Sunday, April 01, 2007

WHY ARE KIDS SO SURLY?

Boy, teenagers are a surly lot! I should know, I was a surly teen myself.

I grew up with my grandparents who in many ways resembled Archie and Edith Bunker from the famous TV series. My grandad was a lot bigger and meaner than Archie but he had a similar attitude about life. During the whole time I was growing up he never said a kind word to me. He either yelled or maintained an icy silence. My grandmother was kind-hearted, sentimental and a little bit ditsy, just like Edith. She did like kids and lavished loving attention on me even when I was a surly teen and probably didn't deserve it.

Now I was a cute, obedient kid when I was young but somehow I turned into a surly teenager. I communicated with my grandparents through an inch-wide crack in my bedroom door and showed signs of being insufferably bored and restless whenever they tried to talk to me. I ascribe it to hormones but who knows what the real reasons were? Maybe I felt justified for being rebelious because my grandfather was such a Type-A and my grandmother was so suffocating.


Fast forward to the the present. I have college-age kids of my own who were in their turn surly to me (the kids in the photos aren't mine, I got the pictures from the internet). Don't get me wrong, they're not like that now, and they were never as bad as I was, but when they were 16 I only knew them as eyes who appeared through a crack in their bedroom doors and said, "Whaddaya want?" It's a shocking example of karma. I snubbed others and later became the snubbed.

Anyway, here's the really interesting part. When I grew up and my grandparents had passed away I found out the truth about my grouchy grandfather. It turns out that he was all worn out from working a lifelong job that he hated in order to provide a home for my Dad and his brothers and sisters. He just wanted a quiet retirement. He was always grouchy even when he was young, but he raised his family well and they all became effective adults. When I was dumped in his arms as a baby he was crest-fallen. He could have sent me to an orphanage, I'm sure he thought about it, but he didn't. Out of a sense of duty he kept me and it made all the difference.

Now my grandfather didn't like kids, not even cute ones like me, but he really didn't like surly teenagers. It must have really grated on him that I did minimal chores, resisted any kind of responsibility, kept all the money I made from kid jobs, ate his food, wore the clothes he bought, hogged the TV, snubbed him at every opportunity, and never once thanked him. He didn't like me but he persevered through this abuse every day because he thought it was the right thing to do.

As a consequence I grew up in a nice neighborhood, went to a nice school and had nice friends. It could easily have been otherwise. The grouchy, icy-kid hater I grew up resenting turned out to be a massive benefactor. Sounds like the kid and the convict in "Great Expectations" doesn't it?

So there it is: I owe everything to an irritable grouch who didn't like me, and he died before I could acknowledge it. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep for worrying about it. My message to surly teenagers and ex-teenagers is....buy sleep insurance by forgiving your parents their faults. Forgive them 100%, meaning that you'll never again even think of their past mistakes. You can get mad at them for what they do next week but never again for anything they did in the past. You simply don't have the perspective to see those past events objectively. Forgive them, thank them, help them if they need it, then carry on with your life unburdened with surliness.

24 comments:

Lee said...

Oh Uncle Eddie, that's beautiful!!!

I should save this and tuck it into my child's birthday card when for when they turn into teenagers!

abwinegar said...
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Jenny said...

It's not your karma, amd it's not anything to do with you, you know: all teenagers are surly by their DNA. I'm not entirely joking. It's been written about on the science pages of the NY Times again and again: the reason YOU and your kids and everyone's kids(99.9% of them)go through this has to do with the hard wiring of the human brain--and hormones.
Other than pregnancy--perhaps even more so than in pregnancy--a child's brain during adolescence just puts them through hell, in order to age and grow into an adult...which as you know starts around 12 or 13.

A HUGE shame you couldn't get into Onions in the Stew--Betty MacDonald(yes, her again) has the most hilarious chapter on this very subject, which sounds so like your brief post; I'll post some of it myself and see what you think. : )

But the important thing is it's not about YOU. : ) Comforting, eh? Oh--and in Betty's case too her close, loving, sweet little kids, after turning at 13 or 14 into grunting monsters who were nasty and rude and seemingly contemptuous of her, had(as she puts it)a magical transformation around age 18 into "slapdash, easygoing funloving interesting adults" who at the time of her writing had become her good friends as well as beloved daughters. You see? It's universal!

I just wish my parents had thought of that. ; )

And it is sad to think of your grandfather, doing his all and your being, well, an adolescent--but you can't really know how he felt. Anyway, B&D will have their turn in time and then you can trade laughs and rueful stories with them about all this--what fun! That ain't too far off!

Max Ward said...

This post really helps with my current situation. Thanks Eddie. I feel lucky that I have been able to realize and regret all the snubbing I have done to my parents while I am young and they are still alive.

This is off topic, but the fellas putting together the Bakshi book are looking for stories and art. You should contribute every story you have.

crsP said...

I'm loveable.

Lester Hunt said...

Eddie, That's pretty good advice. As the parent of a teenager myself, I would only want to supplement it with advice to parents: Please realize that teenagers have two very good reasons to be surly. First, they are extremely narrow people, only interested in certain things. If they act bored, its because they are -- with your interests, not with theirs! Their intense focus is a perfectly natural part of the process of identity-formation. Second, many of them live under the thumb of inscrutable, irresponsible authority ("Because I said so!" "As long as you live in my house you follow my rules!"). They are in a state of rebellion because, unlike you and me, they have plenty to rebel against. For a lot of teenagers, it would show a lack of self-respect if they were not in a state of rebellion. (Interesting question: is it possible to be both rebellious and forgiving? I hope so!)

Kali Fontecchio said...
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Kali Fontecchio said...

That's not always true, Lester! I share all the same interests as my dad when I was a teenager (e.g. - playing guitar and harmonica, watching old movies and cartoons, making funny voices, making fun of people, drinking etc.) I would act bored when he tried to tell me about something I would like, "oh Kali, there's a really good Laurel and Hardy short on tv right now." I'd act like it didn't mean anything to me. The moment he closed the door I'd jump for the remote, turn on the tv and watch it! If he came back into the room and caught me watching it, he'd ask if he could join me I would rudely turn it off and use the bathroom or something. WOW, I was an asshole. Disgusting. But I guess it couldn't be helped at the time! My pheromones are feeling better these days.

Lester Hunt said...
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Lester Hunt said...

Kali said, "I'd act like it didn't mean anything to me. The moment he closed the door I'd jump for the remote, turn on the tv and watch it!"

You've got a point there. I see my son doing that all the time. There's no way he will admit that anything I say is a great idea, at least not right away. I don't find that obnoxious, myself. It's another aspect of the identity-formation process. My influence over him is so overwhelming that it has to be resisted, so that he can have his own being.

But you are right: teenagers can be interested in the same things that their parents are interested in, but it will often be as if they weren't!

S.G.A said...

Wow, what a thoughtfuil post.
I just had a talk somewhat like this with my mother "she is infamous for her grudge holding.",.. We talked about holding grudges and how dumb it is to never let somebody forget something and hold onto it for decades, it wears you out everytime you have to remember to "not like"
somebody. It 's also huge relief to just forgive everbody and give "em a fresh start... People make mistakes, people change.

I don't really care said...

Well here we are at the cultural divide.

Most blacks my age or older would say that teenage surliness is nothing that a crack across the mouth won't cure.

My mom was soft on me and consequently I was a renegade. Her own mom would not hesitate to swing that belt if you pissed her off. If she couldn't get respect because she deserved it, she would get it because she enforced it.

In that kind of environment, surliness still exists, but it is all done under your breath.

If I had any little ingrates under my roof eating what I bought, surliness would definitely be off limits. At least until they can kick my ass.

Gabriel said...

i don't talk much to my dad, despite living under the same roof. I don't know why, really. I just wish i could let him know it's not his fault, i know he is upset about (even though he doesn't show and i pretend not to know). I hope it will all get better when i stop depending on him.

Oh yeah, i'm guilty of pretending to be uninterested too, Kali.

Brian B said...

This is a really cool post Eddie. I know for me, I was ultimately frustrated and intensely focused on my own life as well at that age. I had plenty of authority, and tried to find a self-identity through the cracks of all that. Of course I'd always fall back under the thumb of authority everyday and night.

If things were going well in my life, I could treat my parents with a cool disinterest. If things were going badly or uncertain, I'd vent all the anger & frustration I had to hide all day. Neither one they were deserving of. The whole family really received it. I remember my older brother giving me a good lecture once or twice. I acted out in anger and disinterest to him as well, but listened through one ear and earned a bit of respect for a kid who swallowed more than a couple of pills because it was the right thing to do.

It basically ended for me when I realized the longevity and greater commitment my parents made than what was "my life" at that point. I guess some empathy seeps in when you finally get your head out of your ass - and you want your parents to have a good life too however you can help that happen.

Funny thing is now my little brother's going through it. Man, it's no fun for parents having to wait out that kind of garbage. I try to talk to him, but it's such a crappy feeling not knowing if he's listening with one ear as well.

Tom said...

It is times like this that I am glad I have an Uncle Eddie telling me these things. True I am more than once surly to my parents but without them I don't think I would be the person that I am today. At times I have my blinders on but I think I can understand this fact even when I was very little. That doesn't mean that I can't be entertaining in what I plan to do in animation. Thanks for the breath of fresh air from a lot of internet garbage excluding the Theory Corner of course!

Arschblog said...

Kids are cute as long they are nice and quiet!XD

I like your last post, my Grandmother had a big Wilhelm Busch book and I like to read them when I was visiting her, I love the artwork and the stories!

Ohjeepers said...

Great Post...

I think that as humans we need to spend the first half of our life being Bastards, just so that we have something to regret during the second half.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Everybody: Thanks! And how'd you like the picture of the mean baby? I found another one where a baby with attitude flashed his gang sign to the camera but I wasn't able to export it.

Jorge Garrido said...

My dad beat me and I'm never surly.

Lester Hunt said...

Thanks for the interesting thread, everyone! I've blogged about it here:

http://lesterhhunt.blogspot.com/

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Lester: Interesting comments, Lester, and an interesting exchange between you and Kali. I also liked your blog. I'll go back and read some more when I'm able!

Kali: Great comments! So that's what my kids were thinking! I can see now that I misunderstood them. We'll have lots to talk about over the weekend!

Jenny: Thanks for the comment and yes, post the Betty MacDonald! I'd love to read it!

Everybody: Thanks for the great comments! I'm glad I put up this post because I learned a lot from what I read here!

Anonymous said...

A very special post, Eddie.

I don't get that brooding teenager thing myself, must be some American thing. I don't remember myself or any of my friends being particularly surly. On the contrary, I remember having this hunger, this zest for experiencing everything, reading all the books, listening to all the records and looking at all the paintings. My tastes didn't overlap 100% with my parents', but I was all over their jazz records and their art books.

Colter said...

This really touched home Eddie.

My dad and I never got along much in my childhood. It wasn't until my parents seperated two years ago that I actually felt a connection to my dad.

Even as a young kid (pre-teen) I remember hearing my dad's truck come up the driveway and thinking "Oh boy here we go". Because it always seemed like he was ragging on me constantly.

I blamed a lot of my confidence issues, and short-comings on him when in reality it was the anger, and resentment that I myself had inside of me.

The passed 2 years have been a breath of fresh air in that sense, as I've been gradually able to let go of some of the issues.

Conceit Arturo said...

That was an amazingly moving post Eddie, I feel like waking up my mom to kiss her!