Raising them right

Raising them right

Parenting teenagers is a demanding and confusing job. Here’s how parents can transform it into a fun and rewarding experience

Kids want limits. They want reasonable expectations, even if they seem to resist.

As parents, our need is to be needed; as teenagers, their need is not to need us. This conflict is real; we experience it daily as we help those we love become independent of us.” ­→→— Dr Haim G Ginott

Time flies. Before you know it, your toddler and a curious child who loved to be around you is now a teenager who wants less and less of you. At least that is what parents may feel and find it hard to digest. But remember, just like you are going through a transition in a parenting role, he/she is also going through a transition. Having lived through sleepless nights feeding babies, putting up with toddler pranks, childhood tantrums, and the early school years of assiduous hand-holding, on-coming teenage years should not really cause much anxiety, but they do. Although teen years are a period of intense growth physically, emotionally and intellectually, they also become a time of confusion and upheaval for many parents.

Activities at school, new interests, preference to be in the peer group company will seem to be more important to growing children. Parents, however, will have to remain the anchors, providing love, guidance and support. This connection can provide a sense of security and help build resilience in kids needed to face life’s ups and downs. Here’s what parents can do:

Talk to children early & often

Starting to talk about menstruation or wet dreams after children have already begun to experience them is starting a bit too late. Answer the early questions kids have about bodies, such as the difference between boys and girls and where babies come from. Answers should be age-appropriate and they should not be overloaded with information. In case parents find it difficult to give answers, they can seek a paediatrician’s help.

When you notice behavioural changes in your children such as increased attention to personal appearance or joking about sex, that might be a good time to have a parent-child discussion. The earlier the parents open the lines of communication, better the chances will be in keeping them open through the teen years. Also, share your own experiences with them; they will feel at ease.

Be friendly, but not a friend

Dr Peter Spevak, a child psychologist, has a word of caution for modern-day parents. His succinct suggestion is “be friendly, but not a friend.” “Children want authority figures. When your child becomes a mature and independent adult, then friendship is appropriate. Kids want limits. They want reasonable expectations, even if they seem to resist. Be open and friendly. But give them factual and realistic expectations. They need adults who will give them factual and realistic responses. They need adults who will give them adult perspectives and adult guidance. When they trust you, they will use you as a resource and use your knowledge in their own personal growth,” says Peter Spevak.

Be a gentle guide

Rahul’s parents received a serious communication from the school about his indulging in vandalism, having destroyed furniture in the classroom. The upset parents didn’t punish him. That night after dinner, they went to his room, sat with him and simply remarked that they did not expect that kind of behaviour from their son, and they wished he would do something to mend the damage he had caused. Next morning, they found a ‘sorry note’ from Rahul; he also went to his school, apologised for his behaviour, and bore the cost of replacing the furniture from his savings.

When a parent punishes a child, the door is closed on him/her. He/she has no place to go. But when you take an action as a parent, the teenager might not like the action, but the door is still open for communication. Your teen still can face up to what he or she did and would try to fix it. The problem with punishment is that it makes it easy for teenagers to ignore their misdeeds and focus on how unreasonable parents are. It deprives them of the chance to become more mature and responsible. 

Create a positive environment

Most adolescents are bound to feel rebellious even if parents are reasonable. We must understand the fact that adolescents need and want guidance, even consistent rules from us, parents, no matter how much they resist us.

Their pride won’t let them openly admit the need. The fact remains that teens would want to have mutually respectful, adult to adult discussions. If a teenager son or daughter wants to dye his/her hair, paint their fingernails black, or wear funky clothes, parents should think twice before objecting. Teens want to shock their parents and it is a lot better to let them do something temporary and harmless; but parents must watch out for serious habits that really would matter, like tobacco, drugs and alcohol. 

One way of adolescents moving towards independence is by taking risks. It is in the hands of parents to help teens take risks sensibly. For example, allowing a 15-year-old to stay late working on the school magazine conveys trust and encourages responsibility. However, leaving a teenager alone at home for a weekend may not be a safe option.

You may choose to back decisions taken by your teenage son/daughter even if it goes against your best judgement. Parents must lend a patient ear when their teens face disappointments, and be sympathetic with failure they are facing in spite of their best efforts. Guiding them with a gentle touch and love, the so-called ‘generation gap’ can be overcome leading to happy years for both parents as well as children. The motto of parents with teens should be “we are going through this together, and we will come out of it — together!”

(The author is a special educator and counsellor)