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You and your teenager: friends or foes?

Illustration: Sreejith R. Kumar  

I have a colleague who is afraid to go home because she doesn’t know what might be waiting for her: an angry teenage daughter ready to explode, because her clothes are not right/because someone made fun of her hair; or her silent older brother refuses to come to the dining table. Both are waiting to take out their frustrations on someone who will not hurt them back, and that person is often the parent, who not only has his/her load of personal problems but also has to see to 20 different things a day that come with running a middle-class home. If the spouse is working late or on an assignment or missing altogether, there isn’t even someone to talk to. If the spouse doesn’t back you up or is indifferent to the mood and atmosphere, then that is a different kind of situation.

Is this a description that matches you? Welcome to the club of parenting a millennium child. A cold and lonesome spot with no warmth to hope for. What is really heartbreaking is the memory of the golden years of the early youth of your children when you were the centre of their universe. Right now you are in outer space with re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere denied.

A quick snapshot of how things have changed, to remind ourselves that parents today have challenges their parents and grandparents did not have in their time.

Anyone who was a school-goer in the 1960s most probably did not even think of challenging his parent or complaining about her dreary wardrobe or lack of pocket money. It was a time of hardship everywhere in India. If you got to see a film once a month or ate restaurant food with the same frequency, it was a lot. Every single snack was home-made. No South Indian had ever tasted an aaloo parantha. No one born north of the Vindhyas had even seen a dosa either. Neither party would have recognised a pizza even if they saw a picture of it. The only TV sets those children ever saw were in films produced outside India. There were no magazines in English except The Illustrated Weekly of India, Sport and Pastime and Filmfare, which carried pictures of fully clothed film stars, their hair neatly tied up or combed with hair cream.

Things changed a bit for school-goers by the 1980s. Television had arrived in India. There was a bit more variety in terms of food items and clothes. Sport became national hysteria. Quiz-masters introduced public competitions. Films went from romance and epic family dramas to sagas of heroic vengeance. When violence as entertainment came on offer in the 1990s, and the first shopping malls went up all over India, things had changed forever.

By the year 2000 it had become ten times more difficult to raise young children because the world around them was so full of stimuli and the barrier between what was suitable and unsuitable for children had vaporised. There was a third invisible influence in every home: the Internet.

Till the age of nine perhaps a parent can, with the help of teachers at school (their surrogate parents) influence the child, totally controlling him or her physically and getting them into a mode of pleasing the caretakers, so to speak. But in the transition years, overnight these same youngsters stepped back to take a not-so-cool look at their parents.

I don’t have any easy solutions to break this air of hostility in contemporary homes where I think parents are nearly always trying to placate the child and win his or her approval. No one has any experience of it yet to offer tips, but perhaps a good try might be to create an atmosphere of friendship rather than the superior wisdom of parenthood. What is the truth? You have never been in the shoes of today’s 15-year-old who is bombarded with emotions from within and social messages and temptations and pressures from outside. Let us face the facts: the forces around today’s teenager far outweigh any influence at home. You are up and against unseen counters to your rules and expectations: images and voices you cannot block off are now influencing your young adult.

Suppose you sit your child down and say, “Look, I really don’t know what your worries are, so why don’t you tell me? I’ll try and understand, and together we can work out how you might be happier. Shall we make a list of the most pressing issues?”

Tell them:

    I cannot help you with your home work;

    I cannot change the way you look;

    I cannot give you more money because I don’t have that much to spare and I or your mother/ father might lose our jobs next week;

    I don’t like some of your friends. I can’t help it but can we discuss some of these things?

    Can we talk things through because I’m not a mind-reader;

    Also, just as I want to understand you, it would be good for you to learn to understand me. I too have fears and worries that I cannot tell anyone. I could do with a friend in my house. Will you be that friend?

    I want you to be happy. That is what a friend wants for a friend.

Are you nervous about laying your cards on the table? Any risk is worth taking to establish a strong connection with that mysterious character in your life — your huge baby: the teen in the house.

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2021 10:11:13 PM |

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