Could I pass my road test?

by Dr. Ann L. Engelland

"Mom, you are rolling through the Stop sign."
"Mom, the speed limit here is 20!"
"Mom, I'll dial for you."

Sometimes, it is our children who teach us best. Living with a sixteen year old who diligently keeps his eye on the milk supply and the videotapes due at Blockbuster has been an experience in parenting and learning. At every opportunity we drive around together, cementing one more part of the highway that is our life's path together.

At this time of year, we celebrate and observe many endings. The end of six years at Chatsworth, the end of religious school, the end of early morning band practice, the end of high school, the endings of friendships, and the ending of years as a lacrosse or baseball team.

Endings often leave us worried, anxious about what comes next. Wondering if we've done a good enough job.

Endings also remind us of the bittersweet blessing of parenthood, the gift of revisiting with each child and each lesson the way we live and how we may have slipped or messed up, strayed or wavered. The kids remind us of the ideal, the way we hope they will be, the way we expect ourselves to be.

What if the the rules of the road were as clear for other life lessons? What if the consequences for risky teenage behavior were as clear as the consequences for speeding? What if the guidelines for teen friendships were written as clearly as road signs? What if the graduated driving laws could be applied to graduated adulthood? Would we then raise our kids according to a recipe? Would they turn out as standardized as a Starbucks venti or a pair of GAP jeans? Would we want that then?

Of course not. What we forget sometimes in our efforts to keep our kids along a path from nursery to elementary to middle to high school, from ending to ending to ending, is that we are creating an environment that nurtures individuals and new starts. Rules, yes. But also the miraculous individuality of each child interacting with his parents, his community and his ever-revealed self.

It is our task as parents of young adults to walk the line between fostering this individuality in our kids-and accepting their explorations and errors-and at the same time building guidelines and meting out consequences and praise.

As we parallel park for the thirtieth or fortieth time, checking the distance from the curb, and doing it over again-"just ten more minutes, OK, Mom?"-I realize that the baton has been passed. I have taught the lessons. So has Formula One. The toolbox is full; the rules are clear. Now, there is only the practicing, the doing, the tight spots and the storms to drive through.

Dr. Engelland has a practice in Mamaroneck devoted to Adolescent Primary Care. She can be reached at 698-5544.

Find more advice on Teen Health at www.larchmontgazette.com

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