It should be emphasized that the suggested methods are not merely techniques, but interpersonal skills, helpful only when used with empathy and genuineness. They are effective when applied selectively and appropriately. There are no hard rules to bring up your teenager successfully but there are always good suggestions, which are to be administered, with discretion and thought regarding various conditions, attitudes, personalities, time and space. Teenagers are, unlike machines, complex and unique individuals, for whom no perfect manual has ever been written.
The no-answer, answer-unvoiced advice.
Adults usually react to their teenagers' problems or statements in one of two ways: either they approve or disapprove. Yet the most helpful response to teenagers is often non-judgmental. A non-evaluative response contains neither praise nor criticism. Instead it identifies feelings, recognizes wishes and acknowledges opinions.
An example where a parent used this type of an answer will clarify this point. Nilay, aged 15, is a gifted public speaker but he speaks poorly at recitals, and when it comes to the actual day of his speech he cries and complains of nervousness. His parents tell him, "You've nothing to worry about," and use coaxing such as "the audience doesn't know when you make a mistake," or "you're behaving very childish, dear." The parent in actual fact is denying the son's feelings.
Every time Nilay spoke, it was never a wholesome success. There were places where he forgot, stumbled and even stopped. Many a time he would weep and call himself a failure.
When this happened his father would make the mistake of minimizing the poor speech and insist that he had spoken well, but he knew he was lying about something Nilay knew was a lie.
It was quite a while before Nilay was scheduled to speak again, but when the day arrived so did the normal tension and tears. But this time the parents chose to react differently. When Nilay said he was not prepared to speak and that the parents should announce that he was not well and therefore could not speak today, they just listened carefully. Then the mother finally spoke, "I know its frightful to get out there and speak to all those people. You must feel they are judging each word you say. Of course you feel nervous." Nilay could not believe what he heard. He said brightly, "You understand how I feel, I never thought you really did."
When Nilay got up to speak he spoke much better. Though he did make a few mistakes he held a very different attitude to them, and he even smiled over to his parents whilst speaking. A smile of success.
Let's look at another situation.
Pratul, age 17, was interviewed for a summer job, but was turned down. He came home disappointed and depressed. However, his father, a skilled parent, tackled the situation very effectively. He realized that what his son needed was not straightforward advice, but a listening ear. That ear would do all the necessary advising.
Father: You really wanted that job, didn't you?
Pratul: I sure did.
Father And you had prepared so well for it too.
Pratul: Yeh. A lot of good that did for me.
Father: What a disappointment.
Pratul: It sure is, Dad.
Father: Looking forward to a job and having it slip away just when you need it, is tough.
Pratul: Yeh. I know.
A few moments silence, then Pratul said, "It's not the end of the world, I'll find another job."
Many unskilled parents would have tackled the situation differently. They would have immediately responded with one of the 6 responses below.
1. By pity: "Oh how awful! I am so sorry. My heart breaks. You were unlucky and other people have all the luck. I am so sad for you."
2. By criticism: "The trouble with you is you don't know what to say, and when to say it. You always blunder. You lack poise and you fidget too much. You rush everything and are never patient enough."
3. By reasoning: "What did you expect? To get the first job you wanted? Life is not easy. You may have to go even ten times, before anyone hires you."
4. By comparison: "Take me for instance. When I was your age and I went looking for my first job, I polished my shoes, got a haircut, wore fresh clothes and carried the 'Times' with me wherever I went. See, I knew how to get instant respect."
5. By cliché: "Rome was not built in a day, dear. You've got a long way to go. Don't get depressed so quickly, laugh and cheer up."
6. By minimizing the situation. "That's nothing. There's no reason to be sad about it. I don't see why you are so depressed about it? Jobs come and go. It's not even worth bothering about."
Notice how Pratul's father didn't offer anything concrete. He just listened, adding a prodding comment here and there, helping Pratul clear his thoughts. If Pratul had been confronted with any of the 6 responses it is likely he would never approach his father again, for any sort of help, feeling his parent failed to understand him and his problems.
Avoid preaching in chapters
When teenagers ask questions usually all they want is a straightforward "Yes," "No," "Good" or "Bad" for an answer. Some parents have the habit of lecturing. Says Peter, age 17, "My father never converses, all he does is make lectures. He goes too deeply into the simplest of matters. I ask a short question, I get a long answer. Now I avoid him. I do wish he could talk in sentences and not chapters."
Says Mahesh, age 17, "Father can never know when to stop talking. He goes on and on. He can talk at length without even knowing that he has lost his audience. Even when I'm dead bored he never realizes it. He talks but he doesn't communicate."
Do not be too understanding!
When teenagers are troubled by conflicts they feel unique. They do not want instant understanding. In fact, to them their emotions seem new, personal, and private. It makes them feel very grown up. And when they are told, "I know exactly how you feel. I remember, at your age I felt the same," they feel insulted. It distresses them to be so transparent, so naïve, so simple; especially when they feel complex, mysterious, and inscrutable. However, to sense exactly when your teen needs understanding and when misunderstanding is a very difficult and delicate task. You cannot be expected to deal with every situation perfectly, but knowing the theory will always contribute to a better approach to the needs of your teenager.
Try not to invite dependence
Adolescence is a time when dependency causes hostility. Parents who refuse to let go and who foster dependence are, in actual fact, inviting unavoidable resentment. Teenagers crave independence. The more self sufficient the parents make them feel the less hostile they become. A wise parent makes himself increasingly dispensable to his teenagers. He sympathetically watches the drama of growth, but resists the desire to intervene too often. Of course, this does not mean you are to let your teenagers be free to do as they please. But whenever it is possible allow the teenagers to make their own choices and to use their own powers. Sprinkle your language with words that encourage independence.
"What do you think is best for the family?"
"Do you feel the Lord will be pleased with this particular decision?"
"Why don't you think it over and then we'll decide together."
To inspire confidence in your teenagers they should be made to feel their thoughts and suggestions are of importance. Give them opportunities to use their creativity, and make their own decisions. One devotee in Amdavad after moving house allowed his two teenagers to make their own choices about furnishing, painting and decorating their new rooms. The teenagers' happiness knew no bounds. Even in the mandir they would share their experiences with the sadhus. Finally, when the rooms were complete their faces reflected inner warmth of satisfaction and confidence, and of course, a warm love for their parents.
One parent told the story: My sixteen-year-old told me how he was planning to work out his problems with a schoolteacher. He wanted to know what I thought of his plan. I said, "I have faith in your ability to make the right decision." My son seemed satisfied. In a considerate voice he said, "Thank you."
Asking others to advice: Don't label them in their presence
It is a frequent experience with the sadhus that a parent will introduce his teenager and add, "Swamiji, he's lazy and he failed his exams" or "He talks back to his mother" or "He's always glued to the T.V. and plays too much cricket!" Imagine the feelings of the teenager! He tries to make a good impression before someone new, and before he gets off the mark, he is slandered there on the spot. This can be very painful for the teenager; it instigates him to even hate his parents. Can they help it? Parents often treat teenagers as if they are deaf. They talk about them in their presence as if they are deaf. They talk about them in their presence as if they were objects. If parents feels that they should ask someone, to try and help explain something to their teenager it is important not to do it in the child's presence.
Don't hurry to correct facts
A teenager often responds to correction with obstinacy. He becomes unreachable and unteachable, determined not to be influenced by anyone or forced into anything.
As one teenager said, "There is a certain satisfaction in being in the wrong that a goody-goody will never know."
Another teenager reacted, "My father is a natural born improver. It hurts him to see me doing things my own way. He always has a better way - his own. His corrections are tattooed in my memory with needles of hate. I dislike my father's advice. I am determined to make my own mistakes."
A bitter-tongued parent cannot teach respect for facts. Truth for it own sake can be a deadly weapon in family relations. Truth without compassion can destroy love. Some parents try too hard to prove exactly how, where, and why they have been right. This approach cannot but bring bitterness and disappointment. When attitudes are hostile, facts are unconvincing.
Avoid cliches and preaching
Says fifteen-year-old May, "I can't talk to my mother. She becomes overconcerned. Instead of helping me, she starts suffering. Her eyes fill with tears and her face says, "Oh, poor thing. It hurts me more than it hurts you." How would you like to be helped by a doctor who is so sympathetic that he faints at the sight of blood? That's my mother."
To be helpful, we need to learn empathy - an ability to respond genuinely to our child's moods and feelings without being infected by them. We need to help our teenager with his anger, fear, and confusion, without ourselves becoming angry, fearful, and confused.