Growing Up is Hard Work

A friend and I were talking last night about adolescence.  We all follow the examples our family role models give us in childhood, and we all decide which examples to continue following and which to discard at some point when we “grow up.”  My friend said she had a “screw you” attitude in her 30’s when she did that work.  My parents were enormously supportive and supported me financially through college.  Despite that, however, my adolescence was so tumultuous so early, I pressed the eject button (boarding school) at 15.  I told my friend that as a mother, I wondered how to prepare my daughter to make those decisions with hopefully less volatility than I had experienced.  She told me I should write a blog post about it, so here it goes.

My daughter was a prolific little writer at a young age.  By kindergarten, she was capturing observations and ideas, albeit with atrocious almost-phonetic spelling.  We didn’t (and still don’t) have cable or other TV service, but we did have an old TV hooked up to a VHS player (remember those?).  Watching the occasional Disney program was possible and kind of a treat for her.  In exchange for that treat, I asked her to do a 3-part written exercise.   The first part was choosing a character and writing five observations about the character’s behavior.  The second part was indicating for each of the five observations whether that character liked that quality about himself.  The third part was indicating whether she would want that quality for herself.  We did this repeatedly for years (until she became a better negotiator), and her observations were just sublime and very, very cute.  My hope was to inoculate her at an early age against the ravages the media project onto young girls.  If she had a deeply rooted habit of filtering what she saw in the media, then perhaps she wouldn’t indiscriminately ingest or emulate whatever she saw on-screen.

We also routinely undertook this 3-part exercise focusing on various family members, and none more often than me, her most influential role model.  She got bored of making observations about me, but she was pretty good at ginning up new material, nonetheless.  My hope here was that she would gain proficiency in distinguishing specific behaviors and know on a deep level that she was free to make choices about her own behaviors.  To be just a little bit more honest about it, I hoped she would be able to hate things about me without hating me entirely.

That, my friends, is the grand experiment.  She is 13 now, and  I don’t have an objective vantage point from which to assess whether the media inoculation or individuation preparation is working.  I marvel every day at the exquisite creature she is becoming, though.  What I admire most is how comfortable she is in her own skin.  She must have inherited those genes from her father.  To one acutely uncomfortable until her 30’s, it’s alien, astounding and the most outlandish blessing.  Whether it’s her father’s genes or somehow traces back to those early childhood exercises, she seems ready for the next stage in her life.  You’ll have to check back with me in another five years to see how the experiment panned out.

Join the conversation.  What helped you find your individual identity?

Copyright 2012 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit

6 thoughts on “Growing Up is Hard Work

  1. Interesting commentary…When faced with someone who exhibits significantly more expertise than I, in a discipline where admittedly I have little, I am forced to say “I don’t know…”. What is right?? Wrong?? Modeling behavior?? Role models?? I can speak for myself, but unfortunately my experiences are not definitely not “mainstream..”

    • I hear you, Howard. I don’t know what your experiences have been, but I can identify with feeling uncertain of whether emulating someone successful would be a good idea. At first, I can’t tell if they reached apparent success because of that particular attribute or despite it. I’m curious how you process those questions when they come up. Thanks for your insights!

  2. The exercise you did with your daughter is astonishingly admirable; the parents I know are so busy getting through each day that they invariably leave all guidance to system-based educators and (unfortunately) allow the television to be the babysitter. I worry about the media passing on all the wrong messages, and of course parents have no real control over what is being taught in schools. I have very low self-esteem, which manifested as addiction during adolescence, now under control. I suspect I was simply starved for attention – my mother, pregnant by age 19, was still learning how to care for her firstborn when I arrived two years later, and eleven months after that my younger sister was born. I got caught in the middle, with my mother desperately attempting to take care of three children under the age of four. My father, typical of the times, travelled on business and was not a hands-on Dad. There is no blame, only circumstance. Still, it was a hard lesson to learn in my 30s. Your daughter is one lucky young woman.

    • Thanks for the very kind words, Lorrie. My dealings with my daughter are in a way my own response to my wounding, and as you wisely said, no blame only circumstance. I can identify with much of what you describe. I took many wrong turns when just trying to feel ok about myself. Adolescence is a hard time, and I too worry anout all the media messaging. I really appreciate your comments. Thank you for stopping by!

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