turning their collective frown upside down. How are they supposed to effectively help teenagers?

Thankfully, I have plenty of experience in this realm. Another plus? I’ve never been slapped with a restraining order. So when strife occurs between my kids and other kids, I encourage them to:

Ask what’s wrong. Show an interest. If someone doesn’t ask, someone doesn’t care.

Listen. Don’t jump in with your own list of complaints. You’re not allowed to use someone else’s fragile moment to pile on. Save it for another conversation.

Say you’re sorry. Seriously, what’s with all the aversion to this statement? If a friend is hurt, and you’re not sorry, then there’s something wrong with you. This phrase doesn’t mean you are admitting guilt in a court of law, so relax. You’re showing empathy. Like a human being. With, you know, feelings.

Tell the truth. If you are the person with the problem and someone asks you what’s wrong, clear your throat and come clean. Don’t be like your least favorite pre-teen girl and say, “Nothing.” Most people already lack the patience of saints *and* sinners, so get a move on. You’re grinding your teeth and staring at the ceiling. If someone cares enough to ask, let it spill.

Don’t use words like “never” and “always.” Very few people “never” or “always” do anything.

Say “I feel…” and “I think that…” rather than “You suck because…” The opposition is already defensive. Don’t make it worse.

When it’s all out in the open, and someone has apologized, it can only go one of two ways. You all can:

  1. forgive and move on, or
  2. end the whole thing

I encourage my sons not to act like the apology is all good and then hold a grudge for the foreseeable future (read: longer than five minutes.) If someone is a good person, and didn’t mean to make them mad, and won’t make the same mistake again, build a bridge and get over it.

“That friend will return the favor when you mess up,” I say. “And you will. Mess up.”

See? All good now, right? Doesn’t peace feel better than strife?

Ooops, I forgot something. It’s vital they do all this in person or maybe during a long talk on the phone.

Things can go wrong with electronic conversations.

Meet in person and let your eyes tell most of the story. Tone of voice matters. Hand gestures, sad smiles, and a warm embrace sometimes mean the difference between make-up or break-up. Most troubles between people wouldn’t exist if we could just sit down and really talk with each other.

If meeting in person is impossible, well then, Snapchats exist for this very reason. It can’t be all about the gays hooking up. Besides, the pain that comes from a broken relationship isn’t virtual. It’s real.

Let’s help our kids learn the art of what my Nana called “fighting nice.”

What to do with people who just want strife and refuse to extend a hand when you reach out yours in peace? That’s always a tough one for both teenagers and adults.

In our family, we believe in the power of love and forgiveness. But we’re not pacifists, for Christ’s sake.

So what do you do when someone won’t bury the hatchet? Well, you can always give them something to cry about.

Seriously though, I tell my boys to exhaust all possibilities. Strive for understanding and give the other person time to work it out within themselves. Remember, if someone finds it difficult to forgive or move on, it’s about them. They are holding humanity to an example they themselves might not be able to live up to…help them see that.

But if you’ve tried, and they insist on a rift for rift’s sake, then we must defend ourselves. No one should ever mistake kindness for weakness.

Make sure you stop, think, and reflect. We’re here to learn from each other, so perhaps your role for this situation is one of teacher. This person rejected peace and chose enemy status instead. That’s unfortunate. Be sure to pick a punishment that fits the crime. Pray or meditate a little, take a deep breath, smile – and then destroy him.

Or write a clever short story making fun of him.

Work it out, one way or another, and be sure you can sleep well at night.

Like a baby.

Like your mommy.

…ah, they grow up so quickly these days.