The other day I visited a photo exhibit at the MFA of work by the photographer Nicholas Nixon. The exhibit chronicles four sisters as they grow from 1988 to the present. Included in the exhibit is this letter that one of the girls wrote to her parents as an eight year old. How many of us have received letters like this from our eight year olds: "Dear Mom and Dad I am sorry that I mis be haved I will act better next time. If there is a next time. Love Clemmte"All those sweet letters saved in a drawer, occasionally pulled out and savored like a big piece of chocolate. I have many. In fact my 27 year old daughter was with me at the exhibit, and as we examined and read this remnant of a childhood long gone, we clasped our hands together and smiled at each other lost in the memory of her childhood transgressions and written apologies.
So that's the past...sigh. Jump five years, and that remorseful eight year old is now thirteen or sixteen and letters of apologies are a thing of the past. In fact you feel grateful to even get a reluctant "I'm sorry" after an incident in which an "I'm sorry" feels as inadequate as being offered a teaspoon of water in the middle of a desert. You are the same parents, they are the same children, where is the love? Where is that love? It is still there, but gets lost in raised voices, yelling, frustration, mistakes repeated over and over again, and parents worried that they are running out of time, worried if they can't make their teen learn from this mistake, they might unknowingly affect their future forever.
Here in their own words are responses to this question I gave to a group of sixty 14-18 year olds
WHEN I SCREWED UP. I WISH MY PARENT (S) HAD:
- Talked to me about it and not acted like I was the worst thing in the world.
- Just given me more time to prove myself, and over time show them I’m responsible.
- Talked to me in a calm tone instead of yelling at me.
- Just said that they knew I could do better, and then let it be for me to fix myself.
- Just asked instead of jumping to conclusion.
- Heard me out, and thought of themselves when they were teenagers.
- Not yelled at me so much.
- Forgiven me sooner than later.
- Just asked me what happened instead of just punishing me.
- Understand that teen’s make mistakes like that.
- Talked to me like I was 16 not like I was 9.
- Been more understanding and had taken the time to hear my side of the story.
- Supported me a lot more than they did.
- Actually talked to me, not yelled or hit me.
- Know how much I wish I didn’t do it.
- A little more control of themselves, and didn’t get so mad with me.
- Accept my point of view and accept my apology and don’t think of me wrong even though they still do.
- Not yelled at me but talked to me about it, and not make me feel like a failure.
- Seen where I was coming from and why I said what I said.
- Not yell at me, but just talked with me and didn’t accuse me of something that’s not true.
- Helped me a little more rather than punish me after every offense.
These may not be the sweet letters from the past, but I think they will give you a road to the future.