What Every Teenager Should Know... About Their Parents
Every teenager knows it: parents can be a real problem. They're so hard to bring up.
They never seem to know what's cool. When they try to dress like one of the cast from Friends, they turn out looking like Mr. Bean.
And they never seem to live in present. Their favourite phrases are "In my Day" and "When I was your age." If you listen to them, life was always tougher back there in Jurassic Park. You just can't compete.
They have this annoying way of ruining your personal systems, too. They see your clothes lying on the bedroom floor and yelp, "How can you find anything in this unholy mess?" But you know that you've thrown everything in just the right corner. You know everything is (well, most of the time).
Tough though it can be at times, your relationship with your parents is important to you, for several reasons. For one thing, you have needs only they can meet. Not just physical needs like food, shelter and so on -- parents can also supply so much that's positive in emotional and psychological terms.
Your parents have needs that only you can meet, too. They know they won't have you around forever and most of the time they're anxious to make a good job of parenting before their chance passes.
There's no 'practice run' for raising kids, and often the number one emotion experienced by parents is guilt: 'Have I done it right? Did I miss something? Why did I do that?'
There's a third reason why your relationship with your parents is vital: they can be key role models in your life. Most of us need heroes we can touch.
The fantasy figures promoted in the movies are not there for us 'up close'; we don't have a chance to see their values at work in real life situations. Our parents, though, can offer all kinds of life skills training; just by the way they handle difficult situations.
Some teenagers have a truly awful relationship with their parents. Of course, building any relationship is a two-way street, but you can improve the relationship if you'll take some initiatives.
The key to building understanding within any relationship is listening. Counsellors call it empathy. It's about listening not just to the words people say, but trying to 'read' the feelings behind the words, trying to see the world from inside the other person's shoes.
When you can see the world at least a little from where your parents are standing, getting a grip on why they act as they do becomes a little easier.
There are some key things you should know about your parents and their world. Knowing these things will help you to empathize with them, and thus to better build a better relationship.
1. Your Parents Don't Change Easily
The world is changing rapidly and your generation adapts more easily to change than that of your parents.
You are used to rapid change, as things are changing around you all the time, from video games to fashions. You are used to things being temporary and staying flexible almost second nature.
That's why you thrash your parents when playing any new video game. They're still figuring out how to turn the machine on while you're on 5 million points and challenging for a world record!
Just think for a moment about all the things your parents didn't have at your age, including: PCs, iPods, CD players, pocket calculators, roller blades, mobile phones, microwave ovens, the Internet and a whole lot more. It's incredible, you're thinking, how did they survive in a world like that?
Change is never comfortable, and it's especially difficult as we get older because we have more invested in the status quo. That's where the so-called generation gap comes in.
Parents are by no means stupid – in fact they understand a lot more about the world than you do right now. But they do need your patience when it comes to adjusting to change and you help to understand your fast-changing world.
2. Your Parents Are Under Pressure
Your parents face all kinds of pressures that you haven't yet had to deal with: paying mortgages, competing for jobs, keeping their kids healthy, building a good marriage, establishing a business or career and more.
Just the pressure of daily life can cause them to resist change, because so many other things are changing rapidly.
Here are a few tips on how to deal with a conflict with your parents:
a) Make time to talk about when tempers have cooled. Don't let anger speak for you; don't react out of hot emotion. Count to ten... or more.
b) Determine to listen to other people first. That's not as easy as it sounds. You need listen to facts and feelings.
c) Share with your parent(s) what you think he/she/they have said, the point of view and feelings they've expressed. This gives them a chance to fill in gaps in your understanding and it shows that you're really trying to hear them.
d) Share your point of view, but do it with respect for the other person as a person. Accept that they have the right to disagree with you.
e) Don't take everything personally, or become overly defensive. Just because your parent or guardian disagrees with you doesn't mean that he/she/they don't like you, or love you. Even if you don't seem to be getting along too well right now, it's not the end of world, or the end of your relationship.
f) Recognise your hurts from the past and don't let them interfere with the situation at hand. And don't blame the person you're talking to now for what someone else has done to you, or for your own failures or mistakes. Face up to mistakes you've made and with God's help, find forgiveness, healing and release. It's important to recognise where your "sensitive spots" are – the points where you will feel most vulnerable or most prone to trip up.
g) Accept compromise where you can and accept that, as long as they are responsible for you, your parents will have the final say in most situations.
h) Keep your respect for your parents as individuals. Even if they have great flaws and make mistakes, they are still valuable as people and loved by God.
i) Fear God! If you have a healthy awe-inspired respect for the Lord and a child-like wonder in his presence, you will not be too quick to judge others or to give up on yourself!
Your parents need your willingness to work with them through the times of conflict and strain.
3. Your Parents Did Not Come From Jurassic Park
'The world is passing through troublesome times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they know everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness to them. As for the girls, they are immodest and un-womanly in speech, behaviour and dress.'
Peter the Monk, 1274 AD
'When I look at the younger generation, I despair of the future of civilisation.'
Aristotle 300 BC
When you read statements like these, you see just how little attitudes have changed between the generations have changed throughout history.
Times change but people don't: we all have the same needs. We all want to be valued and respected and to have identity. Because people don't change too much, you can learn many things from your parents.
Spend time with them; make a point of sharing things they enjoy and asking for their views on things. Take the initiative to build a better relationship.
Recognise what their rules can give you, instead of just focussing on what you feel you're losing. The right rules can bring healthy priorities and guidelines for decision-making. Remember, too, just because your parents don't always obey their own principles or rules, doesn't mean they're not worth following.
Your parents need your respect.
4. Your Parents Are Human - They Will Make Mistakes
Your parents will need your forgiveness. It would be nice if families were made in heaven, but they're not.
Here are a few facts about living in the real world:
(a) We All Get Hurt
Every family is at least a little dysfunctional. The Bible tells us that this is a fallen world; the environment in which we're living is not as God first intended it to be. We've sunk a long way from what God originally designed us to be.
But we still have the power of choice. We can't change what others do to us, but we can choose how we will respond. No one can take away that power of choice. You and I are products not just of what others do to us, but of how we react.
With God's help we can respond 'out of kind' or in the 'opposite spirit'. When people treat us in a negative way, we can respond in a positive way. That's what loving your enemies is all about, and forgiving those who've hurt us.
(b) Unforgiveness is a Sin
It's not something God designed us to have in our lives, so it's painful for us and reduces us in some way. It causes us to fall below our true potential.
In fact, the Bible says that unforgiveness is a form of playing God. If there's any getting even to be done, we should leave that to God, because he's the only one equipped to judge these things (see Romans 11:19 in the Bible).
Unforgiveness is stressful and ultimately self-destructive, because it is about trying to control things that are beyond our control, things that only God can change.
(c) Forgiveness is Not Naïve
Forgiving someone doesn't mean saying, 'you didn't hurt me.' It means saying, 'I am hurt, but with God's help I will release you from your debt to me.'
When you do that, you take a huge weight off your own shoulders. It's hard work keeping a grudge!
When we forgive we also reflect the way God has treated us. On the cross, Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, they know not what they're doing.' That's forgiveness! My fallenness put Jesus on that Roman torture rack. Yet he forgave me - he held nothing back.
That power to forgive can flow through your life right now, if you just ask Jesus to help you. Real forgiveness is often way beyond our human ability. We need God's power to overcome hurts that would otherwise keep us tied to bitterness, robbing us of our future.
Receiving the power to forgive starts with a choice - and a prayer for help.
© Mal Fletcher 1998 - 99