We’ve all heard the saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” I strongly disagree; I think you can teach an old dog new tricks, as long as the dog wants to learn them. I’m speaking in purely human terms here. I realize the longer one lives, the more difficult it may be on the surface to learn complicated new things. I understand the physical changes within the brain related to potentially slower electrical impulses that cross over the tiny gap between the individual synapses in the brain’s nervous system. Thus, on the surface, it would seem this saying is rational.
Not so fast; just as one dog is not like another, individuals are unique. For instance, we know that of the reported approximately 7 billion humans that exist on the planet, there are some 420 billion variants, or results, from DNA possible. Therefore, although this “saying” may apply to many occurrences in our population, it doesn’t mean it always holds true for each person matching the “old” description.
To my point, I’m always looking to learn new things. Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly no Sheldon Cooper (Young Sheldon, CBS). My interests tend to lean towards areas that help me grow personally. I read books by authors like Malcolm Gladwell, and view Ted Talk videos, and the like, to remain current on teachings in this field. In my experience, no matter how old I may be getting, if my interest is strong in a certain area, I not only retain the basic information, I also intertwine the information with other teachings I’ve found to form a better understanding of myself and my relations with other people, especially those close to me.
My interests aren’t meant to be totally self-serving. Having gone through the challenges of raising two teenage boys, I’m merely hoping to fine-tune my approach in terms of relating to my now adult children on a more in-depth level. I not only want to understand them; I, equally, want them to understand me.
To that end, I know they’ll never truly understand what it means to be a parent, that is, until they become parents themselves. In that regard, I’ve tried to use this point in my discussions with them, so they realize my expectations are not overtly high on this point. But I think it would be a mistake to underestimate the level of understanding a young person can achieve if approached in the right way and under the right circumstances. For example, when I gave them rules when they were younger, I took the time to explain why they exist. I tried to ignore the natural teenage tendency to act uninterested whenever an adult is talking, and to persist in making the point that I hoped would be understood and remembered long after the conversation had passed. I first acknowledged what I felt they were thinking about the rules, and then I explained the difference in how it feels from a parent’s perspective.
I’ve always told them, if they want something from someone (including their parents), to figure out a way to make it beneficial for the other person as well, and their chance of getting it increases. If they think along those lines, they’ll be better prepared to have important conversations going forward. For instance, when making a request from their parents, consider what mom and dad are thinking. Are they concerned about safety for example? Next, determine how they can make us feel more comfortable with the request. In other words, whatever response they think we’ll come up with, think about how they can resolve that concern for us. In doing so, they come to us with a solution, not a problem.
To be more honest and forthright with them, I have to fully understand myself. It’s only fair that I don’t move the goalposts on them simply because I can’t make up my mind what I want. So that requires me to take a deeper look inside myself, to know what kind of relationship I want with my boys. Where am I willing to compromise, and where my limitations are, without stifling their maturity and growth in the process. It’s a tough assignment, but one I’m constantly learning more about.
Why? Because it’s important to me; and no matter what your age, if your heart is in it, your mind will follow in most cases. My advice to children and their parents is: never stop trying to learn, no matter what your interests. Life is not fully lived until it’s interesting to you. That’s why this old dog is constantly learning new tricks.
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