Latest update: March 5th, 2012
The fifth pillar of the inner world is what the eminent psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl called the “Will to Meaning.” This desire for meaning implies wanting to know the whys of life and not just the hows.
Most teenagers have a tremendous desire to know why events are happening to them. In fact, when teens are empowered with meaning and understand the whys of life, they are more able to negotiate the hows and the many challenges that life presents.
Unfortunately, our educational system often denies a teenager’s need for meaning. Our schools tend to tell our children what they have to do but not why they have to do it. When they are given an answer like “because I said so,” they interpret it to mean the teacher is not interested in what they are feeling or what they have to say.
With this in mind, parents need to spend a considerable amount of time trying to explain to their teens the whys of life. For example, when children feel neglected by their school, parents can help by discussing with them how a school runs, the financial and organizational pressures facing the school and why teachers can’t always give students the attention they deserve.
Teenagers also benefit from knowing the meaning behind their parents’ behavior. If you want your teenager to go to bed early, for example, the reason you might offer is that the teenager has been working hard all day and needs more rest. And that’s sufficient. At least your teenager knows why you expect him or her to go to sleep and does not think that you simply don’t want him or her around.
I remember coming home from a very hard day of work to a very lively household of children. I told them that I needed a break and would be glad to play with them later in the evening. In the past – before I learned about my children’s inner desire for meaning – I wouldn’t have spent much time explaining to them how I was feeling. After learning more about their inner world, I was able to sit down with my two older boys and say, “I just want you to know that I love you very much and I had a really pressured day at work. I have a big headache and need some time to read a book and relax. Giving me a little time now would allow me to give you more quality time later. Please play by yourselves for another half hour. Then I will come join you to help with homework and play.” My explanation alleviated some of the hurt they felt that I couldn’t spend time with them right away.
Parents shouldn’t worry that they have to provide the perfect answer for every question or know the meaning behind everything that happens in life. Nor do their answers have to be absolute proof in the philosophical sense. If parents don’t feel that they have the right answers, they can always tell their teenagers that they would like to speak to an expert in that field or do some more reading about the topic. The key element is to make teenagers aware that you are interested in their world and willing to discuss ideas that are close to their hearts.
How often do you explain to your teenager the “whys” of life?
1 2 3 4 5
Never Rarely Constantly
The Relationship Test
Now go back and add up your numbers for all five of the relationship tests. The test is a measuring stick that can help you evaluate how responsive you are to your teen’s needs. If you scored below 10, then clearly the bonds of your relationship are very weak and you need to spend time nurturing your connection. If you scored above 10, then you have a greater chance of breaking through into your teen’s emotional world. If you scored 20 or above, then you are doing a great job and you should continue to strengthen the quality of your relationship.
By focusing on their teens’ inner worlds, parents can create a deeper connection and facilitate a greater sense of closeness. The benefits of this new relationship include:
- Mutual respect and trust
- Empathy – sympathetic understanding – for one another
- Emphasis on assets rather than faults
- Sharing of thoughts and feelings rather than hiding them and bearing resentment
Spending Quality Time Together
As part of the process of connecting to your teenager, an important step is spending quality time together. I know that for many families, spending time with an individual child or teenager seems like a daunting task. However, making the effort to do so can go a long way in building your relationship.
One of the questions that parents have is about what will happen if they spend time alone with a teenager with whom they fight. The answer is often surprising. Most teenagers enjoy the special occasion of spending time with their parents alone especially outside of the home. I counsel many families who have daily screaming matches with their teenagers, but when they take them out of the house, the emotional environment can change very quickly.
During this time with their child, parents should try to imagine that they are going out on a date for the first time. Everyone knows that the first time people meet someone else they are careful with their emotions. They know that they have to be calm and pay special attention to not delve into the other person’s private matters. A kind of healthy distance exists that protects people when they first meet and helps them to maintain a sense of awe and respect.
When alone with your teenager it’s important not to rehash the same issues you have been fighting about in the home. Talking about general ideas concerning current events, music, or sports or about your child’s feelings regarding life and relationships is more productive. The main idea is to have a good time together. Work on developing conversation in the way that you would with a friend.
Many parents think that the only way to get their teenager to spend time with them is by shopping or eating out. But that is not entirely true. I suggest parents connect with their teenagers by finding hobbies and activities of common interest. For example, my wife and I found a pottery studio nearby where parents and children can paint kitchen items like coffee mugs and tea pots that are then professionally glazed in a kiln. Painting pottery is a simple and fun way of spending time together. You can also share what you painted with the rest of your family, which is symbolic of the productive nature of spending quality time with your children.
Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, is the Executive Director of Shalom Task Force and author of “At Risk – Never Beyond Reach” and “First Aid for Jewish Marriages.” To order a copy, visit www.JewishMarriageSupport.com. For more information about Shalom Task Force, please visit www.shalomtaskforce.org. You can e-mail questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author: Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, Marriage and Family Therapy, is an expert in marriage counseling, pre-marital education, and helping teens in crisis with offices in Flatbush, Cedarhurst, and Crown Heights. He is a certified PAIRS instructor, and trained as a Level 1, Emotionally Focused Therapist at the Ackerman Institute for the Family, and is a member of AASECT. He is the author of At Risk – Never Beyond Reach and First Aid For Jewish Marriages. To watch his free videos on marriage and parenting and for appointments visit: www.JewishMarriageSupport.com or call 646-428-4723
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