For anyone who remembers being a teenager, you would remember that it was your parents and other adults who were the problem.
They wanted you to come in “on time,” help with chores at home, do your school work, and be a little “goody-too-shoes.” And what was so wrong with smoking a little weed, drinking beer and having sex? Wasn’t everyone else doing it?
As teenagers you could not understand why these old-fogey adults would want to “hate on your game.” It seemed to us that our parents were simply uptight and that somehow THEY didn’t get it.
Now that we have become parents it is us who “don’t seem to get it.” Why can’t our teenagers listen to us? Why are they rushing into sex at twelve or thirteen when their bodies are not ready for that? Can’t they wait?
Why are they getting drunk and high every weekend? What is it that is so attractive about darkness that they stay home all day and go out all night? And what’s up with the big pants falling off their behinds anyway? Can’t they find some more decent clothes to wear?
Now it is us who spend our time worrying where they are and who they are with and whether the next knock on the door or telephone call could be the police or worse. We also worry about premature sexual activity because unprotected sex is not only about unwanted pregnancy; it is also about AIDS and HIV and possible deaths. As parents now, we don’t find the teenage years to be so cool anymore.
The truth is that it is difficult both being a teenager and being the parents of teenagers and your perspective depends on which side of the fence you are on. As a teenager it is difficult trying to find yourself in this muddled world of negative role models, violence, sex, drugs, hypocrisy, and lies (just look at the evening news).
And as parents we must not lose sight of the fact that we were once teenagers too and our lives were guided by the same forces (such as peer pressure) that are now guiding our children. As such, we must be willing to negotiate a meaningful relationship with them in order to help them stay on track.
And the key word is negotiate.
We must be flexible enough to balance our concerns about their safety with trust in their ability to make good decisions based on the values with which they have been raised.
We must be flexible enough to negotiate an appropriate curfew time that allows them to spend time with their friends and be home at a suitable hour.
We must also learn to communicate with them rather than moralizing, preaching, nagging, and screaming. This means that we have to develop the ability to listen to their concerns (regardless of how insignificant it seems) and to share with them our fears and admit to our own imperfections.
And, more than anything else, we must be good role models for our children. Parents cannot be drinking, taking drugs, smoking cigarettes and not expect their children to do the same thing. And neither can they ask their children to lie and say that they are not home when the telephone rings and not expect the same children to lie to them later on.
There is too much at stake to do otherwise.