Old or Young? Or maybe a little of both?

The other day I saw Taylor Momsen on East 67th Street in Manhattan. She was with two rocker looking dudes who were probably in her band. She had on garters and stockings, a pair of eight foot heels and was smoking. She’s 16. My first instinct was “where are her parents?” I would like to meet them and perhaps coach them. I called my wife and said I saw that young one from Gossip Girl on the street and she’s a mess. I told my son too when I got home from work that day who I saw and he didn’t care (until I told him she played the little girl in How The Grinch Stole Christmas). After I got over the initial this-kid-is-screwed-up thoughts I then started wondering about the idea of old souls.

When I was a kid about Taylor’s age I was considered an old soul. I looked older than most with my full goatee, I spoke fairly well for a kid, I brooded, and I generally felt older. I got into night clubs that kids my age couldn’t, and legally shouldn’t have been allowed to cross the velvet ropes to get into. I dated older women and eventually married one too. I lived a life of strategy, not fun. I made no friends in college because I was managing a clinic at the time as well. I planned. I saved. I generally lived a life of someone older. And I thought old thoughts. I still do feel old but now I am actually oldish. I took (and take) life very seriously and I take notes. I have a keen interest in learning from my mistakes.

This line of reflection led me to wondering if calling a kid a “mess” because they feel the weight of years on their souls, even if by all normal standards they are still kids, is fair. It’s almost not fair. Good thing I don’t believe in fair – life isn’t fair (but it’s good and I consider it a gift so don’t think I’m bashing life). Had I been a celebrity when I was 16 I probably would have been looked at strangely by the press and parents. I have always felt older than my contemporaries. Not because I think it’s cool, but because it is me. People say that about Dev too. Can it be that we need to be more opened minded about our teens and who they are, not who we want them to be, even in these crazy times? Let me be clear, I don’t think teens should smoke. Heck, I don’t thin anyone should. Garters are weird on strippers and even weirder on teenagers. I also believe that whether you feel old or not you should wait until you are legal to even think about sex. But that aside is there a way to parent old souls well and to the point where their individuality is respected but boundaries are still set? I say yes.

In my opinion the key is identifying the posers (i.e. Miley Cyrus) versus the real deal old souls. If your kid is faking their brooding oldness then it’s an entirely different issue you have on your hands – your kid is having an identity crisis. How to identify a real old soul is through listening. I suspect a true old soul wants to talk to old people like you, their parents. But they want to be able to speak freely as all teens do. If you don’t set that foundation for openness without judgement early then it will be harder for your teen to open up when they get to those awkward teen-ages when they really want to talk but feel they can’t trust you. My wife suffers my excessive talking now because I didn’t get to talk to my parents freely when I was coming of age. Now I make up for what I missed by yapping excessively about life and feelings.

I know it’s hard to look a the real person your child is the same way it’s hard to look at the real person a celebrity is. We put both on pedestals and want them to be the way we want them to be. We are selfish in that sense, though at the same time mingling with the selfishness there is hope too. Hope that our kids will be better than we are. Still, as humans, we have to accept that everyone on this earth is an individual and not someone to bend to our wills, not even if they our kids. Our job with our kids is to instill values so that they do not have to be bent, but simply guided. I hope Taylor’s parent’s are involved. I hope that our wisdom prevails when we parent our teens. I hope that we don’t mess up our old souls by classing them as messes when they need strong parents as much as anyone.