How many times do parents of teenagers hear those words in a day? We all forget things once in a while, but many parents are driven to distraction by the amount of follow up, reminding, and running back and forth sparked by the words “I forgot”.
At the risk of sounding draconian, sometimes the natural consequences of forgetting are themselves the best solution. If Mom and Dad always rush to the rescue, why wouldn’t Junior stop wasting brain-power on remembering his coat, his lunch, his homework? By accommodating their forgetfulness, we teach our teens that we’ll always be around to pick up the slack and make sure that what they need to do gets done.
But adolescents are old enough to be responsible for themselves. I once worked at an establishment that hired teenagers to perform customer service functions, such as being front-line staff for the customers, serving them food and taking their cash. One of the staff, a 16-year old guy who had been working at this particular place for a number of months, forgot to clock in for one of his shifts, so consequently, he didn’t get paid. When his mom called to complain (I’m being euphemistic — she called to threaten), she told the manager that it was up to the manager to figure out what her son’s hours had been that day, because “it’s a lot to ask of a kid to remember to clock in and out every single shift.” After all, he was “only” 16, she said. What she didn’t seem to think was too much responsibility was representing the company we worked for to the customers, handling large amounts of cash, or serving food in a fast-paced environment. That, I guess, was easy, but remembering to clock in every time he worked? Too taxing for a 16-year old to handle, as far as she was concerned.
If we rush to the defence — and aid — of our kids every single time they forget something, what are we teaching them? How do they learn responsibility and systems or tricks for remembering what they need to?
I’m not saying this kid shouldn’t have been paid. He worked, so he deserved to be compensated for it. What I disagree with was Mom’s attitude, that surely “somebody” in the company would remember what hours he worked that day and would fill the manager in. Not that it was her son’s responsibility to track that person down, or that he needed to go back in his own calendar and figure it out for himself. What do you think the odds are this kid actually kept track of the hours he worked? Yeah, I’m with you — not good odds at all. But what do you think the odds are that if he missed getting paid one day, that he would be much more conscientious about clocking in and out? And about taking responsibility for tracking his hours? Pretty good, I’d wager. And unless Mom plans on running interference between her son and his boss indefinitely, she’d do him more favours by teaching him to maturely handle his own affairs.
So how should parents of teenagers handle “I forgot”? Try, “That’s too bad. But I have confidence that you can work it out for yourself.” The mom of my colleague demonstrated to her son that she didn’t have confidence in him to straighten out his own mistakes, that she needed to do it for him. This response clearly tells your teen that you have faith in her and that you’ll give her the space to sort things out for herself. And isn’t that more empowering than rushing in to “fix” everything yourself?