I’ve come to realize that it is very hard to be a teenager today. There is so much stimulation, so many distractions and temptations that even the most stable individual will find it difficult to avoid that which needs to be avoided. Drugs are literally everywhere, sexual promiscuity has pretty much become the norm, and trust is evasive. It’s hard for teens to make good decisions because it can be difficult to know exactly what a decision is. There is much to consider and learn when it comes to right and wrong and with everything that is thrown at them, its no wonder many can’t function.
In fact, there are many adults who have fallen into the same lifestyle trap. No one teaches us how to problem solve, how to resolve conflicts and how to understand all the various feelings bombarding us. Think about it. Who taught you? Toronto’s mayor has become the butt of jokes because of his temper tantrums, his lies, his drinking and driving, his “drunken stupors” (his own description). And our children watch as this man stays on in his position of authority – though he has finally been stripped of most of his mayoral responsibilities. It would be perfectly normal for a teen to say, “If he can do heavy drugs and have ‘drunken stupors,’ why can’t I?” How do many times can a child hear, “Do as I say, not as I do?” This is an ongoing challenge we must confront if we want our children to become model citizens and family members.
Next, a major discovery: Tough love is alright as long as there is truly love in the formula. So many parents say to me they are kicking out their teen to show them tough love. What they really show is how tough they can be. But, where is the love? How do our children know we love them? Is there really unconditional love? One thing I have learned after running residential group homes for kids for so many years – it’s truly not a good place for kids to be. Don’t misunderstand me, some kids do need to be removed from the home, but it has to be with a major effort to reintegrate them. Kids deserve love, though sometimes adults get so angry they deny their love (if they even have it to give). When parents feel like victims of their kids, they get angry and rejecting. Nothing is wrong with being angry as it’s a true emotion. However, is the anger going to dictate your behavior? We need to be strong parents who are loving to reassure our children and teens that they can survive those terribly difficult years called “teen years”.
A major problem causing conflict and confusion in parent- child relationships is the destructive power of feelings of entitlement. What have we done to our children that make them grow up feeling so entitled? What has happened to our world where everybody truly believes that they are entitled to anything and everything they want? This destructive nature is all around us. Kids of all ages feel that they are entitled to whatever they want. This narcissistic belief system has become so destructive in families. Therapists in the past used to tell clients to use the “I” word. Now the world has become a place where “it’s all about me”. We therapists and parents alike have a major challenge in front of us. I often fear the outcome if we don’t get a handle on this.
The final lesson I want to share is the need to understand how we can learn to balance our conflict management and feel more personal control. Think of the see-saw in the park. Think of one side as our logical, intellectual thinking and the other side as our emotional thinking. Our job, in healthy relationships and conflict resolution, is to learn to keep the two sides as balanced as possible. Remembers what happens if one side gets too strong and overwhelming. The other side drops off and loses its power to influence. It takes a balance of using our intellect and our emotions to make good decisions. If we become too emotional, we cannot use our logic and intellect to help problem solve. If we become too rigid in our problem solving and only think of what is logical, we deny our emotional strengths. A balance is needed to be successful. After all, the Rambam taught us years and years ago the need to take everything in perspective and balance. He taught, “The two extremes of each quality are not the proper and worthy path for one to follow or train himself in. And if a person finds his nature inclining towards one of them or if he has already accustomed himself in one of them, he must bring himself back to the good and upright path.”