Parenting Teenagers: Mini-Monsters Or Adults-In-The-Making?
By Shilpa D’Mello and Masooma Meghji
Of all the ages kids go through, adolescence is by far the toughest one. Yet, when we are older, we look back on those days rather fondly. The first time we bunked college, the first crush, the first ‘real’ love… and countless other, never-to-be-forgotten ‘firsts’.
After spending years in their parents’ care, children on the teenage threshold start experiencing life in new colours. Suddenly, everything seems new and exciting. However, the excitement and the newness are coupled with an existential crisis and some hallmark questions:
• “Who am I?”
• “What am I doing here?”
• “Is this what I want?”
• “Why doesn’t anybody understand me?”
The Classic Teen Phase
All parents who think their kids have magically transformed into mini-monsters as soon they have hit their teens need to read the above paragraph again. We were teenagers ourselves once, and we went through the same angst that our children now experience.
Yet, times have changed – and so has the face of rebellion. Anita Sharma, now 62, remembers stealing mangoes from a neighbour’s farm as a teenager. Her younger sister Usha, now 55, remembers talking with a ‘boy’ at school – a strict no-no back then.
Ravi Iyer, now 40, remembers bunking college and watching ‘English’ movies. Today, cell phones and micro-minis are newest forms of non-conformity. It’s almost like a Shakespearean plot that has been redone and rewritten hundreds of times while the beginning, middle and end remain constant.
- Sapna Shah, parent of a 13-year-old says, “My daughter has changed a lot. She used to be a quiet child. Nowadays, she has become stubborn and adamant. She gets angry very often, and sometimes I don’t know how to handle her!”
- Rama says his 15-year-old son is too demanding, and he gives in most of the time with resignation.
- Divya, parent of a 14-year-old says, “No matter how much you try, they will do what they want to do. I mostly leave it to God, since I know I can’t do anything about it.”
- Kumar, father of a 16-year-old says, “My son spends most of his time in front of the mirror, applying face creams and styling his hair. I don’t understand what is up with him!”
The story is much the same in most households. It often seems like a boxing ring, with parents on one side and teenagers on the other.
The ‘Mother Bird’ Theory
Dr. Minnu R. Bhonsle, a psychotherapist and counsellor associated with the Heart To Heart Counselling Centre in Mumbai, says, “Puberty, also called the ‘Age of Reason’, is when we start questioning the rules handed down to us by adults.
This period of existential crisis is natural – when a child attains puberty, he or she is basically ready to reproduce and ensure the continuity of life. The questioning and self-inquiry is a part of becoming self-dependent and able to shoulder the implied responsibility.”
In India, the parents-children bond is extremely strong – by habit, culture and emotions, parents find it difficult to let go of their little ones. Worse still, they subconsciously believe that their offspring never grow up.
15-year-old Naina says, “What’s the big deal about being an adolescent? I don’t like it! My parents don’t understand me. My mother scolds me in front of others. I wish they would treat me like a big girl.”
Most parents view adolescence as an unfortunate occurrence. For many years, they made the rules and their children obeyed unquestioningly. Now, however, their children have the mental capacity to question these rules – and their parents need to present clear, logical reasoning for them. This makes them uncomfortable, and they see it as a rebellion.
Dr. Bhonsle says, “We need to think of the mother bird that pecks the fledgling to leave the nest. Although it hurts the fledgling for a while, it is important for its autonomous existence – so that it can fly off and make its own little nest. However, we never seem to want to retire from parenting – this makes our children dependent on us. They grow up to be mamma’s little boys and papa’s little girls. Later on, this even affects their married lives.”
What we need is a change in attitude – from an autocratic way of thinking to a democratic one. “If the general home environment is more autocratic than democratic and children do not have the freedom to say, think and do things they like, a rebellion is natural,” says Dr. Bhonsle. “Instead of seeing our teens as rebels without a cause, we should welcome this change and allow the process of questioning. It helps them grow into psychologically autonomous adults.”
Putting teenagers (and, in fact, all children) in a situation where they cannot ask questions and must conform instead is a serious parenting mistake. Arun Noronha, now 31, remembers being very confused as a teenager.
“I could not figure out if was an adult or a child! When it came to household chores, my parents would tell me that I was a ‘big boy’. But whenever I would place uncomfortable queries, they would say that I was too young to be asking such questions! Although I can laugh at it now, I remember being highly frustrated back then…”
Most parents would argue that their teens’ demands are unrealistic – but doesn’t realism come with age? Consider 14-year-old Dhruv, who gets fired by his mother for long phone calls. “I love talking to my friends. I cannot share the same things with my family. Why don’t they understand?” he asks.
A few parents we spoke to said that they try hard to communicate with their children, but are unable to. Dr. Bhonsle believes that if a communicative environment was not encouraged in earlier childhood, kids will need time to start talking. This is why it is crucial that they be treated as ‘mini-adults’ right from childhood.
Dr Bhonsle explains, “Healthy parenting is about listening to their views patiently and then voicing your own views. Your views should be accompanied by correct logical explanations and evidence. Once you have put your opinions on the table, let the child process them and decide for himself.”
Of course, in case of bigger issues such as drugs, stealing and addictions, parents should see a counsellor and take family therapy. Also, parents have the benefit of experience.
We know what our children will go through once they hit their teens. We can therefore inform and educate them about the changes that their bodies and minds will go through and make the transition easier for them.
Besides, they will also realise that we, as parents, can understand and relate to their situation. When the teen years arrive, they can consider us friends, not enemies.
It is also significant that parents often tend to pass on their own unresolved issues to their children. As Dr. Bhonsle says, “Sometimes, parents are emotional kids themselves – their own angst and unhealed areas need to be fixed first.”
“If the parents as a couple have issues themselves, their children may ‘play them off’ against the other. They will also look for external sources of love, wisdom, safety and security – benefits that should ideally provided by the parents.”
In a nutshell, we as parents should understand that these years are exciting, yet difficult for our children. When we treat them as friends, they will reciprocate and help us bridge the communication gap.
Our job is to assist them in becoming mature, responsible adults, so that when they grow up they have as many fond memories of their teenage years. As we do.
This article may be reprinted with attribution to the authors and a link back to http://www.lovingyourchild.com
Resources for Parenting Teenagers:
- Speak Teenager – Win back your son or daughter. I wrote this book from a father’s point of view and not from a psychology point of view. My book is straight and to the point in an easy to understand language. This ebook contains everything you need to know in order to make amends with your son or daughter and become their best friend.
- No-Nonsense Parenting For Today’s Teenager – How to feel like a good parent even when your teenager hates you. Get your teenager to STOP their abusive or disrespectful behavior, listen to what you say, do what you want them to do & respect you as their parent, while getting peace back in your home.
- Parenting Your Teen – 96% of parents experience stress, frustration, and confusion during their child’s teenage years. Here’s what you can do to easily turn things around and start developing a more connected, down-to-earth, win-win relationship with your teen and virtually guarantee their future success.