Parenting Teenagers

November 12, 2018

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Part I
By Tan Khye Suan

The thought of guiding our children through teenage years scare many parents.  This is because the passage through adolescence is fraught with many challenges.

In the last 300 years of modernisation and industrialisation, the way society functions has changed so much.  In more recent decades, the service sector has also become a major contributor to economic development; and, hence, also impacted on social and familial functioning.  We have moved on to keep up with these changes for economic survival.  But we did not realise the huge impact these changes have had on our families; particularly on our teenagers.

This is because traditional relationships between children and their parents have been built based on agrarian or agrarian-related societies.  Parents are never too far away from their children.  Their home and their fathers’ place of work are usually the same place, or nearby. Mothers are usually at home.  From a young age, children have learnt to function like their parents; learning abilities, skills, a profession or a trade from them.  That was their education.  Through this process, children were mentored and coached by their parents.  Family and religious values were also imparted by this close-knit relationship between parents and their children.

Our modern families do not have the close-knit relationship and functioning of the past.  Today, parents work away from their homes.  Globalisation aggravates the situation further.  Children are educated in schools where they are exposed to ideas and values that can be quite different from their parents’.  Some children hardly see their parents as they work long hours; only returning home to find their children in their own rooms, asleep or engaged in cyberspace activities.  With little communication between children and their parents, a communication gap develops.

It is also important to realise that the concept of “teenage” is a product of the development of our modern society.  The need for better education has delayed our children from being involved in economic activities and in family formation.  In the old society, a child became a young man or woman with the onset of puberty.  They were considered to be of marriageable age.

But teenagers continue to live in our homes until they finish their education.  They will be in their early- or mid-20s.  Hence, the tension develops between parents and these teenagers, who are subsequently young adults.  The dilemma is that they are not children; but neither do they carry the responsibilities or functions of adults.

With all these considerations in mind, it is important to tweak the way we work with our teenagers. Thus far, discussion on the teenage issue appears to be a sociological discourse. As we explore some practical approaches to parenting teenagers, both Christian and non-Christian parents face similar problems with their teenagers.  Hence, although Biblical verses are quoted, the practical approaches suggested over the next few issues can be used by all parents.

Proverbs 13:24 is an often quoted verse from the Bible: “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.”

For non-Christians, you would have heard of an English saying which is an adaptation of this verse: “Spare the rod and spoil the child.”

But sadly, this Biblical verse or English saying is not contextually applicable for teenagers!  There are other ways of working with your teenagers.  A simple guide on how to work with your teenager is to think: “How would you resolve difficult situations at your workplace, when you and your colleagues have different viewpoints?”

Ask yourself whether you will shout, threaten or beat your colleagues into submission to get them to agree with your solution to a problem.  Or, whether you will set your mind thinking on how to respectfully persuade, discuss and cooperate with each other to find a solution instead.  If we change our mindset and see that we are working with our teenagers as young men or young women, the answer is obvious.

Let me assure you that you are not going to spoil your teenager.  You are teaching them to be respectful, collaborative and amicable, preparing them for the working world that they will eventually face.

I will end this article with this piece of advice: “We need to change our mindset about our teenagers!”

Part II

By Tan Khye Suan

Over the years, as I work with parents of teenagers, they often ask this question: “What methods can I use to teach my teenagers so that they will be good, obedient and disciplined?”

This question presupposes the following:

  • Parents address the challenges of their teenagers only when their children reach teenage years.  Before the teenage years, parents are quite contented if their children behave well (according to the expectations of parents).
  • Problems faced by teenagers are due to their inability to be good, obedient and disciplined.  Hence, teenagers are responsible for their problems.  Once the right method is applied, teenagers should be able to manage themselves.
  • The right methods will yield the desired positive outcomes.  (Conversely, there are wrong methods that will yield negative outcomes.)
  • The right methods will be “once and for all” solutions.  When applied properly, the desired positive outcome will “stick”.  Parents need not worry about their teenagers thereafter.

Unfortunately, these presuppositions reflect erroneous thinking on the part of parents.  The teenage years, or “ado-lescence” as we would call it today, is a challenging period of time when our children learn to move from “child-hood” to “adulthood”.  It is during adolescence that a child starts to put together their own belief and value system.  This is a period of trial and error for our teenagers.  They will be unsure, yet wanting to assert themselves.  They get some things right; and, they will get some things wrong (at least, in the eyes of their parents).  But what teenagers need most at this time, are their parents’ real love, patient guidance, reassurance and encouragement.

Far too often, parents do not see their teenagers’ struggles.  All that many parents want to see of their teenagers are: they are meeting up to their expectations, in behaviour and in school performance.  Such expectations can lead to confrontations between parents and their teenagers.

With these thoughts in our mind, parents should replace their presuppositions with the right bases of working with their teenagers:

  • Parents must address teenage challenges even before their teenagers reach their teenage years.  There is a need for parents to start working with their children even before teenage behavioural issues show up.
  • Parents must accept that the teenage years is a period that they will have to go through together with each of their teenagers.  It is not whether their teenagers are good, obedient and disciplined.  It is about walking together with their teenagers through these difficult years, helping them to establish the belief and value system that is akin to their parents’.
  • There are no right methods that will yield desired positive outcomes.  The key to guiding teenagers is a strong “relationship” that parents establish with them from their childhood years.
  • While there are no right methods, how parents relate to their teenagers will determine if they will allow their parents to guide them in the teenage years.  For this, parents must be prepared to allow their teenagers to make mistakes.  Parents, be prepared to “hold your tongue” when they make mistakes.  You must not be punitive.  You must be prepared that they will make the same mistake again.  You need to guide with real love and be really patient.
  • There will be no “once and for all” solutions.  Parents must simply be prepared to walk through these difficult years with their teenagers with a lot of love and patience.

My mind is drawn to a verse found in the Bible.  Deuteronomy 11:19 says, “Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

This short passage points to two important questions that we should ask ourselves:

  • When should we teach them?
  • How should we teach them?

When should we teach them?

The Biblical verse tells us that we should be sharing our belief and values from a very young age, when they are children.  This verse also tells us that we should spend precious moments with our children on a daily basis: when we “sit at home, when we walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up”.  All these times spent with them are not just about sharing our belief and values, it is also about building a strong relationship.

Some parents say: “We have no time.  We have to work!”  The answer is simple: “You will have to make time!”  You either reap the reward of substantial time spent with your children; or, face the peril of rebellion during your children’s teenage years.

For parents who have not built a strong relationship with their teenagers, it is not too late to start.  But you need to have more patience, perseverance and tenacity to catch up with lost time.

How should we teach them?

The same Biblical verse will tell us that we teach by our actions:  when we “sit at home, when we walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up”.  Children learn a lot from what they see of their parents; and not just from what their parents say.  Parents need to be congruent in what they want to teach their children and how they live their lives.

Teenagers are especially quick to see parents’ incongruence.  Parents need to mean what they say by living out the life that they want their teenagers to live.  One familiar example of incongruence is a parent shouting at his teenag-er: “If you want me to hear you out, you will need to talk civilly with me!”  Teenagers are no fools.  Teenagers want parents to show them right behaviour by setting an example for them to follow.

Part III

By Tan Khye Suan

In Part II, I shared about the need for parents to build strong relationships with their teenagers.  The immediate question that parents will ask is: “How do we build strong relationships with our teenagers?”

I would like to share four points about building strong relationships with your teenagers.

Make Time For Your Teenagers

One observation that I made about working parents is: they do not make a conscious effort to set aside time for their teenagers.  Many working parents diligently plan their time for meetings, appointments, deadlines and, even, golf or tennis games with important business partners and clients.  However, I noticed that working parents often do not set aside time for their family members – spouse, children or teenagers.  No wonder families of today are facing so many problems, moving from one crisis to another.

If we do not deliberately set aside time for our teenagers, there will always be “no time” for them.  Hence, as parents, we MUST be determined to set aside time for our teenagers.  As parents, we have to start putting aside time slots in our diaries that are RESERVED for our teenagers.

There will be temptations to replace these time slots with other “more important” appointments, like dinner meetings with our business clients; or, bonding time with our colleagues; or, late meetings with our bosses.  We need to resist these temptations and honour the time we intend to spend with our teenagers.  We either reap the reward of substantial time spent with our teenagers; or, face the peril of rebellion in their teenage years and resentment in their adult years.

Make The Time With Your Teenager Happy and Fun

We will probably agree that we need to spend more time with our teenagers.  But, often, we will face an almost insurmountable barrier of engaging our teenagers at the start; especially if we have not been spending time with them.  I will admit that it is difficult to start.  But, if we do not “start the ball rolling”, we will never start at all.  As parents, we have to take the initiative, no matter how awkward we may feel trying to make our first engagement with our teenagers.  Even if we may fail on the first few attempts to get our teenagers to spend time with us, we must keep trying.  Eventually, they will relent.

For starters, parents should go out with their teenagers without having any agenda in mind.  Parents should go out with only one thing in mind: MAKE IT FUN.  Often, parents ask: “So what activities should we do with our teenagers when we are with them?”

In Singapore, we know that one sure way of engaging another person is to have a hearty meal together.  It works for teenagers as well; so long as it is what they like to eat.  For this engagement with your teenagers to be fun, parents MUST do two things.  Firstly, parents should forget about the diet they are on.  Let loose; and enjoy with your teenagers whatever food they choose to eat.  Secondly, throw caution to the winds.  Go to whichever eating joint your teenagers choose to go.  Don’t be a spoilsport.  Feel young again with them!  Sometimes, teenagers just want to know how far parents will go for them.  What you, as parents, are doing, is breaking into the world of your teenagers.

Over time, parents can do other activities with your teenagers, like: go to the movies; learn to play computer games; or, have outdoor activities, albeit strenuous at times.  Parents must be prepared to be of good sport.  After all, you are there to understand your teenagers better.  Laugh with your teenagers; laugh at yourself.  It is alright for parents to feel uncomfortable in your teenagers’ world.  You will quickly realise that your teenager’s world is quite different from the one you had.

Why is it so important to have fun with your teenagers?  The answer is very simple.  Who wants to be with someone who is unpleasant and makes us unhappy?  We simply avoid such a person.  So, if we want to have repeated engagements with our teenagers, FUN is probably the way to build bridges with them.

Do not be discouraged if they say that you are “lame”.  Ultimately, they will see through your awkwardness and notice your sincere effort to spend time with them.  When parents spend happy and fun times with their teenagers, it is a lot easier for parents to repeatedly engage their teenagers.

Make Sure You Do Not Disappoint

The most important cardinal rule when parents engage their teenagers is: parents should not disappoint their teenagers by postponing, cancelling or forgetting the appointment with their teenagers; especially the first few appointments with them.  If parents get their teenagers to agree on an appointment and then renege on it, parents will lose your teenager’s trust.  Teenagers will perceive that they are not important enough for their parents to keep that appointment with them.  This is damaging and hurts them very deeply.

It is important to realise that a strong relationship with your teenagers is built on trust; trust that you will be there for them.  It is sometimes very challenging to understand teenagers.  On one hand, they wish for independence.  On the other hand, they wish for parents to be there for them, especially when they are facing difficulties.  This push-and-pull tension is hard to manage.  But parents should remember to show their teenagers that they are reliable; that you, as their parent , can be trusted.  Many parents have often told their teenagers that they can be trusted and will always be there for them.  But, remember: ACTION SPEAKS LOUDER THAN WORDS!

Make A Point Without Being Overbearing

When parents have done a few outings with their teenagers and have had fun, there will always come a time when parents want to share some nuggets of wisdom with their teenagers.  It is not wrong to do so.  But do so gently; and, share one nugget of wisdom at a time.  Do not rush to unload a whole lot of your wisdom on them at one go.  Do so at appropriate times, when that one nugget of wisdom is needed by your teenager.  Please also remember to KISS:  Keep It Short and Sweet.

What will be wrong are: when parents get naggy; when parents insist on their viewpoints; when parents want their teenagers to concur immediately; when parents want their teenagers to comply with their expectations; and, when parents are not prepared to listen to their teenagers’ points of view.  Parents become overbearing in their demands.

Parents must have the right mindset of building a strong relationship with their teenagers.  Parents must not think that building a strong relationship is “buying” the right to tell their teenagers what to do.  When building a strong relationship with your teenagers, parents should not do so with the expectation of eliciting better compliance.  Ultimately, it can and will happen; but this may happen in their adult years.

What is more important in building strong relationship with your teenagers is for parents to savour the beauty of that person-to-person bond, appreciating your teenager for who he or she is; recognising their strengths and abilities; and, encouraging their personal discovery of who they can be!

A strong relationship with teenagers will eventually lead to lasting and strong bonds between parents and their teenagers.  Such bonds will help to bring teenagers closer to their parents so that they can begin to share similar viewpoints and values.  This will take time; a lot of time.

At the end of the day, your teenager is an individual in his or her own right.  We can guide them and help them become wonderful persons who contribute to this world that we live in.  But we cannot force them to become who we want them to be.  They are wonderful in their own right!


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