For Parents: A Workshop to Go with If Holden Caulfield Were in My Classroom
Are your kids open to reading, writing, strong, healthy relationships in
which they can truly discover, develop and express who they really are? Kids'
relationships with parents, as we know, carry over into those with siblings, peers,
teachers and coaches, and vice-versa. Yet when they need you, rarely do they express it openly and honestly and directly. They rarely, at this age, walk up to you and volunteer, “Hi Dad, I’m screwed up. Can you help me?” (In fact the reason conventional therapy often fails them is that they expect the therapist to read their minds, just like they do you. Passivity to them is indifference.)
No, they usually express their emotional needs passively-aggressively, through picking arguments over trivialities, poor school performance, provocative attire, blame, sarcasm, sullenness, withdrawal, negativity, The Silent Treatment, putting you down, "playing the victim", guilt-tripping, scapegoating siblings, pissing you off in a thousand little ways that push your buttons--dirty towels all over the bathroom floor, bread crumbs wherever the television or computer is located, peanut butter and jelly left out and open on kitchen counters, holding off chores just long enough for you to yell at them (then blaming you for yelling)-- and of course the dreaded usual suspects: cutting, anorexia, bulimia, drinking, smoking, drugs, suicide threats, violence, theft, etc.
It's possible the only thing you're doing wrong basically is failing to see them as who they truly are, which is impossible, since don't they as yet don't see themselves as they truly are.
Yet their issues are (or were) ours: identity crises, failures of ambition (a bad grade, not making the basketball team or getting a part in school musical), sexuality, friendship, romance, unrequited love, mistaking "popularity" for intimacy (as we do social status), sibling rivalry, moving/relocating too often, divorced parents, stepparents, inattention from parents who work all the time, shyness, peer pressure, parental pressure, exposure to abuse, neglect, abandonment, bullying. All of us, at one point or
another in our childhoods, have suffered humiliation and rejection, whether real or perceived. Sadly and inevitably, it’s a natural part of growing up. For example, sibling rivalry, certainly in most normal healthy families, is inevitable; that, however, makes it no less traumatic. It could be the reason that ten years later the older kid is always “too busy” to play catch or go camping with his dad. If Dad’s a mathematician, it could be the reason the kids always falls just short of excellence in his math class. If Dad, on the other hand, is an avid reader, the kid might be a compulsive television watcher, and so on...
What's important is the kid usually doesn't realize what he’s doing or why he’s doing it. This is where he needs help. Neither does his dad (or Mom). They’re too busy fighting off the symptoms, as well as their guilt and frustration. This is where they need help. In fact, this is probably where just about everyone needs it. There’s so much love and devotion here, however ironically expressed, and everyone’s so involved with each other they can’t see their way out. So it is with almost every trauma, those natural and inevitable (and essential for the child’s maturity) and those, like abuse and neglect, which are not.
Each, however, is a notch in the belt of Lost Innocence, making the child
more guarded and self-conscious, less willing to truly risk himself, to be open truly to people and learning, despite the attitude of indifference or bravado or even glad-handing or overzealousness he presents to the world. Even overachieving, as we now know, if done for the wrong reason--as a substitute for intimacy, for example--will catch up with him only to leave him stranded.
So who is he, deep down? To find out, as parents we must look back at our own childhoods, at the memories and events that shaped us and made us who we are today, at the way we behave and why we behave the way we do. Otherwise, we add to the child's fears by projecting ours onto him. What really are our strengths and weaknesses? Were we really such hot stuff as kids? Are we now? Did we express Truth openly and directly to Strength and Power? To our parents? Do we now? If not, were we shamed, or just taught otherwise? Have we treated our kids similarly? If our kids are afraid to get mad at us openly and honestly, how can we expect them to be other than passive-aggressive?
Do we expect too much from our kids, perhaps to compensate for our own deficiencies, or too little? Do we truly know our kids? Can we, if we’re vague (or in denial) as to who we really are? Remember, even with a cognitive issue like learning disabilities or A. D. D., the denial of it, on the parent’s (or child’s) part, is much more difficult to deal with than the disability or attention deficit itself. So is it them we’re concerned with, ourselves, both? A natural confusion, but let’s clarify.
So the purpose of If Holden Caulfield Were in My Classroom, as well as this workshop, is to help you remember, to enable your mind to unreel like a tape recorder, to see yourselves as you truly were, so you can see your kids as they truly are.
Otherwise, your own fears obfuscate your view, just as theirs do their views. Recognition of who they truly are is what brings them out, just as it's what
brings you out. The result is intimacy, the wisdom that comes from it, a lack
of self-consciousness, an openness to learning and discovery, and an eagerness
to express oneself truly, with courage, humor, sensitivity and insight.
Great books show us who we are. One need only examine the best-seller lists to see that literary endeavors are mirrors from which we turn away in the same way teens turn away from Catcher in the Rye or Lord of the Flies. Why? The protagonist in Catcher in the Rye, typically alienated, is a virtuoso of the put-down, the typical adolescent’s social weapon of choice. “The beast is us” is the message in Lord of the Flies. The reflection is accurate, and the Truth hurts. Frightened, understandably the adolescent turns away, without even realizing why. The result: ignorance, not just about literature but about himself and the people and world about him. Still, the only real difference between him and us is he doesn’t read at all and we read crap, forgettable five minutes later, that reinforces our marvelous opinion of ourselves.
Why can’t he express himself through writing and speaking? Indeed, why can’t he write Great Books? For the same reason he doesn’t read them: he doesn’t know who he is. Do we, really? Do we truly know what our point of view is, what we truly feel and think, who we are?
I don’t think so. We too have been standardized, fodder for any charlatan’s (politician’s) imagination, the product of an education that has taught us not to discover and ask questions but to answer someone else’s, some obscure “Higher Power” sequestered in the offices of the Educational Testing Service, someone, in fact, we don’t even know. All we know are his questions, which means all we know is that he’s boring. Hell, for all we know he could have a secret life roaming the streets at night as a serial killer, his basement decorated with decapitated heads.
The fact is the smarter we are in school, the dumber we also are. You can
sport an I. Q. of 150, make straight “A’s”, score in the statistical
stratosphere on standardized tests, go to Harvard and never in your entire
life have one idea of your own, much less the wherewithal to express it.
No Child Left Behind Leaves Every Child Behind.
The question is not so much What does she need to know; rather, it is Who is
To know who she is we must know who we are.
To see the world as it is, and to express what you see, results in a
potentially better world for all of us, not only for you and your kids, but
for your grandkids...
So, what were you really like as kids?
If you tell the truth (to yourself at least), you might get it from
them. And that, and really perhaps only that, will open them up to reading,
writing and strong healthy relationships.