Learn to trust your children. If you believe they need direction, give them your perspective, but also allow them to make their choices. Good parenting is all about leadership.
The other day we met a young teenager who is in her first year in college. When she lit a cigarette, I asked her if her parents knew that she smoked. She replied saying her parents were very conservative and did not trust her to be ‘able to take care of herself’. She then, perhaps in an effort to change the topic, said a boy in her class had bought her a dress for her birthday. She pulled out a shopping bag and proudly showed the dress, a designer label, to my wife and me. We asked her how she would account for the new dress to her parents. She said she would tell them that one of the girls in her class had gifted it to her! I encouraged her to stop covering up and urged her to be open with her parents. I then advised her to quit smoking and educated her on the perils of addiction – talking from my own experience of chewing tobacco; I shared how difficult it was for me to quit the habit. The young lady said she would consider my advice of quitting smoking seriously. But she said “open” conversations with her parents would simply not work. “They are not that sort who will ever understand my desire to experience everything in Life and make my own choices. They are over-protective and untrusting,” she declared.
I felt sorry for that young friend of ours. Her parents were clearly missing the opportunity to mold their daughter’s Life and career.
Teenage and adolescence through to young adulthood is when parents and children have the opportunity to really bond. And it is entirely the parents’ responsibility that this opportunity is fully utilized. Children at this stage of their lives – from 13 years to 24 years – are very curious and adventurous. On one side they are exploring and experiencing their own sexuality. On the other side, they are experiencing everything in the world for the first time. Be it smoking a cigarette, tasting alcohol or watching an adult movie. They begin to understand politics, money, business, social and environmental issues. They start questioning religion, faith and rituals. And even as they do all this, they want to genuinely change the way things are. They have this “Why Not?” attitude towards everything that they touch, feel, see and hear. Which is why a parent has to, at the same time, be a child’s best friend and coach.
It is natural, given the impact that social media and advertising have on young impressionable minds, that children, by the time they enter their teens, are very well-informed. It is therefore a logical human urge to want to light a cigarette or have a drink whenever the first opportunity arises. Or even to have a crush on someone. There’s nothing wrong either if your child wants to go out on a date. As a parent, you must learn to accept and appreciate that your child is growing up and has a right to experience Life afresh and first hand. You cannot insist or demand that your child experiences Life on your terms. If you do, please know, as in my young friend’s case, your child will still go ahead and experience Life while covering up those experiences with you! In fact, your relationship with your child is a good one if your child comes up to you and shares openly. You must champion and encourage this by initiating open conversations. Please know that there is nothing “untouchable” about subjects such as masturbation, menstruation, pre-marital sex or marriage, relationships, homosexuality, divorce and death. It is a parent’s principal responsibility to bring a teachable point of view into every such conversation.
Good parenting requires that you educate your child on what matters to the child. And, believe me, there’s a lot more than pure academics that matters to children in their teens leading up to young adulthood. Always share your experiences and perspectives with your child and leave the choice to her or him. Chances are, especially when they are trusted, children will not make wrong choices. And if they do, there’s nothing to panic – simply work on educating them one more time. If the choices they make turn out to be duds – blowing up on their face – help them understand what they can learn from the experience than tell them how right you were all along!
Remember that when you don’t trust your own children you are puncturing their self-worth. The unstated message you are giving your children is this: “You are incapable, so let me handle things for you.” Ask yourself if you would like to be treated that way? Parenting can truly be an enjoyable experience if you lead well. Good leadership demands that you tell your children what’s right, what’s wrong and then, simply, let go – allowing them to learn from their own experiences!