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Star Wars and The Parenting U-Turn

December 22, 2017


Spoiler Alert. This blog is about Star Wars – The Last Jedi.

Life is pretty simple in the Star Wars world. There are the good guys, and there are the bad guys. And they battle. The galaxy depends on it. Dark cannot mix with light. You have to decide who you are and then stay on your team.

One of the questions this movie answers is how Ben Solo becomes Kylo Ren. Why does the son of two Resistance leaders turn to the dark side?

Isn't this what we ask ourselves when we hear a story about a young person "going bad?" I did and do. It's the question that redirected my life.

When two sons of friends killed two Dartmouth College professors for adventure and fun in 2001, I became obsessed with understanding why and how something like this could happen. I was a young parent of four kids and wrestled with my own adolescent dark side. How could I ensure my children would grow up to be good people?

Because of the murders, I self-designed a Master's program to answer this question. My thesis was titled Creativity, Adolescence and Identity Formation. My second Masters gave me the training/licensing to work with at-risk kids.

Adolescence is a time of creative self-discovery, where each of is developmentally-mandated to answer the daunting "who am I?" question. The materials we work with, like artists with paint and clay, are the quality of our experiences and relationships.

How does Ben Solo become Kylo Ren?

Star Wars is the struggle between dark and light. It’s simple and unnaturally binary. The bad guys are dark. The good guys are light. But what happens when someone is equal parts dark and light? In the Star Wars world, you are one or the other.

The dark rising in Ben triggers Luke Skywalker.

The scene that explains why Kylo turned to the dark side is Luke Skywalker standing over then-Ben Solo, consumed with fear. You can see Fear taking over. You can see Fear's thoughts, and you can see what Fear intends to do. Kylo wakes to see his uncle standing over him holding a lightsaber.

The intensity of Luke's fear is like pouring black ink on a yet-to-be-determined canvas sealing Ben's identity.

Life is a more complex and nuanced than a movie, but it's nonetheless a parenting lesson.

Ben becoming Kylo is forever linked to Luke's unresolved trauma around his own father. The past informs the present.

When we react to our children, we send them a powerful message about how we see them, but the truth is, we are expressing a story about ourselves. We think because they have triggered this feeling, they are the problem. The feeling is a reminder that there's still work to do knowing ourselves.

We are always answering the Who am I? question.

It's why we need to practice the art of the U-turn.

If Luke made a U-turn, Ben Solo might not have become Kylo Ren. Luke's life work is to heal. He can only do this by facing his fears, taking responsibility and apologizing.

It's never too late to make a U-turn.

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