Let’s Pretend

We remember as young boys when it was fun to dress up like cowboys or clowns or soldiers. As soon as the outfit was complete, our personality took on the qualities of that character. When we put on the black mask, white hat and twin holsters we were magically transported to the Wild West and the dusty trail that led to town.

When we fit the big red nose over our own and painted our face, we were transformed to Bozo, and our clownish laughter could be heard throughout the neighborhood.

And there was no greater macho thrill than to rub mud on our faces and hunker down in the bushes as tough GI Joes.

Trying on new roles

Children like to pretend they’re someone else. They imitate good guys, bad guys, parents, teachers and sports stars. Playing make-believe is a way of trying out a new role, getting a sense of how it feels to be rich, brave, gorgeous or ruler of the world!

Your teenagers, too, try on new costumes nearly every day. Tom recalls his daughter who fit very nicely into her chip-on-the-shoulder sweater. Bill recalls his son felt quite comfortable in his cool I’ll let you know when I need you outfit.

Comfortable in our own skin

Dad and mom, at what stage did you truly start to feel comfortable in your own skin? When were you finally happy to be you and not someone else? Our guess is that most of you—most of us—began to feel that way as middle to older adults. Perhaps some who are in that age bracket still would rather be anyone else but themselves.

Teenagers try on many outfits because they are seeking an identity. They are looking in a mirror and muttering, “I wonder what this looks like on me.” As parents, we’re not always pleased—and sometimes we’re downright disgusted with, or afraid of, what or whom our teenagers choose to mimic. Some teenagers go to great lengths to be as outrageous and different as they can be. Taken to extreme, some of the resulting behaviors can be dangerous—and that’s when parents need to seek help.

Finding Values That Fit

For the most part, however, teenagers are simply disappearing into the dressing room and trying on values. How does this make me feel? How do I look? What do others think of me? Your teenager is going to run through the spectrum of identities, changing often along the way. Our job as parents is to be understanding, patient, and watchful. Change is usually a necessary progression to maturity and full-fledged adulthood. When it’s something more worrisome, help is warranted.

Mom and dad, although your young rebel may declare to the world, “I just want to be me!” he or she is striving to be anyone but! This search for identity—full of paradoxes and contradictions— is a natural part of growing up. Your job is to help your teen be comfortable and even delighted at who he or she is right now.

 

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By dads2dads

Who’s Got the Cootie?

Tom remembers how cruel and insensitive he and other classmates were to Judy in grade school just because she was poor and wore the same dress to school nearly every day. The boys even played the game “Who’s got the cootie?”—which implied that Judy was dangerously contagious. Even today, years later, he is ashamed for taking part in such an ugly exercise and wishes he could apologize.

In 1962, memories are still vivid of Charlie, a black football player on the high school team—the only black player. Charlie made a great tackle on one of the star running backs. The star took offense and called him the n-word. Often Charlie stood off by himself in the locker room after practice. He knew his place. And his young teammates seemed okay with that.

Harmless Fun

In school the kid with serious acne was called Pizza Face. The kid with glasses was Four Eyes or Coke Bottles. The girl with freckles was the object of pretend connect-the-dots games. We held our noses when the kid with body odor got near us—and accompanied our disgusting gestures with loud protestations. Wanda stuttered, which opened her up to all sorts of Elmer Fudd and Woody Woodpecker imitations. Sissy Bill swung a baseball bat “like a girl.”

All in good fun. We weren’t really hurting anybody. At least, that’s what we thought.

“Boil Boy”

In eighth grade, Tom got a rash of boils. No one could explain why. (Maybe he earned them.) The one on the back of his neck was difficult to hide, so he wore a large bandage. It attracted much attention, and eventually he became Judy and Pizza Face and “Boil Boy” all rolled into one. All in good fun of course. Tom felt the sting of meanness and intolerance and insensitivity. In high school, taunting of many kids was louder, nicknames bolder, and practical jokes meaner.

Embrace Our Differences

A new study by the American Academy of Pediatrics reveals that boys who “act like girls” and vice versa are at risk of abuse and bullying. Sons who play with dolls and daughters who play with toy soldiers, for example, sometimes experience rejection from parents and others. Too often we focus on and make fun of mannerisms that don’t conform—the way a person walks, talks, gestures, dresses or looks. There’s pressure to “fit in” and rejection if you don’t. This results in teens feeling isolated, harassed, and needing to form alliances that we may not embrace.

It Starts at Home

Negative behavior might start harmlessly but the blade of ridicule can cut deeply, leaving words that terrify and wounds that never heal. As parents, we need to be careful how we characterize others. We need to set an example our kids can emulate. It’s so easy for us to draw conclusions and be intolerant of differences. With a little care, we can be the ones to help spread the blanket of tolerance.

 

 

By dads2dads