With summer vacation families have once again found time to bond together. Likewise, these “bonding moments” may have offered new challenges as some of their children enter the stage of adolescence.
Adolescence has commonly been branded as the unavoidable onset of psychological and emotional imbalances in youth. It initiates the young person into a state of “new confusion” as he struggles to grapple with his personal identity and security. Thus, it has become the common scapegoat for teenagers’ misbehavior, bad grades and vices, etc.
This inevitable phase in youth is often hard to adjust to and live with. It is a stage sometimes described as co-inhabiting with someone “who has a slight mental illness”. Others would dismiss it as something that they can’t do much about and just have to let it “pass by”. In short, the adolescent phase often has a negative connotation for both parents and educators.
But who of us have not passed through adolescence? Who of us have not endured its difficulties, misunderstandings, loneliness and rebellion? It’s only right that for those of us who have already gone through this confusing and obscure moment of growing up, to understand those who are at this moment going through it.
Adolescence is quite a complex phase in our children’s lives, and it would be beyond our scope to outline all its manifestations. I am now more interested with our dispositions towards it, that is, how we learn to grow up with it by extracting its positive points to better help our children. However, when these points are not properly embraced, that is, when parents immediately take their children’s reactions personally against their authority or views, then the channels of communication can become quite fuzzy.
We can identify three principal adolescent traits: their sense of self-affirmation, sexual identity and a sense of justice. It is important to already take these to heart and inject in our children the proper ideas and examples that would later on help them to harmoniously exercise these important traits of personal and character development. Now parents must engage these teenage qualities in two stages: before and during adolescence.
BEFORE. If parents are ever surprised or shocked at the sudden appearance of negative teenage reactions, they have no one to blame but themselves. This is probably one of the main reasons why parents are mainly unable to cope with it: they were caught unprepared. While they may be fully aware of this phase, parents may take for granted that it is something they should have been intellectually, emotionally and creatively anticipating.
Most of what adolescence is now greatly depends on how we have prepared our children beforehand. At this stage they can already be prepared to cope with the future trials that sexual identity may bring with it. This can be addressed by giving them a lot of self-confidence, boosting their self-esteem, applying moderate doses of praise and reasoned out corrections help them to mature profoundly and guide them to negotiate the sharp curves of teenage years.
This is not very easy today, especially when there is more emphasis on external or material concerns like academic excellence, material well-being, and future security. They must add to this moderated material concern the ingredient of helping their children to already discover their more important identity and role within the family and society.
An important aspect of “identity discovery” would be to show the importance of their role in the family. This isn’t only done by giving them chores or similar responsibilities, but for them to realize and value that they are gifts being prepared for something wonderful: for God and neighbor. At this stage, they understand that their parents’ role is to package them so that they may continue being capable of freely giving something truly valuable and lasting. Thus, the authority of parents, house rules, the need to academically excel, etc. are properly contextualized in the service of God and the family.
DURING. The anticipation and preparation for our children’s adolescence doesn’t mean eradicating all its problematic traits. And life as such, isn’t complete with its own share of rough moments. This is a chance for us to learn how to live with it, but not by taking a defensive or confrontational stance.
By this time youth would be seeking to affirm themselves and appeal for justice, it is indispensable for parents to know how to listen. Listening becomes a fruitful space that we offer them. And as we listen, we can also pray for whatever their concerns are even though how crazy they may sound.
But if we are only too quick to point out for example: their being often out of the house, the undone chores, the late arrivals, their forgetfulness, the loud music, etc. Then let us not be surprised that our children react with either indifference or rebellion.
If, however, they realize that we listen, then they will “feel important” because they are being “heard”, “respected”, “trusted” and “understood”. Our reply to their “claims” ought to be, “I’ll give that some thought,” or “you know, you have a point there,” or “I believe there’s something important in what you’ve said, could we talk this over with some beer?”
When we recognize that the changes in our children are part of their experience of self-dominion, we will discontinue being stiff molds and become flexible guides. We begin to trust by giving them the space to develop the proper skills to responsibly exercise their freedom, to discover their personal identity and role in family and society. It’s learning to let go by offering a guiding hand and a firm shoulder to lean on.