It is unfortunate that, unlike most consumer goods, children don’t come with instruction manuals. Parents are expected to perform their parental duties based on common sense and intuition. And since our kids go through multiple stages, all of which with varying and distinct degrees of complexity and uniqueness, we are bound to flounder, stagger or trip. Over and over again. Constant doubt, guilt and fear that all parents (yup, no one is immune!) are inexplicably prone to don’t make things any easier, either. Yes, we receive a handful of well-meaning advice from people who have already traversed this bumpy road before. There are also a lot of DIY and Idiot’s-Guide-to-Parenting books available in the market. And, of course, one can always turn to the ever-reliable Mr. Google to find crash courses on Parenting 101. But, could there be a more accurate source than straight from the horses’ mouths – or in this case, our children themselves? And since adolescence is definitely the most challenging of all the stages that we struggle through with them – infancy, childhood, adolescence and adulthood – (and also, adolescents are, by far, the most vocal lot!), this article will focus solely on what our teenaged kids have to say.
While my earlier blog post, Adolescence 101: Don’ts for Parents of Teens, was about a set of “rules” I came up with based on my personal experiences as a mother of three teens, this one, in contrast, is based on the kids’ perspective. Through an on-line survey conducted by my son’s girlfriend among some University of the Philippines students, the respondents were to list the things that they think their parents should realize in order for them to develop some semblance of harmony in their relationship. Reading through their extremely candid answers, I was blown away by an avalanche of emotions. I’m sure, one or two of the following answers will also tug at your heartstrings.
Advisory: Grab that box of tissues. You’ll need it!
- We (you parents and us children) come from different generations, and therefore, from different contexts. Teenagers of the modern days are extremely different from those during your time. Forming an opinion about us based on some Jurassic standard is like comparing apples with oranges.
- You are not perfect. Parents make wrong decisions, too, but we don’t hold that against you. We won’t treat you any less if you own up to your mistakes and say sorry.
- We have a lot of questions, fears and doubts. It is better that we get the answers and reassurance from you than anywhere else.
- We already have too much on our plates. You’ve been through this years ago so you know how complicated a teenager’s life is. You don’t need to aggravate that by putting unnecessary pressure on us.
- We crave for freedom – to weigh our options, to make our own decisions, to be independent, to commit mistakes, to learn our lessons, to find our way and to discover the world. You need to trust us. Don’t be too controlling and don’t shelter us too much. The more you restrict us, the more likely we will rebel. We also need space where we could truly be ourselves, alone.
- We value our privacy, and you should respect that. But balance it with just the right amount of perception in case we need you to intervene when we are going through a rough patch and we are too proud to ask for your help.
- We need to feel safe and secure. We need to know that whenever we fall, there are arms ready to silently pick us up; that you are always there for us no matter what. We can’t face this alone. It may not seem like it but it’s during these teenage years when we need you the most.
- We need to see harmony at home. Though we may not show it, we are thrilled when you guys are acting all romantic and sweet to each other.
- We need you as our role models. We may not be listening to your advice as much as we should, but we see your every action. Someday, we want to be exactly like you.
- There are times when we will deliberately shut you out of our lives, preferring to deal with our problems on our own or with the counsel of close friends. Nevertheless, I think you should never quit trying to be involved in our lives, if only to let us know that you care.
- We need your time. We need you to listen to us or we will find other ways to get your attention. And trust us, you won’t like all of them.
- If we start acting up, which can happen a lot, handle things with enough love and understanding. Rage will get you nowhere.
- It is important for us to feel comfortable enough to tell you anything and everything. We tend to keep things to ourselves or to our small group of friends – things that could potentially harm us. Openness between us should be firmly established. Also, know that communication skills will either be your strongest tool or your downfall as parents, depending on how well you use them with us.
- Excessive and regular punishments will further strain our relationship. Yes, we need authority: you should establish your role as the one in charge of the house because once we realize that we can talk back without any consequences, we will live out our entire teenage life thinking that it’s okay to do anything. But, rebellion is also inherent in us so you should be able to balance authority and freedom. Also know that consequences are different from punishment. Just because you punish us for doing something wrong doesn’t mean we will realize the consequences of our actions.
- We need you to understand us, not judge us. Make us feel like we can approach you for anything, without the fear of being scolded or judged. You should also understand that we are bound to stumble. Everything about us is changing and we’re reeling from all those many changes. Don’t belittle the emotions and experiences we have. Just because we’re younger and are at “that phase” doesn’t justify you invalidating what is inherently human about us. Yes, teenage romance sounds stupid and trivial. But you were once there. A little additional understanding will go a long way.
- We are full of vigor, enthusiasm, and curiosity to discover the world. Also, we are still on the journey of finding who we are. Be our guidance but never cut off our wings.
- There are biological reasons as to why we are moody, rebellious and always sleepy. It’s not necessarily a manifestation of our character. At our age, it’s normal to have crushes and it doesn’t mean that we’ll drop off everything because of that guy/girl. We also like to try new things. Most importantly, we are not all perfectly intelligent and talented, so don’t expect too much from us. “You know the best way to make it through with hearts and wrists intact is to realize two out of three ain’t bad.” – Fall Out Boy
- We would appreciate it if you would be as honest to us as you would want us to be honest to you.
- While we’re no longer quite the kissable babies we used to be, we still occasionally need a little babying from you.
- We love you even if it’s not evident. You should know by now that we are not the demonstrative type.
For us, parents, this stage should not be about letting go. It should be about hanging on. We might be getting hurt by our kids’ words and actions, but we have to understand that it is a vital part of our role as parents. Just the other day, for instance, when I asked my son why he prefers going to his girlfriend’s place to study on weekends rather than doing it here at home, he replied that he could not concentrate here enough because he is always annoyed. His words cut deeply through my heart. After I let go of my initial anger, I cried. I was in pain because I knew that I was doing everything in my power to make our home conducive and comfortable for them. And then, I came across this quote in the internet. It is by a certain Eddie Vedder.
“No matter how good a parent you are, at some point, your kids are gonna have to create their own independence and think that Mom and Dad aren’t cool, just to establish themselves. That’s what adolescence is about. They’re gonna go through that no matter what.”
Those reassuring lines helped me to deal with my own emotions. I was still hurting but the hurt was somewhat subdued by the realization that my son did not really intend to cause me pain; that he probably regretted his words but was too proud to apologize and too embarrassed to approach me. In the future, if I have to face the same situation again, I am certain that I can react more appropriately. I will also make sure that all the pains that we will be inflicting inadvertently on each other throughout this challenging phase will not leave any permanent mark. After all, I am now armed with a powerful tool – our kids’ innermost thoughts and fervent wishes on what they think we, their parents, should realize.
Finally, we have to realize that “adolescence is that hazy limbo between childhood and adulthood”. It could be an extremely confusing stage for our teens. While a part of them wants to cling to the security and safety of their childhood, another part needs to get free and face the uncertainties and challenges of adulthood. Furthermore, they often get frustrated because they feel that they are no longer allowed to be children WHILE not yet accepted as adults. So, whatever they may turn into – a monster, a grouch, a know-it-all, a drama queen, a recluse, a sleepyhead, a diva, a lazybones, a rebel, a daredevil, an eye candy, a geek, a wallflower or a giggly schoolgirl -, we have to remember that it’s all a facade; a mask that they use to hide their insecurities. Because, deep inside that disguise is a lost child – our lost children – craving for our love and understanding.
Thanks. ‘Till my next blog entry!