“Walk in my (their) shoes.”—a common phrase most of us have used or, more likely, thought to ourselves at some point. “If so and so could only walk for one day in my shoes…” When it comes to working with adolescents, I have found that my most successful moments have come when I forget how to think as an adult, and remember those shoes I walked in years ago. For me, they were Sperry Topsiders that I convinced my parents I had to have to maintain some semblance of cool. I wore them without socks when I was out of the sight of my mom. In fact, one time mom drove by as I was walking home from school with my socks stuffed in my Peechee folder (no TrapperKeeper for me) and my feet sweating away, but very cool in my Topsiders. Can you believe that she would be mad at me for walking sockless in the face of such adolescent standards of proper attire???
Do you remember those days? For crying out loud—what is wrong with wearing shoes with no socks?—or better yet, what is so blasted important about wearing those shoes with no socks? The point is, “there is no rational explanation of the rules that reign in the adolescent mind.” The problem is that there is some psychological phenomenon that allows the adult to block out those years once they become a parent. We somehow think that our own children will be more like our “ideal” middle school self that we imagined rather than that real, but distant and forgotten ancestor to our present self.
The best part of my job has been that I have had the opportunity of living vicariously through hundreds of parents prior to my own children becoming adolescents. It hasn’t made me a better parent, but I think I am able to catch myself when I start thinking, “I can’t believe…” Actually, I can believe that my hair flopping, chest-hair sprouting, voice-changing, pimple-popping, sockless self may have done that exact thing when he was trying to establish his place in this world. While I hope my children will rise above my foolishness, it definitely helps when I don’t let those hopes get too far ahead of me. Try taking a stroll in those old stinky Topsiders that your mom told you not to wear without socks. You might find that your adolescent will be just fine as an adult.