Future fodder

Every Friday, we pose a lighthearted “social question” to all of our colleagues at Collegewise. From “What’s the best concert you’ve ever attended?” to “Got a snack that you’re addicted to?” to “What were you best known for during your college years?” the replies always lead to revelations and more than a few chuckles. Participation is entirely optional, but we regularly hear from a healthy contingent.

The responses to last week’s question–“What did you get in trouble for as a kid?”–were particularly enjoyable. I’ll share a few here:

Threw a house party in high school. Got a bit out of control and the cops came to shut it down. I was grounded for a month. Totally worth it.

Talking. Constantly. My dad had to establish an elaborate bribing system of “dad dollars” that he printed from our Gateway computer to incentivize me to stop talking in class and stay out of trouble.

Sass. My son is paying me back.

I tried to flush lots of things down the toilet, from my mom’s new markers to my sister’s Walkman.

Painted the neighbor’s brand-new racing green Jaguar red. There is a reason why I ended up in boarding school.

Whether it was simply pushing the boundaries of physical safety by climbing anything and everything, or refusing to eat dinner’s vegetables until falling asleep at the table, or reading late past the designated bedtime, every one of their answers hovered somewhere between harmless and hilarious.

But I’ll bet they didn’t all seem that way when they occurred.

It’s easy to laugh about minor and even semi-major youthful transgressions when both the youth and the transgression are part of the past. Today, these Collegewisers are happy, successful, and yes, responsible adults. To my knowledge, none of them are throwing house parties at their parents’ homes or flushing others’ personal belongings down the toilet (though a few still read way past their bedtimes). The people they are today aren’t reflective of peccadillos from the past.

Parents, if you could imagine your teen of today as a happy, successful, fulfilled adult (who still visits regularly), how would you feel about whatever behavior is frustrating you today?

Would the less-than-enthusiastic approach to standardized test prep still drive you crazy?

Would a C on the biology exam send you into a state of panic and a search for the best local tutor?

Would the room that could vie for inclusion on an episode of Hoarders seem quite so disrespectful (albeit still disgusting)?

I’m not advocating that we parents move from strict to entirely slack. Part of good parenting means setting appropriate boundaries. It means being OK with our kids not liking us when we enforce the consequences. And if the innocuous moves to the dangerous or even illegal, there very well might be no funny story to be found, today or tomorrow.

But—and I’m working, often unsuccessfully, to do this myself—what if we imagined how this could be replayed 5 or 10 or 25 years from now? Will that transgression today make for a good story and maybe a few laughs as you look back tomorrow?

If so, maybe we could treat these situations not as something that costs us frustration in the present, but instead as something that will repay us with a good story in the future.

We might find the trouble less troublesome when we treat it like future fodder.