Posts Tagged ‘teenagers’

Jason bringing Pelias the Golden Fleece; a win...

Jason bringing the Golden Fleece to Pelias (image via Wikipedia)

Consider this:  Young Greek hero Jason is preparing to defy death in his quest for the Golden Fleece. He and his comrades will face unholy dangers in their quest:  strength, courage and wits will be crucial for survival.   Knowing this, Jason selects as one of his ship’s crew not Hercules, but Joe the Stoner.      Wait… what?

Or this: Hector, Prince of Troy, has just completed a diplomatic mission to the kingdom of Sparta.  Hector learns en route to Troy that his brother, Paris, has abducted Helen, Queen of Sparta. Hector shouts, “Dude, are you insane? Turn this ship around!” and returns Helen to her husband.    Behold, no Trojan War.

How about: Bellerophon, hero who tamed Pegasus, flies all over the world on his winged horse.  He considers flying to Olympus, home of the gods… then decides that’s not the smartest idea he’s ever had. Bellerophon lives to a ripe old age.

Or, finally:  Pirithous approaches his pal, Theseus,  for help with  a road trip. Pirithous wants to marry Persephone, Queen of the Underworld.  The guys will have to fight their way into Hades, grab Persephone (her husband, Hades, might object… he’s the lord of death, by the way) and fight their way out.    Pirithous wants Theseus to come along and help him. Theseus recalls that  no living soul has ventured into the Underworld and returned alive.  “Man, that sounds like a bad deal,”  Theseus says.  “No thanks.”  Theseus and Pirithous avoid being glued to chairs in the underworld… for eternity, in Pirithous’ case.

As you probably guess, the actual story arcs in these myths did not go as described above.  Hercules was a member of the celebrated crew of the Argo (at least for a while), Hector did not take Helen back to Sparta and the ensuing Trojan War brought down his father’s kingdom.  Bellerophon decided to fly Pegasus to Olympus, so the winged horse bucked the hero’s  impudent butt off high over  Arcadia.  Pirithous and Theseus did charge into the underworld, intent on kidnapping Persephone; Hades was not amused, and glued them to chairs. Forever.

Teaching with stories has been a useful model since Aesop and his fables.  Jesus used parables quite often in the Bible, and Buddha taught with stories as well.  The “story as learning tool” model works.  Children and teenagers enjoy mythology, and a life skills discussion that starts with a story is less likely to seem like the much-dreaded “lecture”.   Personally, I find that  myths make terrific stepping-stones for conversations with my preteen son.

“Yes, there he sat, on the back of the winged ...

Bellerophon, revving Pegasus' engine (image:Wikipedia)

One: Choice of Friends.  An excellent book for teens and parents is  The Six Most Important Decisions You’ll Ever Make  by Sean Covey.  “Choice of Friends” ranks high on Covey’s list of life-changing choices.  The first myth cited above, Jason and the Argonauts, plays into that discussion.  The crew of the Argo did not pick Jason! Jason recruited his crew for that adventure, knowing that his choice of companions would be vital to not only to the success of the mission, but also to everyone’s survival.   My son and I have had fun imagining what would have happened if Jason had screwed up and did take Joe the Stoner instead of Hercules.  None of the outcomes are good; often they are hilariously bad.

Two: Conscious Loyalty.  The conflict between Hector’s loyalty to his brother versus his loyalty to what’s right makes this decision one of my favorite tools from The Iliad.  It is easy to translate this situation aboard the ship bound for Troy to a modern scene:  a teen sees a friend endanger himself or someone else, for instance.  Telling a responsible adult about a buddy’s bad behavior violates The Boy Code according to Dr. William Pollack  and girls dislike being “snitches”, too.  Counteracting this issue could involve a conversation about such choices, a talk prefaced by retelling this part of The Iliad to your teen.  It is a great story, and the importance of Hector’s action is obvious.

Three: Self-regulation.   Teens can be surprised to learn that sometimes it’s best not to do something, even though they can. Having more freedom as a teen equals more opportunities to screw up in that regard, unfortunately.  Bellerophon’s story of overreaching with his supernatural horse is like that of  a teen who realizes that Mom and Dad are out, but the keys to Mom’s Charger are on the kitchen counter.  Yes, she could take the 425-horsepower chariot out for a drive… but should she?

Four: Handling Peer Pressure. This issue is one that keeps parents up at night.  Sean Covey ranks peer pressure as a subset of his “Choice of Friends” category for major life decisions.  Teens have one main mission: to be cool at all times, no matter what. The Theseus/Pirithous story is a perfect lead-in for a conversation about what to do if one of your teen’s friends approaches him/her with a dangerous, destructive, or just plain stupid idea.  For instance, I have used this story with my son in talking about whether to get in a car with a buddy who has been drinking.

The power of mythology reaches across milennia, as its lessons in life issues apply still today.  Creative parents can put a modern spin on a myth, like any of those above, and have an effective tool for talking with their children about important choices.


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Greek Goddess Athena

The Greek goddess Athena, patron of wisdom and battle strategy.

As parents, we know that “lectures” don’t work,  but sometimes we need to get a behavioral tidbit across to our little darlings.  Have courage: before there was “the book you can’t put down”, there was “the story circle you can’t  leave”.  I have seen it time and again in my roles as a parent and as an educator: kids love mythology. Put it to use for you.

I believe that myths and legends keep a firm grip on society today  because these are “reach-out-and-grab-you” tales.    For instance, whether Homer, the author of Greek epic poems, was one person or he was actually a collective of blind/disabled beggars  given the storytelling job to be useful in society, he/they kept their audiences riveted with action, heroics, and derring-do.  It still works.

  • Want to talk to your teenager about good decision-making? The Iliad, adapted into a film as recently as 2004, is one of the greatest stories in world history.  Period.  How many  authors merit  having their work celebrated more than two thousand years after its introduction?  (And made into a Hollywood blockbuster starring  Brad Pitt, no less…but I digress.)  Greed, arrogance, family loyalty, and the consequences of one’s choices all are central to the story; the actual poem can be a challenging read for a teen, but there are graphic novels of The Iliad that make it more approachable.   I have had fantastic life-issue talks with my son based on scenes from the movie Troy. (Note: the film is R-rated, but you can find appropriate clips of various scenes on YouTube.)
  • Worried about alleged “role models” for girls in the media these days? Tell your daughter about the Greek goddess Athena, patron of wisdom and battle strategy.  No, the Greek god of strategy was not a dude.  The Greek god of war (Ares) was a dude.  So, for brute force, the Greeks had a guy; for doing things the smart way, they had a woman. ‘Nuff said.  Consider telling your daughter about the Greek heroine Atalanta, an Arcadian princess, whose father had her taken to a mountaintop and abandoned  because she was born female. Atalanta survived, though, and became an acclaimed fighter who slew an  ugly, oversized,  trashing-the-place monster called the Calydonian boar.  She would only marry a guy who could beat her in a footrace; even then, he had to trick her to win.  Athena and Atalanta rock the house.  Girls can learn a lot about can-do attitudes from them.
  •  Is your child working through anger issues? So was the  Greek hero Hercules, who was so ferociously strong that, as an infant,  he strangled a poisonous snake.  People were afraid of Hercules, who had trouble controlling his temper (to put it mildly), but when Herc learned to behave himself, he became a hero and did a lot of good for his society.   Hercules had to perform twelve famous labors as punishment for losing his temper (kind of an ancient-Greek style time out): he did such a marvelous job that he was invited to live with the twelve Greek gods on Mount Olympus… the only Greek hero ever to get that reward.  Hercules can show your child the benefits of managing his/her temper.

These are simplified versions of myths and I have only scratched the surface, but you get the idea.  Myth and legend had  historical and educational purposes in the ancient world; put these intriguing stories to work for you in talking with your children.   Kids love the plots and you will have a good time getting your point across.  Tell the story, make your point; ideally, your child will want to know more about myths.  If that happens, you will have a cornucopia of teaching opportunities at your fingertips.

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