Every adult was once a teenager. Every parent of a teenager was once a teenager himself. So adults should understand the problems and frustrations of teenagers. But too many times parents do not remember the problems that they had as teenagers and fail to deal understandingly with their teenage children. A grandfather recalls his experience:
“When I was a child I found that family discipline was often harsh and unfair. I remember thinking that when I grew up and had children I would discipline them in love, listen to them and reason with them."
“When I reached this stage in my life, I found that the pressures of raising a family were great. Working long hours prevented me from seeing much of my children. When I was with them I was impatient and short-tempered."
“The years when children grow up pass far too quickly. Now I am a grandfather, with a completely different attitude from what I had as a parent. I find time to play with and enjoy the grandchildren, often wanting to defend them when they are in trouble, feeling that their parents are too harsh and lack understanding. I often reflect: If only we as parents could display the patience and understanding of grandparents.”
Parents often forget that the teenager is normally asserting himself as an individual with individual needs. They misunderstand, and problems develop. A minister who has made a study of teenage problems reports that he posed this question to many teenagers: “What one thing do you want from your parents more than any other?” Almost all without exception they would say: to be "understood."
To be understood
A 15-year-old girl expressed this desire, remarking: “I have good parents, but I wish they would understand that I am not a little child anymore. They treat me as if I were in the third grade. If only they could understand me and trust me.” She wanted some of the rules changed in recognition of her age.
The urge to attain wider freedom is a normal part of growing to adulthood—a fact many parents are not ready to accept. From infancy their child relied and depended on them and they enjoyed it. Now their teenager changes from a spirit of complete dependence to one of greater self-reliance. This change in attitude is not bad. At a relatively young age, some teenagers begin to develop a grown-up outlook.
However, because the teenager is not yet an adult, not all his desires are mature ones. He needs time to play. He needs understanding from his parents that he has energy to do things when his parents would like to relax. Teenagers need association. If parents do not provide proper association, youths will seek their own and may find the kind to which parents would not give approval.
Most teenagers enjoy parties. Because of the conduct at some such parties, parents may not want their youngsters to participate. But, to forbid their going to parties entirely would be discouraging and cause youths to become downhearted. If parents arrange for get together's, they have the right to control the guest list and supervise the activities and thus avoid many of the problems. When the youngsters share in the planning, it will be that much more of a success.
When the teenager makes a mistake and gets into difficulty, then, of all times, he needs understanding. Parents do well to reflect on their own youth and to remember the mistakes that they made because of youthful inexperience. If so, they will more easily resist the temptation to overreact, to be overcritical. If they want their teenager to come to them when he gets into trouble, they must build confidence by the way they react to the lesser infractions.
When the error is a thoughtless mistake, the parents should show great kindness and consideration. Every effort should be made to explain what was wrong and how to avoid a repetition of the wrong. But the youth should not be told that he is bad.
But what should parents do if their teenager gets involved in serious problems of discipline at school, or in some trouble with the police, or with drugs or immorality? Parents may hope that earlier training will prevent this. But suppose it does happen? If the teenager ever needed help and skillful direction, it is now. A problem like this is very trying to the parents. They usually say: “Where did we go wrong?” They often threaten or condemn the wayward offspring, which tends to embitter and harden him in his course.
The future of the young person will depend on how he is treated during this critical time. Do not say or do things that will make it difficult for him to return to you. Parents should never give up on their offspring as long as their children are under their jurisdiction. Exercise patience.
To be treated as an individual
A major need of the teenager is to be treated as an individual. Charles R. Foster says in his book Psychology for Life Today:
“It is recognized that a human being wants more than merely to eat and sleep. He wants to be recognized as a person, and he wants to feel that he is successful.”
“Certainly every individual feels better and works more efficiently if he is able to succeed in something and if he is able to feel that his own place in the world is important. Most students of social behavior feel that every human being has some untapped potential—that everyone has something that he can do well, or better, if we can just discover what it is.”
Each teenager needs to be considered as different from everyone else. Parents learn that no two children are alike. The training and discipline that work well for one child may not be effective for the next. This is especially true when they become teenagers.
Therefore, it is not good to compare one child with another. If a person’s work is compared with the superior work of another person, resentment results, not encouragement. The teenager wants to be accepted for what he is, and what he is able to do as an individual. He desires to be loved by his parents for what he is himself, and to be treated with human kindness. On the other hand, he does not want to be smothered, or to be forever treated as a child.
To have consistent rules
Another need of the teenager is to have firm, consistent guidelines and directions. Speaking on this subject, a superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy, and father of three children, said:
“Today’s kids learn more from television than they'll ever learn from us. The average 15-year-old spends 20 minutes each day reading and two hours watching television.”
After commenting on the failure of parents to instill a ‘sense of duty and family pride,’ he continued: “Without discipline there can be no basic respect.” He likened human discipline to an eggshell. “When it is intact,” he said, “it is a strong and handsome object. Broken or cracked, it soon falls apart.
“Young people may not cry out for discipline, but they need it desperately. Strict authority from parents develops a sense of security in children.”
The teenager needs the security of consistent discipline. He may not readily agree to the need for some of the restrictions and rules, but he will quickly agree that his parents should be consistent in their rules. He wants to know what he may or may not do. He is frustrated if those rules are changed day by day because of the way the parent “feels” at the time.
Rules and restrictions may be compared to boundaries. The teenager needs to have the boundaries clearly defined and identified; then he wants to have trust and freedom within those boundaries. A father compared this fact to his family’s experience in renting a house:
“It was in a wooded area. One of the first questions we asked was the location of boundaries. We wanted to know, What are we permitted to do with the property? It would be necessary to know this for us to enjoy living there. You can imagine the discomfort and frustration it would cause if the landlord changed the restrictions every week or so. The same principles apply to restrictions placed upon teenagers. The rules should be reasonable and consistent. And then give them trust and freedom within those boundaries.”
The rules need not be unreasonably rigid. Some very special event or occasion may be reason enough to give consideration to a special request.
Guidance in establishing goals in life
The need for guidance includes help in establishing goals in life, choosing a vocation and receiving the secular education required. Every person should be able to feel that he is worthwhile and that what he is doing is worth while. He should be able to respect himself and be proud of himself as a person.
Parents show their concern by helping their teenager to select the vocation suited for him. His “gifts,” talents or preferences should be considered.. He should be assisted to establish goals that are attainable. Not everyone can reach a position of prominence. Goals can be realistically achieved by setting higher goals as each lesser goal is realized.
There is a heavy responsibility in providing the education that will prepare youth to meet the problems of adult life. Youths should be trained and should develop a skill in a trade so that they can support themselves.
In being prepared to meet the problems of adult life and to accept adult responsibilities, teenagers need the support of their parents, and encouragement to prevent their becoming “dropouts.” Many times they need help with their homework. Sometimes they may feel like quitting. At times like this, parents can be a source of encouragement by understanding the frustrations and frankly discussing the matter with them.
If the parent occasionally helps with the difficult homework problems, he can better understand the frustrations of the youth in doing homework and be in a position to offer practical suggestions. Sometimes just having an understanding parent spend some time discussing the problem is enough encouragement to help the teenager through the crisis.
To feel needed
Probably the greatest longing is to be needed. For this reason youngsters occasionally ask parents if they were adopted, or if their parents had planned for or wanted them. They want to be reassured of their parents’ love. All of us crave the security of knowing that we belong. If parents recognize the needs of their teenagers, and understandingly supply them, happiness will be increased in the family circle.