by Susan Flynn
As a father of teens, Tom Sturges sure has a lot of rules – 100 of them in fact. But they are different than the typical edicts about curfews, no Facebook before homework, and pick your dirty clothes off the bathroom floor. He created most of them for himself to obey, all part of a master plan to be the best parent possible to his three sons.
There’s his Paul McCartney Rule: Never be embarrassed. If your kids don’t get A’s or don’t turn out to be the sports star you dreamed about, still be proud of them. There’s the Quincy Jones Rule, which is essentially to be kind and not speak out loud the critical comments that dance around in your mind. (“You are wearing that?”) And finally, he adheres to the Shaquille O’Neal Rule: Be nice every chance you get.
Sturges, a California-based music executive who has worked with some of the biggest names in the industry, is the author of Grow the Tree You Got (Tarcher Penguin, 2011; $15.95), a new and refreshingly positive guidebook for raising teens based on his firmly held belief that parents should never try to change their children into someone they are not.
While some parents bemoan the teenage years, Sturges embraces them, always cognizant that his own father, who died when he was 3 years old, never got the chance to marvel at this amazing transformation from child into adult.
1 In your opinion, what is the most important thing to remember when raising teenagers?
It’s that patience is more important than punishment and that forgiveness is a better reaction than anger. Yes they will say things that hurt your feelings and they may even do things that you think are rude and inconsiderate, but in the end try to remember that the things they say that most hurt your feelings were probably not personal, just them being teenagers.
2 Tell us more about your strict no-yelling rule.
The basic premise is that I have to show you respect at all times. Instead of yelling, I recommend that parents whisper. If you are out to eat and don’t like how your daughter is acting, lean into her and say, ‘You’re being very rude.’ Then they come to dread the whisper. It’s amazing. I use it at the office too. It’s my favorite crusade.
3 I like your “No Questions Asked” rule. My mother had something similar.
The idea is you are forgiven in advance, no questions asked. My son Thomas used it to get out of a party. He woke me up and started to apologize and I said the only thing I needed was the address. I arrived and it was complete mayhem; there was a car on the lawn, no parents around and I am sure there were drugs. I pulled up and there was Thomas standing on the curb. When he saw me, he started laughing. We went out for waffles and it turned out to be a great night for both of us. If a child has the courage to say, ‘Rescue me,’ that should be the reward. This rule brings such a trust between parent and child.
4 With this book, you show how even an arborist can teach us about parenting.
I learned from an arborist that trees have an emergency plan. When there’s a fire or a drought, the largest tree will reverse its life process to feed the younger trees. The bigger the tree, the more is expected of it. Sometimes our teens will be in a drought or a fire and they will need more of our kindness and more of your generosity. We have to share even more of ourselves in these times of crisis.
5 What was your all-time best Father’s Day gift?
Having children, no doubt about it. My favorite word in the world is ‘Daddy.’ My Dad (the Academy-Award winning filmmaker Preston Sturges) died when I was 3 and it’s like growing up without a hand. You can never get away from it. That informs my whole life. I went into fatherhood completely wide open and I fell in love with my sons.
Susan Flynn is associate editor at Boston Parents Paper. She can be reached at email@example.com.