Teenagers are your parent’s revenge on you. This is what they wished on you for what you did to them when you were a teenager. So, bear your own teenagers with a smile. Teenage is an affliction, like dotage. It can be borne with grace or without. But it must be borne.
Sorry guys, to make you feel bad. But I couldn’t resist it. Now delete all of the above. Recall your teenage. I know it may seem like ancient history but try and your will know what I mean. Remember beautiful people. Remember dreams. Remember confusion. Remember hormones. Remember love that threatened to make your heart explode and ketchup all over the room. Remember the tears. Remember laughing at nothing. Remember some more confusion. Remember depression and despair. Remember coming out of it all the stronger for it. Remember friends who you felt you could give your life for. Thank God you didn’t. Yeah! Just like that guy in your high school, whose name, what was it? This day will dawn on your teenagers also when they have their own teenagers and you too shall have your revenge. So, rejoice and get down to now.
As my dear friend Jehangir Ghadiali says, “Children need mentors to help them inculcate ethics and culture first, followed by humility and care for their fellow beings. These values are absorbed by kids at an early age and my worry is that the pandemic will last an entire year or more during which time they will absorb bad behaviour, irritation and such from their parents who feel cooped up and display lack of understanding and empathy frequently. Will we have an entire future generation of maladjusted children – a serious worry? Also, kids need other kids to play with to learn social adjustment. Parents of children of impressionable age have a task on their hands with Covid. Truly the subject is Hobsonnian.” (look up Hobson’s choice)
What can you do now? Your biggest problem will be to break the ice. Believe me, depending on how raised them, there will be a thick ice wall that you must break through, usually without any help from them, at least in the beginning. The key thing to remember is NOT TO REACT. Whatever they do or don’t, you don’t react. Stay on track with what you start. Be prepared to do a lot of repairing. Parents don’t realize what kind of beating their relationship with their children takes. Even if they realize it, it is more convenient to remain involved in your work and hope that everything will fall into place on its own and take refuge in the excuse that you didn’t have time and after all you were ‘doing it all for them.’ Covid took that refuge away from you and you must now face yourself. Don’t rage about that. Don’t complain. Be grateful that now you have the time and opportunity and take advantage of it.
If you have a bad relationship or no relationship, just indifference, with your teenagers, then own up to that. Don’t deny that. Don’t try to send the teenager on a guilt trip about what he or she is supposed to do. Don’t lecture them about the rights of the parents and the duty of the children to serve them. Doing any of this will only destroy your credibility even more. What they won’t do for love, don’t try to force them to do for duty. Even if they do, it will be without love and what good is that? Sit with them. Speak from your heart. Apologize and say that you have not done enough to be their friend and would like to do that now. Ask them to help you. This takes a lot of humility. But believe me, it is powerful. Nothing more powerful than the truth. The truth is, that whatever that little baby you gave birth to became, it was because of you. Whether you like the result or not, it is your handiwork. If it needs repairing, you are the only one who can do it. So, get on with it.
Don’t try to become a teenager. You can’t and it will look ridiculous. Maintain your dignity. Parents are boundaries. They are benchmarks. They are the template against which the child judges others. Remember that and don’t compromise that. Don’t try to use their lingo or pretend to be interested in their games or films or whatever, if you are not. Be sincere. Be understanding, be tolerant and be kind. That is what they need to learn above all else; to be kind. They will learn it if they experience kindness from you. Teach them kindness and compassion because these are the two biggest deficiencies in our society today.
Start with shared responsibility. Divide the tasks in the house. Call a family meeting. Get everyone to list out all the tasks that must be done every day. List everything, cooking, cleaning, laundry, whatnot. Then ask for volunteers to take one or more tasks. You (parents) also take on tasks but don’t take on the traditional ones. Mamma khana nahin banayegi (Mom will not cook). And no excuses about, “I have to study.” Yes, you must study, but you also must cook or clean or whatever you took on, before you study.” This is our home and not a hotel. There is no Room Service or Housekeeping. This is our home and so let us treat is like our home and take care of it. We are all in this together and each must pull his weight.” Each task needs skill to do it efficiently and effectively and here’s a good opportunity to learn.
Do projects with your teenagers. For example, one of the most urgent needs today for most of us, is to get a haircut. There are any number of videos on YouTube about how to give haircuts. Get your teenager involved in it and say, “I need a haircut and I want you to give it to me. And since it is a service which I would have paid for, I will pay you the same thing.” That is only an example. If you no longer have your hair, you are lucky. Think of something else. Then get the haircut and if you end up looking like you’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards, don’t worry. Hair grows back. Meanwhile invest in a turban. You will look regal.
Grow food at home. Old containers, soil, seeds and water. And you have a garden. You won’t understand the thrill of eating a salad that came from your terrace or balcony, until you eat it. In this process, everyone gets to learn about plants, photosynthesis, pollination, ecology and the inter-relatedness of species. Your plants will perhaps attract birds and you can set out feeders, bird baths and nesting boxes for them. Then set up cameras and make videos about the birds on your balcony and post them on the net. You don’t know which birds will watch it and tell their friends.
Let your teenager make dinner and get ready to taste cattle fodder, only to discover a meal so delicious that you are forced to ask, “Did you make this? Or did you Uber Eat-it?” But don’t ask. Just enjoy the meal. Even if you heard your phone ping because his credit card is linked to yours.….you know what’s going on, right? Ignore it. Enjoy the food. You got the money. You can afford it. Then tell him to teach you how to cook what he cooked. Either you will learn something new or he will.
Treat teenagers like the young adults they are. Young, yes. But also, adults. Adults, yes. But young. They are children trying to play at being grown up. Don’t deny them being grownup but remember the child underneath the skin and hug it and kiss it. It will push you away. It will roll its eyes. It will appear to dislike what you did. But believe me, if you could look into his heart, you would be very surprised. Having said that, don’t treat them like children. Don’t even treat children like that. Don’t talk at them or down to them or look over their shoulders. Don’t over protect, over parent, micromanage. Don’t spy, snoop, invade their privacy. Yes, this is a different generation from yours. Their idea of privacy is different from yours. Just try to recall how you felt when your parents (if they did) snooped or asked you who you were talking to on the phone or tried to read your letters. Did you enjoy it? You didn’t and your teenagers won’t either. You may say, ‘If I don’t know what is happening in their lives, how can I know if they fall into the wrong company or are listening to the wrong people or watching the wrong kinds of videos? Well, you can’t by snooping. You can, if you develop a relationship with them. If they talk to you, you’ll know what is happening in their minds. If you have no conversation with them, you’ll never know, no matter how much you snoop. If they want to hide it from you, especially teenagers, they have many ways to do it. Your best bet is to give them the right values, explain to them the consequences of violating trust and trust them.
How do you treat them as adults? By showing respect. By not ordering them around. By saying ‘Please’, ‘Do you mind?’, ‘When you have the time’. That last one, don’t say it out of the side of your mouth, dripping with sarcasm. That defeats the whole purpose. Say it like you truly, genuinely, honestly and sincerely value their time. Yeah! Their time. And always, always, always, say, “Thank you very much.” And do that with a smile and looking at them directly, even if they are gazing at the floor.
Expect and accept behavior, body language and vocabulary that you have never seen before. I don’t mean cheekiness and rudeness. You don’t need to and must never accept that. Just disinterest, lethargy, disconnect, even suspicion. That is the nature of the animal. If it wasn’t your son or daughter but was instead a denizen of the Amazonian rain-forest, you wouldn’t bat an eyelid. So, don’t bat one now. You wouldn’t react then. So, don’t react now. You would observe its behavior with detached interest. So, do that now. Just learn to tell what the gesture, expression on the face or expression of speech means. You will need to learn all this, especially if you never had conversations with them before. “Got get this, go get that” is not conversation. The usual haranguing about studying and whatnot is not conversation. So, depending on what you have done in the past, guess who also needs to learn how to converse?
I asked one teenager to tell me what he appreciated the most about adults and what he hated the most. This is what he said:
Appreciate the most – that they always try to push you to do more and learn new skills. Yes, he said that he appreciated that. I asked him if he was serious. He was. So, you see? Surprise, surprise!!
Dislike – Sometimes they may not give you the privacy or space a teenager/20’s kid wants. I wanted to say, ‘20’s kid?’ But then I realized that this is the result of our parenting. We promote dependence. Then complain that they are irresponsible. Bad idea. Responsibility gives confidence. For that you must trust them. You must take risk. You must live with your own anxiety and not dump it on them. Trust means to look the other way.
Another one said: I depend on adults to guide me. I always appreciate learning from their mistakes and experience. And what I dislike is their inability to put themselves in a younger person’s mind to understand how they feel to properly advise them instead of blowing up. What I love about them, is that no matter how much irritation I cause them, no matter how much pain, they always love me unconditionally.
Teenagers listen with their eyes. Everyone listens with their eyes. People don’t care what you say, until they see what you do. You are your teenagers’ role model, whether you like it or not. You signed up for it, the day that child was born. So, watch yourself and ask what kind of role model you are. Many parents complain that their children are not respectful. Ask yourself if you are worthy of respect? Sorry to sound rude, but I know several parents whose children would have been much better off if they had been orphaned at birth. Ask yourself what value you add to your child’s life. I am not saying that you are not adding value. I am asking if you know what that is. If you don’t, you can bet your child doesn’t either. Then ask what value you would like to add? Then up your game. Talk to you teenager and ask them to tell you what value they think you add to them. Be prepared to get no answer. Don’t push. Live with your irritation and realize that it is not the child who is causing it, but it is your own anger at yourself that you can’t get him enthused about your project. Look at yourself and ask how you can change. They will come through in due course. Then think about what they say.
Have serious conversations. Politics – not gossiping about politicians, but asking, “What would you do differently if you were head of state?
How would you handle the Covid crisis if you were in charge?
What would you do about the economy?
What do you think must change in what we teach and how? Design an online school. How would you involve children who are dispersed across the world, in one project?
Do projects with them: Start a new online business or service. Ask them for ideas. Show them what’s in it for them. Don’t pay them. Show how they can earn if they work to make the project a success. Teach them the skills of making Business Plans, presenting to VC’s, Public Speaking, Presentation Skills, and Influencing Skills. You’ll find many videos about these skills on my channel. https://www.youtube.com/c/YawarBaigAssociates/ Watch them fully and follow them to teach yourself and your children. It is all free. Just use it and benefit.
Have a lot of patience. Remember you are paying for your sins of commission or omission in the way you raised your children. But all is not lost. You can make up now and so thank God for sending Covid to help you by locking you all up together with one task, “Improve your relationship before you get out.”
While your teenagers are working on the projects, you also work and at the family meetings, present your work to them. The idea is not to simply ask questions and then sit in judgment. But to have a genuine dialogue between equals.
Don’t shoot down their ideas which may sound ‘impractical’ to you. Appreciate their thinking. Believe me, it is our thinking, not theirs, that created the world we live in. We need a vastly different kind of thinking to get out of the mess we created. As Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” We created the world we are living in. Let us not leave it as our legacy. Enlist their help in changing this world so that we can die in peace.
Don’t preach, prescribe or be judgmental. Don’t give answers. Don’t say, “When I was your age, I used to do such and such.” I am not saying that your life experience is not valuable. It is. But you need to put it in language that is not preachy and prescriptive. That means you need to conceptualize your learnings and present the concepts. Concepts transcend time. Data is time and place specific. The story may be interesting, but until you draw a conclusion which is applicable in their world; a world which is like a different planet, that story is at best, entertainment. Nothing more. That means you will need to work on your own experience before you talk about it. Good luck.
I am sorry if this sounds very depressing and difficult. Let me tell you, the joy of really having a friend you can depend on, who understands you, looks up to you and will carry forward your legacy, is something that I can’t describe. Do it right and the day will come when you will hear what your teenager said about you to someone and quoted you as an example to be emulated. Then you will know that you did your job well and left a legacy which will do you proud. That is what makes all the effort worthwhile. Do you agree?