Parenting Lessons From A Washtub Bass

I’ve always loved music. In my teen years I found the instructions for constructing a washtub bass—very cool. So, I got my family’s old wash tub and drilled a hole in the bottom of it. I turned the tub upside-down and attached an eye bolt into the hole. Next, I cut the handle off an old broom and notched it to so it could rest on the edge of the washtub. washtub bassFinally, I attached a rope from the eye bolt to the top of the broom handle. Voila! I had a washtub bass. I began to play around with it when my parents, hearing the sound, came in to see what was going on. With great pride I revealed my washtub bass. My parents were less than impressed. In fact, they were upset. I had, without their knowledge, ruined the family’s washtub.

I look back on this experience and realize something about adolescence. Adolescence is a time of increased abstract reasoning and emerging conceptual thinking. Teens experience an expanding awareness and a burgeoning of ideas. As a result, they see the world through a new lens, question the status quo, and offer innovative ideas and creative solutions. This creates a wonderful opportunity to cultivate a lifestyle of learning and growing. Daniel Siegel calls this aspect of an adolescent’s ESSENCE their desire for Creative Exploration (Learn more about the ESSENCE of adolescence in The ESSENCE of Adolescence). Unfortunately, teens lack the experience to recognize all the potential dangers and pitfalls of these creative ideas (thus the loss of one broom and one washtub in my teen home).  As parents, we can honor our teens by nurturing their creative exploration and guiding it in a healthy direction. Here are four ideas to help:

  1. Be an example. We are never too old to learn something new, apply creative solutions to old problems, or enjoy a novel adventure. As you learn and grow, share what you learn with your teen. Let your teen witness you living a lifestyle of creative exploration filled with a love of learning and adventure.
  2. Share excitement for your teen’s creative exploration. When your teen bursts with excitement over some new bit of knowledge or experience, share that excitement. Ask questions. Let them teach you about the source of their excitement. Learn from your teen. All of this will encourage them to continue learning.
  3. Take conversation with your teen to a deeper level. Become curious about the inner world of your teen. For instance, ask them what the source of their excitement motivates them to do. Explore how it inspires them and why it creates such passion. Find out what specific aspects they find most exciting. In the process, allow your teen to think and respond differently than you. Let them become passionate and even angry about things that do not create strong emotion in you. In fact, encourage that passion and explore it with them. Make your home a safe space in which you and your teen can really dig into, uncover, and explore ideas, fears, concerns, passions, and joys.
  4. Allow your teen to impact and influence you. Whenever your teen expresses a need, either verbally or nonverbally, respond to that need. If they need a hug, give them a hug. When they need space, give them space. When they need encouragement, encourage. When they express excitement, get excited with them. If they express outrage, allow the outrage and empathize with that outrage. When your teen makes a valid point, acknowledge it. Go a step further and allow your teen’s valid point to change your opinion when appropriate. When your teen makes a good suggestion, follow it. Allow your teen to witness his or her influence on you.

Practice these four ideas to nurture and encourage your teen’s creative exploration to become a lifestyle that will add joy and vitality to your teen’s life for years to come.   As an added bonus, you will add joy to your life. Even better, you will cultivate a deeper relationship with your teen.

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