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Even the 'perfect' teenagers aren't easy

It goes without saying that Julie Schenecker does not get a pass.

It goes without saying that the community grieves for Calyx and Beau Schenecker, gunned down in their teen years, one en route to soccer practice while the other was doing her International Baccalaureate homework.

We grieve for those who knew them.

And we wish the tragedy made some kind of sense.

That's what we do after any tragedy, we who think we are smart. This particular case might be beyond our grasp.

But I can add my two cents as a mother of two kids who are strikingly similar to the two who died — in age, gender, academic accomplishments, literary taste, even athletic pursuits. Because it helps when there is a lesson. So here goes.

Even perfect teenagers are not always easy.

They can be polite, they can be respectful, they can be well mannered. They can be at the top of their class, winning all the awards, creating all the photo opportunities, making their parents so darned proud.

And still they pose the occasional challenge.

Bennie Hilton, who served for two years as president of my children's PTA, said something like this as we were in the grocery store, discussing our willful teenage daughters:

"God makes them difficult so their mothers will be able to push them out the door."

My mother always said: "It's harder when they're smart," usually in the same conversation as "you don't remember what you were like at that age."

Parents of young children may not think they have it easy — the tantrums in the supermarket,

the lost homework, the spilled juice in the living room. But at least these parents know they are the authority figures in the home. Most problems can be fixed with a five-minute time-out or a temporary loss of television privileges.

It all changes as the kids morph into young adults.

The day will come when your children stand before you, toe to toe and eye to eye, and actually know more than you do about a given topic.

Not always. Maybe not often. But often enough to throw a parent off her game.

That parent might be someone who, years earlier, was considered type A, brilliant and accomplished. A control freak, perhaps.

No, it doesn't excuse anything, not by a long shot.

But clearly, on some level, Julie Schenecker felt threatened or undermined by her children.

And, because of whatever was wrong with her, whatever demons possessed her, she could not cope.

Does this explain, let alone excuse what she confessed to doing on Jan. 27?

Not in the least. A normal parent will yell at the child, and then feel remorseful for doing so. Schenecker's actions were so outside the realm of what normal parents do that experts are struggling to find a comparison.

As I was writing this column early in the week, pieces of the story were coming together.

We learned from a police report that Calyx and her mother quarrelled earlier over something Calyx purchased at Publix. Angry words were exchanged. Calyx was slapped repeatedly in the face. It's shocking behavior, in hindsight. But the verbal exchange is not unique to families with teenagers.

"Stay out of my business," Calyx reportedly told her mother. She was hardly the first teen to demand privacy.

And Beau had trouble keeping track of his soccer equipment. Again, like every 13-year-old boy in Tampa.

As he prepared Monday morning to meet with Calyx's friends and teachers at King High School, counselor Bryan Noll said, "these were extraordinary but fortunately rare circumstances."

Still, as we struggle to be made wiser somehow by this horrific event, we might want to remember this:

As parents, we want our children to be well schooled and accomplished, independent thinkers with the self-confidence to stand by their convictions.

And so it falls to us to be prepared when that's what we get.

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 624-2739 or sokol@sptimes.com.

Even the 'perfect' teenagers aren't easy 02/03/11 [Last modified: Friday, February 4, 2011 12:55pm]

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