When parents are over-anxious about their children, often it is not the children who need advice, it is the parents who need counseling!
A couple recently approached me to say that their child, a 17-year-old boy, was being drawn to all forms of “negativity” and that they had tried “treating” him without much “success”. The boy apparently had stopped faring well in academics, was drawn to a career as a script-writer for films, had tried smoking weed and had liked it, had stopped believing in God and was questioning the role of religion in Life. It was clear to me that both parents were anxious in their own way – the mother was vocal about it and the father admitted that he was often “hyper” with his son over his changed behavior. While clarifying to them that their child was not a problem and that he did he not require any treatment, I advised the couple to simply “chill”. The good news, I told them, is that their son was being honest in declaring – and sharing – his choices, opinions and preferences with them. And the better news also was that their child was simply being normal. I am not sure the parents agreed with me entirely though!
Here’s what we need to understand about parenting teenagers and young adults – we must simply learn to let go! When children are in their adolescent years and are emerging into young adulthood, they are keen adventurers and explorers. They want to touch, feel and experience Life. They don’t want to live with our rationalizations and hypotheses. They even don’t want to learn from our experiences – they want to experiment and learn everything first hand. From handling money to making career choices to having sex to tasting alcohol to smoking tobacco to trying dope – they want to do it their way. Now, obviously, when a child you cradled in your arms, is beginning to want to live “free” you wonder if she or he can manage in this mad, chaotic, big world. You agonize over whether she or he is drinking too much; you fear whether the casual smoke will become a ruinous habit and you wonder if having sex too soon will lead to physical and social challenges. None of your concerns is baseless. But resisting your child’s adolescent curiosity is never productive. Instead, choose a mature, transparent approach. Talk to the child. Have conversations on all subjects. Nothing is taboo between a parent and a child. Tell the child what you feel about various her or his preferences or choices. Share what your experiences have been. Tell your child that you trust her or him and that you expect mature, intelligent behavior from her or him. Inform your child on what the law says about many of these matters – on say, drinking and driving, on pirated movies, on the difference between consensual sex and rape, on the use of contraband and narcotics. Let your perspective not be a command or a directive. Let it be an informed appeal. Invite the child to experience everything that’s permissible by the law of the land – but advice against getting carried away! And then let go! More often than not, when you genuinely repose faith and confidence, children usually behave very responsibly. Freedom is a great responsibility. And no one knows this better than children who are in their late teens – and who are trusted by their parents. This has been my personal experience as a parent too!
I am not championing abdication when I say let go! Of course, if your child continues to show deviant behavior, you have to consistently communicate and inspire the child to change. For instance, if your child is smoking tobacco or weed, more empowering conversations must be had to wean the child away. By let go, I really mean that you must stop looking at your child as a problem kid or that your child has a “disease”. To want to explore Life on your own terms is a sign of creativity and leadership. Celebrate it. Don’t kill your child’s urge to live fully with your anxieties. If you do that you will have irreparably broken a lifelong bond that might have been possible between you and your child.
Parental anxiety is a natural response to teenage enthusiasm and irreverence. But rise above your anxieties, have empowering conversations with your child and see how beautifully your child responds. You child’s adolescent years need not be as stressful for both of you if can understand your child’s mind and thinking better. Wanting your child to be “just like you” is futile – because every child has a right to be independent and individual. And whether you like it or not, whether you know it or not, your child will exercise that right! So, since it is an eventuality that you cannot avoid, you might as well be your child’s best friend and partner-in-progress! Children make for great citizens and even greater human beings – provided you can be a compassionate friend and an empowering parent!