How To Take Responsibility For Your Actions

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Q: My 15-year-old daughter just had someone break up with her by a cell phone message. Needless to say, she is upset, but I am outraged!!! What is going on here? People have completely forgotten about a sense of etiquette, politeness, and good manners?

I know how to handle the discussion of broken dreams, heartbreak, and the love lessons for the future. But I don't know how to keep the conversation focused on what's important without expressing my extreme distaste for the current values system and the modes of behavior in my daughter's age group. If I am too old-fashioned, won't my attempts to be both consoling and wise be tossed aside because, in my daughter's eyes, I just don't get it? Up until this time, my relationship with my daughter has been the usual one of mother and adolescent daughter some days good, some days bad and always tenuous. Still, I believe that we are able to communicate. Most of the time, she does listen to me, enjoy me and follows my rules of dating, curfew, etc. She is a good student and athlete and I have never really worried about her. I have always liked the young girls and boys that she has brought around, and I even liked this long-term boyfriend before all of this happened.

Am I just out of touch?

A: Frankly, if what you are feeling is "out of touch," then you have company. I must be out of touch, too.

I was appalled when I heard about a new phone service that lets the caller avoid the person he's ostensibly calling. Actually I don't even understand how it works. Supposedly, if you do not want to talk to someone because you have something painful to say --like "We need to break up"-- you can leave a message with no fear that the person will pick up while you're on the line. In that way, the rejected person will hear the recorded declaration that "This is the end!" - and never be able to ask that awful question, "Why?" The rejected person has that right - it was an implied part of the relationship to begin with - or to express anger or disgust or disappointment. This is no way to treat a lady - actually, anyone. Move over. I'm as outraged as you!

I have been concerned for a while about many indications that we may be headed toward a world without real and honest human contact. If our lives are more interesting when we are on the computer in our own private room, then why would we choose to leave that room? I have written before about the potential dangers of virtual reality sites that remove us to from the unpleasant realities of our own lives and transport us to a perfect world that we have created for ourselves. I have also watched with curiosity and alarm as we seem to become more and more interested --maybe obsessed is the better word-- in the lives of others, either celebrities or the now-you-see-them, now-you-don't contestants on reality shows. Does all this make us more detached from reality? Do we think our lives ought to consist only of ecstatic moments that will somehow interest others? Don't we anymore think that our lives are enriched by intimacy with others - communicating openly about not only who we honestly are, but also about fears, hopes, dreams, frailties, etc.? Instead, we just live to create an exciting persona for ourselves -- to be famous and to have no real responsibility for our actions.

I know that there are many people who work to make the world better. And, I know that there are many wonderful people who are satisfied with and enjoy the lives they have. And yet, at the same time, the more we are given the chance to avoid painful situations, the more we will do so. Who would want to take on adult responsibilities if we could remain childish and not have any responsibility for our actions? Who doesn't want someone else to clean up after us? Who would want to face a jilted lover if it can be avoided? But, the point is, you do have to. It's the only way to grow up.

If we don't learn for ourselves the painful consequences of our actions, then we learn nothing. We remain child-like -- not charming and cute, but emotionally messy and irresponsible. Remember that it used to be said that a young child can only learn the dangers of a hot stove by touching it. Perhaps we don't have to go to that extreme, but we do have to experience life for ourselves. We do have to take responsibility for our actions. We do have to see the pain our actions can cause. We do have to feel our own discomfort when faced with our wrong decisions. We cannot always remain children - too young to know better, too young to be punished for what's been done. Adults should -- and usually do -- know better. We take responsibility. We face our mistakes. We learn from our mistakes. We take responsibility for our actions. We want to become better people. We should all strive to be "mensches."

So, back to your daughter. How does all of this relate to her? I believe quite strongly that you are right to distinguish between the hurt she is feeling and the lesson she should learn about how an adult should act. There are numerous moments in our children's lives that as parents we want to put them inside a tank and protect them from pain or rejection. But the truth is, it is important to learn about pain early on, to feel it early on, and to get on with your life in the intelligent embrace of the family. This is the moment for your daughter to see that she can survive pain, that life goes on. This is the moment, too, for her to learn something about the type of person she wants to love and to trust.

And who is that type of person? Certainly, someone who is brave enough and honest enough to talk directly and openly with her about what went wrong in their relationship. If there is no communication, the best relationship cannot survive. Her boyfriend had no idea how to work through an issue or, barring that, merely tell her that it's over. He's young, he's immature, he's inexperienced and he is all sorts of things that tend to exculpate him for what he did. But he's also a jerk -and you daughter should know it. You're never too young to act like a man.

So, if you are honest with your daughter about the way her ex handled their breakup, then you are doing her a favor -- giving her an all-important life lesson. She can decide for herself if she agrees with you and whether she has learned from this guy to now pursue relationships with young men who are brave, honest, and able to face the consequences of their actions.

Here's to a world that is honest, real, and -- still important -- polite!