I’ve been spending time with a boy in my family. Like many of us in our teens, he has his struggles, particularly with social skills. And now he’s in a school where many of the kids have problems: neglect, drugs, alcohol, abuse, mental health. It must be a lot to handle because when I go to pick him up, he’s closed down; his arms stuck close to his body, his eyes darting place to place on the school grounds, or looking straight ahead. It’s almost as though he is hunted. I wonder what it’s like to be in a setting where you feel uncomfortable for 6 hours straight. It takes him about an hour before he loosens up and starts talking. I don’t push it and I do let long minutes of quiet lay between us.
Yesterday, he said, “you live a pretty peaceful life, don’t you? You get to do whatever you want, whenever you want. You don’t have to get up, or go anywhere or anything.”
“That’s true but there are other things that keep me from doing everything I want to do” I said.
It’s a simple conversation that reiterates a common teen theme, “I want to do what I want to do. This is my life. I want to own it.” He’s individuating and starting to recognize that he wants to be in control of his minutes, hours, and days. And he doesn’t want to do anything he doesn’t want to do. It’s like the 2 year old toddler who says, “no” to everything because he’s practicing making his own choices.
I want to talk on and on about every choice you make being a choice that eliminates other choices, or how we need people because we’re social beings and every time you include someone in your life, you enjoy the benefits of love and companionship but limit some of your freedom.
But I decide to keep it simple and keep the conversation on a literal theme; sleeping in. He can sleep in on weekends and I can’t even though I wish I could. He doesn’t understand how it feels to ache from being old, and how it compels you to stager into the dark mornings. But he recognizes that part of his “freedom” is sleeping in on Saturday mornings. Hopefully that is the beginning of an appreciation for his personal freedoms and an opportunity for us to talk more about “freedom” in the future.