Saturday, October 17, 2009

Parenting Teens Today

6 Longings of Adolescents Today

How do we parent our teens in a mySpace, Facebook, Twitter age? This is one question that befuddles many young parents, me included. I grow up in a world without computers. Back then, there were no such thing as Windows, and computers seem to me like a very expensive business machine, reserved only for giant corporations and adults. Microsoft? Never heard of it. Apple, yeah, maybe an Apple IIe that some geek in school talks about. A personal computer? Nah. One has to be really really rich in order to possess such a machine.

Fast forward 25 years. Never will I have imagined that the computer once reserved for data centers and high security corporate vaults will now be so freely and widely available. One does not have to spend up to $5000 on a computer. One can buy a brand new computer for almost a fraction of the price. I remember being wowed by a friend working on a small Toshiba Libretto mini-computer. He had spent more than a thousand bucks on that tiny portable. Nowadays, Netbook computers dominate the market among the price conscious and the mobile executive.

Chap and Dee Clark work among young people. They are parents themselves. They use their skills in research and experience to give us a gem, a guidebook on how to understand our teens in a new electronic MFT (Myspace-Facebook-Twitter) age. These are essentially social networking tools that have dominated the mind-waves of teens the world over. The Clarks' premise is simple.
How do we need to do to show our children, our teens that we care?
The first step is understanding. Thus they provided a helpful chart below that demonstrates the need to see what teens say, from THEIR point of view. It is important not simply to be 'word'-sensitive, but MEANING-sensitive. This is a challenge for all parents. Teens may be growing in terms of their self-expression and understanding. However, they do not have the wisdom and maturity that most parents have. I say 'most' because I do know that some parents are not as well educated or well informed as their teenage children.

What They (teens) Say
What Parents Hear
What They Mean
"You don't know me."
I don't matter to her.
I long to belong.
"You never listen to me."
He doesn't want to listen to me.
I long to be taken seriously.
"I can do it!"
She doesn't need me.
I long to matter.
"I'm fine, okay?"
He wants to be left alone.
I long for a safe place.
"It's my life!"
She doesn't care what I think.
I long to be uniquely me.
"Nobody cares about me."
He doesn't care about anybody but himself (me included)
I long to be wanted.
(From:Chap Clark & Dee Clark, Disconnected, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007, p167)

Looking at the six longings of teens above, I cannot help but be amused even at how I have misunderstood what my teens are communicating. For instance, when I get the phrase: "You never listen to me," I am often tempted to be offended by the accusation that I do not care, when the fact is that the teen is looking to be taken seriously instead of being 'talked-down-at' by a 'Father knows best' posture. As I think back, I am embarrassed at how naïve I am, in spite of the years of learning and working in the world. Parenting is a challenge. It is never easy, as what most people say. Yet, how often have we attempted to understand our children from THEIR point of view. It becomes more difficult when we see them transition from a dependent phase to a more independent stage.

I know some parents are nervous about letting go. They become insecure and worried over the safety of their kids. By allowing fear to dictate their actions, teens often get frustrated. In Disconnected, the Clarks helpfully gave us a new model for godly parenting. They suggest that we wrap our loved ones around a core relationship, God and us. There is no substitute for an up-close-and-personal relationship with God. If we claim that God is first, everything else has to revolve around this delicate and crucial relationship. Only when the parent truly appreciates the love of Christ in them, then and only then can they fruitfully manifest that love outward to others, children and all.

Parenting Teens in an Increasingly Individualistic World

Chap and Dee Clark mentioned another critical component: to invite others in to our parenting journey. It is quite a different world now. I feel that even in Christian families, we have forgotten the community aspect of parenting. Hilary Clinton, when she was first lady wrote her first book on this theme, that it takes a village to raise a child. In that book, she argues that it takes the WHOLE of society to educate our children. That means the educational needs of a child is not simply the government to provide educational curriculum. Neither is it only the parents' responsibility to discipline their child. The society at large has to do their part in educating. This also requires parents to be open to correction as well. Take for example, a child in a public shopping mall, screaming vulgarity and abusing his or her younger sibling. Will passers-by simply mind their own business by walking away? Should strangers who happen to listen in to the ridiculous abuses step in to tell the young kid that bullying tactics are unacceptable in society?

Unfortunately, more people prefer to mind their business. After all, if people can stand aside while a crimes can be committed in broad daylight, would they not leave feuding kids alone? The other aspect is the community aspect which is highly important. As parents, let us not be so up-tight about our kids to the point that we fail to distinguish right from wrong. There is no point trying to defend our kids merely because they are our kids. Call a spade a spade. In a community environment, when others discipline our kids, do not be so quick to defend our kids and attack the good intentions of other person. If we realize that we are not angels ourselves, let us adopt humility, and to say "Thank You," whenever outsiders correct our parenting methods.

Final Comments
I think the essence of a parent-teen relationship is understanding. Both has to play their part, though the parent ought to be ready to initiate. There is no time for pride. There is always time for humility. Perhaps, when we do that, our humility can rub off our teens and in the process add another good model for an increasingly moral-depraved society.


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