Sunday 4 December 2016

Our teenagers might just smell a rat if given free rein

Would the attraction of disobedience disappear if parents didn't forbid anything, asks Aine O'Connor

Aine O'Connor

Published 12/06/2011 | 05:00

I was 10 when I first felt the thrill that even thoughts of disobedience could bestow. In my first decade on Earth, I had, of course, been bold on occasion. I recall being about four, lying on my back on the floor in my bedroom wearing some manner of cape and black shoes with which I was kicking the crap out of the door, a banging I opted to accompany with some screaming and roaring about injustice.

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My father arrived home for lunch and came to investigate, but he couldn't get in because I was kicking the door. I just thought, "bring it on pal". I was mad, mad, mad, mad, mad, mad. Ready to take on the world. When he did eventually get in, I remember even then knowing that he was trying not to laugh. I was that mad.

But that was the exception and, like most kids, growing up meant I started to fear getting in trouble -- at home, at school, anywhere. Sure, it's the glue that holds society together, or something, but it's so limiting. If I was less afraid of getting in trouble or displeasing people or looking stupid or bad or mean or getting arrested I think I could rule the world. Or be in a special home.

Anyway, I was a rather well-behaved child most of the time, but when I was 10 I had this notion to commit the greatest act of disobedience ever. For me. Then. We were not an animal family, an experiment at dog ownership had gone wrong and Timmy the Terrapin had proved a bit of a non-event. But I was a 10-year-old girl and hankered after puppies and kittens and fluffy stuff.

In the pet shop in Dun Laoghaire they were selling white mice for 50p. My mother, the original rodent phobic, went straight to "no way" without dithering near "well ... " "we'll see" or "not just now, love". No. Mice. Ever.

Why this enraged me so much I don't know, but in my attic conversion with the strange gurgly pipe noises I hatched a plan. I would buy a white mouse, in secret, and have it live in my doll's house. I was giddy with excitement, I liked the idea of having a mouse, but I just loved the idea of taking matters into my own hands. My mother must have smelt an er.. mouse, for a) we got a cat and b) we moved house.

It's vital when rearing kids to at least remember how you felt at their age. Parenting is a constant devolution of power, you start off in total control and have to slowly hand over until your children become adults when ideally it's a power-sharing situation. And actually, much as the mother of a teenager I wish it wasn't so, some level of disobedience, of making their own decisions, is a healthy part of that process. The only way they can get a sense of their own power, and the thrill that goes with that sense, is to do things we forbid.

When I was a teenager, I was only really interested in doing the things I was told not to. I thought the way round it as a parent would be to forbid nothing, because if I told them they could do it, they wouldn't want to. Now I'm thinking I should have forbidden things such as study and housework. "If I ever, ever catch you emptying that dishwasher ... "

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