Parenting is a Journey
An Adventure of Discovery Not Only of our Children But of Ourselves as Well
On a rainy Saturday in January, Kelley Gonzales and her mom, Chris, donned their raincoats and freshly painted signs, took BART from their home in Concord to Walnut Creek, met up with other students from Kelley’s church youth group, and participated in the Women’s March, two of the more than 10,000 people who swarmed the suburban city for that act of peaceful protest.
Kelley, at 16, was not the youngest by far. Many teens were protesting and marching throughout the country that day. It followed on the footsteps of the days after the 2016 election, when many high schools saw student walkouts in protest of President Trump’s election. These were not at just “normal” activist high schools such as Berkeley High, but those in the affluent suburbs, such as at Miramonte in Orinda, Acalanes in Lafayette and Northgate in Walnut Creek.
Student protests and activism are at a high point not seen since the 1960s.
“I just had to show my displeasure at Trump’s election, and feel empowered by other women,” Kelley said after the march. “Most, if not all, of my friends felt the same way and many of these people aren’t real ‘political.’”
Still, many of these protesters are just young teens, and it begs the question: What should a parent do ensure their teen’s safety, and what happens if a parent doesn’t agree with their son or daughter’s views?
Margie Ryerson, an Orinda-based family therapist, has some thoughts on the matter—especially because she saw first-hand an interesting dynamic in her own family. A close cousin who lives out of state was what Ryerson called “a worrier.” She kept her daughter close, and her daughter gave up many activities because she was sensitive to her mom’s fears. But at the same time, she made fun of the situation and could tease her mom. Eventually, when she was a senior in high school, her mom came to grips with how she had to let go and deal with her own fears without sacrificing her daughter. “They have always had a close relationship, even back then, due to a lot of understanding, caring and communication,” Ryerson says.
And that is the key: communication and trust. Ryerson says that teens often complain that their parents don’t trust them when disagreements arise. Parents need to emphasize that this is not the issue (although it may actually be part of the issue!) and try to get their child to understand it’s about their own parental worries and anxiety. It’s very true that their child may not be able to exercise judgment at all if external situations are at play, like unexpected violence or panic.
There are ways a parent can help their child “be an activist,” whether that means protesting or giving money to a favorite charity, and that is by the tried-and-true parenting behavior, modeling. Chris Gonzales did this with Kelley at the Women’s March. If a parent can’t be there, instruct teens how to get out of harm’s way if a protest turns violent, as one at UC Berkeley did recently, and keep in contact with the parent via cell phone.
If a child or teen sees a parent act responsibly, it will make an imprint on how they handle their own situations. However, it’s also important that a parent let the teen know of the ramifications of social activism. If a student will get detention for walking out of school on a day of protest, they must let them know that’s the consequence.
The parents must also be aware of peer pressure, Ryerson says. Do they really feel strongly about a cause, or are they just doing something because their friends are? Open the lines of communication and find out how the teen really feels. Maybe that parental support will give the teen the courage to say, “Nah, that’s just not my thing.”
The hardest aspect of living in an era of social activism is when a parent and teen disagree on the topic. Many times a parent will prohibit any sort of activity on the teen’s part, which will just make the teen rebel more, Ryerson says. That doesn’t help anyone. One important way to deal with that situation is by talking it out, again opening those all-important lines of communication, and know that as a young adult, our children are becoming their own person, and we as parents must respect that.
“Children are not our clones,” Ryerson says.
If fear is truly a factor in keeping a parent from allowing a child to participate in rallies or protest marches, then perhaps a compromise is the solution: Allow the child to write to their congressperson or senator, or to put up flyers for the rally, or be of service in another way. But ultimately, the parent has to get to the root of their fears, and come to terms with them.
Like Ryerson’s cousin, they may find that all will be well, and a better relationship will ensue if they let their teen follow their heart—responsibly.