Do Teens Want Solutions from Parents?
Your charming child breaks away from you, questions your decisions, guards her privacy – unable to understand what’s happening? Wake up parent, she is in the throes of teenage self-discovery.
By Arundhati Swamy
Do teens want advice from parents? Yes, they do! Do teens like the way parents give advice? No, they don’t! Because our advice gives them readymade solutions – how to do it, when to do it, why to do it! They want to figure those things out for themselves.
The voice on the phone was one of anguish. “I need help. My teen kid and I, we end up arguing most of the time. This never happened before. She was so sweet and would always take my help. I used to feel so happy helping her. Now it’s just the opposite. I don’t know what’s going on.”
“My teen kid.” Teen? Kid? Paradoxical, isn’t it? It must be one or the other. Goodbye childhood, hello teens. While the transition to the next phase in life happens by default in children (all determined by active pruning in the brain), parents must change their operating systems. Teenagers are a delightfully confusing breed of humans! ‘Change’ becomes the official password. Parents, arm yourselves, fortify your emotions, and take deep breaths as often as you can. Be prepared to live in the present. The memories of your teen’s childhood are, at the most, comforting. So, cherish them. But, the comfortable, snug relationship with your child is mutating and transforming. While your teen is hitting the fast-forward key, you yearn to press the rewind option. Who needs the storms of dissent and conflict? Time to hit the refresh button!
There’s so much of sound advice that teens can do well to heed. So, what are the common issues that sometimes take the charm out of the parent–teen equation?
1. Tradition vs modernity
“That’s not how it’s done!”. Sounds familiar? How do we ever find that delicate balance between tradition and modernity? Stark traditions are pitted against exciting, attractive and bold attitudes. While you flaunt the wisdom and value of traditions and cultural practices, your teen happily flouts those very norms with gusto to explore, experience and evaluate for herself.
- What parents do: Lecture endlessly. Harp on how it was different in the yesteryear. Grumble about how things are getting worse. Bemoan how values are changing. Acclaim their own virtues. Impose rituals and practices with a vengeance.
- What teens expect: Cut some slack. Allow me to question, it’s my way of connecting the dots for myself. Let’s have friendly debates. Don’t judge my thoughts, I am exploring the expanding capacities of my mind. Go easy on your expectations. And, please don’t preach! I am trudging on the path of self-discovery, so I will question, to get answers.
2. Control vs freedom and independence
No, we’re not talking about the Quit India Movement! Rather, it’s the Quirky Teen Movement! Where ‘different’ is the watchword for Opportunity – to learn and grow through courage and creativity. While your teen is ready to leap into the unknown, with all good intention, you naturally grab the safety net of your own native instincts and all that is familiar to you.
- What parents do: Submit to their fears. Devise rules to counter their fears. Use threats to gain the child’s compliance. Become more controlling. Use trial and error methods. Send out confused messages to the child. Lecture, lecture, lecture!
- What teens want: Understand and accept why I am changing. Be a patient listener. Respect my opinions, don’t put them down. Help me stay within safe limits even if I seem unhappy about it. Don’t press the panic button. Discuss reasons for saying No to some of my requests. Show me different points of view. Allow me to be part of family decisions. Understand my curiosity and confusions. Role-play difficult social situations to help me learn skills to handle myself.
3. Family Bonding vs social engagement
Family – it’s a sacred word in our culture, and for good reason! Adolescence arrives with a flourish and shakes up the very foundations of connections that glue family relationships. Teen friendships capture intimate territory, ousting you from your reign. The loss of prime time with children leaves you all shaken up and stirred! How could anyone else ever take your place?
- What parents do: Feel rejected and sorry for themselves. Compete for their teen’s attention. Make them feel guilty about their loyalties. Become over-friendly with their child’s friends. Force their teen to accompany them everywhere.
- What teens want: My friends are important to me. Get to know them, but don’t act like a teen yourself. I still love you and want to stay connected but in more subtle ways. Don’t try being my friend, continue to be my loving parent. I may not spend as much time with you, let me choose when to accompany you on outings. If something is really important, explain why. I am growing up and don’t ever give up on me.
4. Safety vs pushing boundaries
“Hold on, hold tight. We know what’s best for you!” Well, that’s your job, isn’t it? What do you do when your teen says, “Let go! It’s my life?” You freeze! The spirit of adventure promises novelty, risks and thrills. However, those unsafe boundaries could trap your teen in regretful decisions. That’s scary! The result? An unhappy, resentful, difficult-to-handle teen! Whew, from the frying pan into the fire!
- What parents do: Allow their fears to take over. Tighten the reins and apply brakes on the child. Impose rules that do not teach the child to problem-solve. Allow doubts and distrust to creep in. Micromanage and monitor. Become overcautious. Step-up the policing. Spy and pry into the child’s routine.
- What teens want: I will seek thrills, adventures and new experiences. It’s all part of my growing up. Show me the healthy boundaries that I can safely push – opportunities to pursue my talents and interests. Its alright for us to not see eye-to-eye on many things. It means I am testing my thinking abilities. Give me my space and be there when I need you. If I stray, support and guide me. Turn my mistakes into teachable moments. Show me how to learn from them. Talk to me about your concerns. We can work them out together.
4. Home vs the world
Home – where safety and comfort come with a life-time guarantee. Well, almost always! It’s the hardest thing to do – let your child spread his wings and take off into the wide world. Fears crowd your mind – lurking threats, unwelcome influences, and behaviours and cultures alien to your core values and beliefs. Is it a safe world out there?
- What parents do: Give the child 360-degree protection. Remove obstacles, smoothen the path, make things easy for the child. Censor friendships. Protect from real-life experiences.
- What teens want: The world is my playfield. I am gaining new knowledge, learning about new cultures. Don’t put them down. Let me struggle through things. It teaches me how to do things differently, with better results. It teaches me the value of hard work. Hold me accountable for my responsibilities and behaviour. For, blaming others gets me nowhere. I want to learn how to solve problems on my own, take decisions. It gives me confidence when you are not around to protect me.
Parenting a teen is like having one foot in the security of the known, the other in the uncertainty of the unknown! Enough to put us in a spin, right? Teens don’t want dreary speeches, staid opinions, biased judgements and solutions.
Our advice in practice and action is what they want. And it’s alright to slip in some words of wisdom occasionally. We must have our say after all!!
About the author:
Written by Arundhati Swamy on 13 March 2018.
Arundhati Swamy is a family counsellor and Head of the Parent Engagement Program at ParentCircle.
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