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The Counter-Intuitive Turtle

I was cruising down a two-lane road on my bike one Friday evening and noticed a little turtle on the side to my right. The little critter was determined to cross the road. There was plenty of traffic and trucks thundering down the road so I decided to do a U-turn and intervene. Every critter counts after all, and I knew the odds were against this one surviving the precarious crossing. I would later learn from my friend Cameron Young, a local snake and reptile conservationist and executive director of The Nature Lab, that my little friend was a female paint turtle. Moving forward, I’ll call her Betsy.

I approached Betsy after carefully laying down my bike and waddling like a penguin over in my bike shoes to pick her up. She began to hide in her shell, which is what I was expecting. As I reached down she made a run for it. I was shocked. Turtles aren’t supposed to run! I thought of walking away and letting her fend for herself but instead, I ran after her which is no easy task in bike shoes. I leaned into my determination and grabbed onto Betsy and was astonished as her little legs frantically kicked against the air and her nails scraped against my fingers. We were off, as I awkwardly walked her across the busy road. When I let her go far from harms way, I realized the rest was out of my control and hoped I had done the right thing. But I knew my buddy Cameron would set me straight.

First, Cameron popped my bubble that turtles hide in their shell when confronted by danger. He told me that turtles, or at least the paint variety, often run. The better news, though, was that I had done the right thing. Saving Betsy was crucial. Based on the time of day, she was most likely off to nest and lay her eggs.  With such low survival rates for baby turtles, it is essential to help female adult turtles keep on laying eggs so we can maintain a diverse eco-system.

Even though I had thought Betsy was behaving counterintuitively when she ran, she was just reacting based on instinct. Ironically, I was the one who had reacted counterintuitively by holding on and by being so determined to see her safely across the road even though she had protested my actions.

 

But, sometimes, there is value in being counterintuitive.

 

In Tyler Durman’s 2015 book, Counterintuitive, he talks about how teenagers aren’t finished on the inside and how it takes a lot of “counterintuitive” reasoning to love and raise a teenager well.

For example, our job as parents is to provide safety and guidance even when our teenagers want more freedom. Most teenagers are not ready for total freedom, as “they’re not done on the inside.”  Teenagers, Durman says, “look to the behavior of the adults in their life to provide reassurance that everything is going to be okay. When the inner conflict between their desire for independence and their need to feel safe confuses parents, teenagers feel more fear, which can lead to anger and a new kind of testing.”

He also discusses how teenagers, “don’t test to win.” When your teen tests you and you’re passive, it is proof that your teen is more powerful than you. Teens fear this discovery. Tyler tells the story of going to check a single-wall construction house to ensure it wasn’t infested with termites. He walked around the structure pushing at it with a mallet because he wanted to ensure the walls were stronger then he was.  “[Teens] are not testing us because they want us to give in,” he says. “They’re testing because their deeper need is to find reassurance we won’t.” By providing clear boundaries you are providing your teens with security knowing that the walls are solid.

In my house there are no phones in the bedrooms. If a phone mysteriously finds its way upstairs, the kids lose the phone the next day. I have heard all the excuses: “I had to show my brother something and I forgot to bring it down. I swear I wasn’t on it.” I do twinge with a moment of weakness but then I remember that this rule is one of our non-negotiables. I simply say, “Our rule is no phones in the bedroom so please hand me your phone and you can try again tomorrow.” All teenagers long for the adults in their lives to stand behind the things they say with consistent strength. And when we do, they will respect us, even when they disagree with our standards.

When your kids push, they need you to stand and lean into your core values and stay consistent with your non-negotiables. I was determined to get Betsy across the road even though her little legs were battering against my fingers. I stayed true to my value of protecting nature and doing my best to make a positive impact even though Betsy would never say thank you.

But sticking by your teens as they bang and push the walls to make sure you are stronger than they are is not an easy task. Modeling vulnerability, dealing with failure, and communicating with your teen is a big part of getting them to the other side of the busy street.  Share your imperfections, your weaknesses and be willing to say things like: “I’m sorry.” Or, “I blew it.”

One of the greatest challenges is to let go and trust our kids to make good decisions.  .  “Like the rest of us, teenagers need a safe place to run when they fail,” Durman says. “They will run somewhere, and the way the adults in their lives respond to failure will determine if they run towards us or away from us.”  A big part of your teens’ development is the ability to make mistakes and learn from them and know that this process is just part of life. Parents make mistakes and learn from them too so don’t be afraid to model this behavior for your teens. It’s about taking ownership of the good, the great, and the not-so-pretty.

Keep being an imperfect human and do the best you can for your kids while you love them through their tweens and teen years. Parenting is a constant evolution and takes patience and time. Their future 30-year-old selves will thank you.

 

 

About The Author

Roxanne Turner is a Board Certified Life Coach with extensive training in ADHD and executive functioning, focusing on the process of getting things done. Roxanne brings a unique and personal perspective to her coaching work drawing from her experience in both the corporate and equestrian worlds. Outside of work, Roxanne is a devoted wife and step-mother to two teenage boys and enjoys time spent with family, the outdoors, and pursuing epic adventures.