Frightened By Your Teen’s Interests? Get Involved!

This guest post is by Beth Winegarner who is a journalist and author writing a book for parents
on why the most controversial teen influences are actually good for
them. She also blogs about these influences at Backward Messages:
http://backwardmessages.wordpress.com.

Just picture it: you’re dressed in black lace with cat’s-eye makeup,
dancing in a dark, misty club to something called Switchblade
Symphony. Or you’re in a surging hurricane of dancing bodies at a
concert while a dude onstage screams into a microphone, lyrics
unintelligible. Or you’re dressed in a cape, running through a park
with a foam sword while 10 teenagers chase you. Can you imagine it
yet?

For decades, certain media influences have been linked again and again
to violent or suicidal behavior in teens. Reporters would have you
believe that too many first-person shooters cause high-school
massacres like the one at Columbine High School, or that becoming a
Wiccan will make your kid start sacrificing chickens to Beelzebub.
Meanwhile, heavy metal and goth culture have reputations as one-way
roads to suicide, and role-playing games supposedly turn players into
Satanic lunatics who see dragons on every street corner.

Yes, I’m exaggerating – but only a little.

When the story is about some unfamiliar teen in a far-away town,
that’s one thing. But when it’s your own teen spending hours wasting
zombies in the latest violent video game, or blasting Dir En Grey in
her bedroom, you might begin to wonder whether the news reports are
right. Maybe it keeps you up at night, searching your mind for signs
your teen is about to snap. You might be tempted to take away the iPod
or the Xbox 360, just in case.

Chances are good that your teen is just fine. Most of the time, teens
look to these outlets for a variety of healthy reasons. In music they
find solace and kinship. In violent games, they get a chance to safely
explore aggression and scary ideas. In paganism, they look for
empowerment and meaning. And in role-playing games they flex their
imaginations with like-minded friends.

Of course, there’s more to it than that, because each teenager is
different. Once you find out what yours is up to, it’s a good idea to
learn the specifics. One way to do that is to glance through the
titles on your teen’s iPod or game discs, look at the pagan books on
his or her bookshelf, and then turn to the Internet for a little
recon. Once you gather the background info, you can chat with your
teen about his or her interests – and let yourself do most of the
listening.

The next step is to ask whether you can check out your teen’s scene
firsthand. For example, find out when the next time his or her top
metal band is coming to town, and offer to go along for the night.
When you’re there, make sure to find out your kid’s favorite song and
pay attention when it’s being performed. Or, if it’s goth culture
we’re talking about, ask your teen to help you get “gothed up” in
club-ready clothes and makeup for an evening on the dance floor
together.

Many teens love a good shoot-em-up video game, so sitting down and
playing one in two-player mode can be a great way to get a first-hand
look. Other teens enjoy role-playing games – either tabletop or
live-action – which provide you with the chance to create a fictional
character and sit in on a game or two. You might also ask your teen to
describe any recent and quests or characters they couldn’t get enough
of.

Once in a while, teens take up an interest in paganism, whether it be
Wicca or chaos magic. Some practice solo, while others belong to
spiritual groups that hold regular ceremonies. It’s worth asking if
you can join in sometime, either as an observer or participant. If
you’re a member of a church, you may be pleasantly surprised at the
similarities between pagan observances and Christian ones, while the
differences may fascinate you.

One parent I know has a teenage son who started exploring Wicca. At
first, she was skeptical and a little worried about it, so she started
reading his books and asking him questions. Not only did she
eventually accept his newfound faith, but she became Wiccan herself
because the religion felt so comfortable to her. That’s not likely to
happen to every parent who takes this approach. But it’s a reminder
that once you overcome your fears and go in with a curious mind, what
you learn will probably be a lot less scary than you imagined.

Getting involved in your teen’s interests – particularly those that
confuse you or make you uncomfortable – is a great way to learn more.
At the same time, it sends the message that you’re willing to stray
outside of your comfort zone to understand your teenager better, which
will put him or her at ease (and may encourage deeper dialogue). In
the process, you may even wind up having a good time.

This guest post is by Beth Winegarner who is a journalist and author writing a book for parents
on why the most controversial teen influences are actually good for
them. She also blogs about these influences at Backward Messages:
http://backwardmessages.wordpress.com.

3 thoughts on “Frightened By Your Teen’s Interests? Get Involved!”

  1. Thank you for writing this. :) I feel so blessed to have parents who are open, accepting and were willing to support me developing my own interests, style and Self.

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