What do you think about Mark Twain’s saying “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”
Photocredit : Father sonHave you felt the same way at your teens?
In my adolescent years, I used all tricks so that my father didn’t get to know that his little boy tested Charminar cigarette or got poor marks in Sanskrit or trying to get too close with a girl in the building. But, for me, my father’s word used to be final saying like a verdict by the chief justice of India.
I realised the profoundness of Mark Twain’s statement on a chilly December evening after altercations with my sons.
We were waiting for our son who will be returning home after three months from his college. He was late. We all joined in dinner and started some small talks.
He looked at the packed baggage at the corner of the room and asked “Are you going anywhere soon? When you will return?”
My wife briefed him about our travel plan to Goa in minute details the way she always used to explain him earlier like where we stay, where we will go etc..
After a while, my son asked rolling his eyes why we didn’t inform him earlier. He had a plan to go to a college in Trivandam for a coding competition along with couple of his classmates. He passionately argued why he should go for the competition rather than joining us for a trip to Goa.
We were upset.
We had a bad argument. His mother cried, and I started screaming and blaming him. I couldn’t accept that our son is not considering our wishes albeit this is the first time he did.
My son stormed out of the apartment in the night. His mother was upset and started blaming me for all these occurrences.
The evening for which we were waiting for weeks became a disaster.
After an hour, my wife went to search for our son. I threatened her that I will not go to allow my son to step into MY apartment. I was enraged. I believed my son has no right to say “NO” to my plan.
I went to bed. I thought I do not need both of them in my life. They just don’t care about my feelings.
Outside noises gradually reduced.
More than one hour passed. I might doze off.
Suddenly I got alerted with the knocking on the door. Reluctantly I went to open the door. I again decided I need to teach them a lesson for their audacity.
My wife was alone. Her eyes were red and swollen. She was looking completely exhausted. She entered the room slowly and somehow managed to throw her body on the sofa.
I looked at her and the unfinished food on the dinner table. I looked at the mutton curry, the favorite dish of my son which he didn’t get a chance to taste even.
All on a sudden my anger disappeared.
I started worrying about my dear son in that night. An all pervading dark fear came into my mind. It is almost 2 hours he left home wearing just a pajama and T shirt in the winter night.
I was scared to ask anything to my wife.
My wife slowly said she couldn’t find him anywhere. We should contact police. She broke down in tears.
I felt my knees were trembling. I remembered the day he was born. All those fond memories came to me as a flashback movie. I suddenly remembered how he loved to play “police and thief” game with me, and he used to jump on my lap as soon as I returned home from the office.
I hurriedly came down with my car keys. I drove around one kilometre and looking around both the sides of Palm Beach road with a hope to locate him.
“Dad!” I heard him. I found he was sitting at the edge of the road. I rushed to hug him.
“Dad! Am sorry. I won’t go for the competition. Forgive me.”
I felt the pain in his voice. I looked at him. His eyes were red. I could see the dry tear drops at the corner of his eyes.
“It’s OK my son. It happened. I’m also sorry.”
He sat in the back seat of the car, and we drove back home.
My wife hugged her son tightly and burst into a tear.
He said “Am sorry ma. Forgive me.” and slowly entered his room.
I felt tired. I sat on a chair on the patio to unwind myself looking at lights of the steamers at far in the sea.
I rewind all the events of last few hours in my mind. I was disturbed because my son didn’t listen to me. After all, he is my only child, and I only think about his benevolence. I was surprised to see his rudeness and anger.
I started justifying my act.
I needed to be strict to control a teenage son. Isn’t this an age old advice for parenting?
Suddenly, the sad look on my son’s face flashed in my mind. A new thought crept into my mind “Did he accept our decision or just did a compromise?”
Suddenly, I found that I started analysing the whole incidence from my son’s point of view. I went into the room and picked up the details of the competitive examination. I was shocked to find that this is an international competition and sponsored by top companies like IBM, Google, Microsoft, and SAP. There was an opportunity to get sponsorship for short term courses in some reputed college in USA and Europe.
My thought process got a jolt.
I started thinking “Was I wrong? Am I not over-reacted after knowing his desire?”
After some time, I felt very disturbed and tiptoed to my son’s room to check whether he is sleeping or just lying in bed. To my surprise, I found he was awake and watching motivational speeches video clip by Wills Smith in YouTube.
I asked, “Are you hungry?”
He asked me “Why did you say that I never listen to you? I just wanted to participate my first international coding competition. Where was I wrong? Could not we go to Goa after a week also? We together went Goa earlier also.”
“Let’s go to the kitchen and have the sweets which your mother prepared this afternoon for us.” - I replied slowly.
He went to call his mother. We had a very late dinner or very early morning breakfast.
His questions were so poignant that it strummed few chords inside my heart.
We agreed that he should go for the competition and cancelled our trip.
Years passed. My son forgot the incidence. He is busy in his studies and work. Thank God! we never had similar issue after that.
The whole occurrence was a great lesson of parenting. I did soul searching , read books and scientific journals on parenting teens. Now, I help people and friends who found themselves in this odd situation,
Read the rest of the article to know what you should do to avoid being a toxic parent.
Times changed. There’s a generation gap. We need to adopt ourselves to make us understandable to our kids.
An actionable step by step guide for better relationships with your teenage son
- You need to give time to your kids. Engage in fun activities with them. Just because they are growing, doesn’t mean they are not still children. Some of your best memories are probably playing outside with your child, going to the mountains, the park, or to do some fun activities. Take a day and sneak away to the theme park, go for a hike, book a hotel and get away, just for the fun of it! Be a kid with your kid. Remind them of your pleasure in their company. We all get busy, as do I, but making the time for these little memories is not time-consuming, but life changing.
- You need to accept that your children are a separate person with his desires. You should avoid giving them your "little wisdom" always. You have to give plenty of space so that your kids can fly to strengthen their wings and apply the knowledge they acquired in life.
- The best way to manage mouthy kids is not to engage in verbal arguments with them. You shouldn't respond to a rude behaviour and give it power. A very powerful way to answer to sarcasm is to say just, “Don’t talk to me that way, I don’t like it,” and turn around and walk away. That way, you’re taking all the power out of the room with you. If you argue or try to make a point, you’re giving your child more power. Try to be an assertive teacher and give them clear, firm direction and correction, but act respectfully. Please remember that as your kids grow they may forget what you said, but won't forget how you made them feel. It is important for you to understand the difference between criticizing and correcting
- You need to have empathy to consider what teens’ lives are like in digital age with pervasive technology, where every good and a bad day has the potential to be broadcast to hundreds and thousands and bullying no longer confined to the schoolyard. You need to educate them on possible risks and how to manage those issues in real life. The empathetic experience allows you to connect with others by pushing your mind into a new realm and enabling you to see the world and ourselves in a different way. Digital empathy is the key to build a strong bond with your kids.
- Always keep the communication channel open with your kids. While communicate and talk to address disputes you can teach your children problem-solving skill. Adults who are willing to walk around in their teenagers’ mental shoes tend to raise teenagers who return the favor.
- Need to aware of your anger and direct the same in a constructive way. You as a parent need to express your emotions without damaging teenager's (often fragile) self-esteem. You might say: "When you speak to me like that it makes me so angry I find it impossible to be helpful. I expect you to rephrase that." instead of saying "You are so rude. When will you ever learn? ... And you think I'm going to help you now?". Learn to use power words.
- Feelings are never right or wrong. Only actions need to be limited. Feelings should always be accepted. As a parent, you need to be a perfect listener and acknowledge your kids' feelings.
- Here is an odd one but a serious issue. Teenage boys often sleep long hours even in the day time. Please note they are capable of sleeping 16 hours a day, and it has nothing to do with ambition or the lack thereof. It just a biological need for them. The National Sleep Foundation suggests that teenagers need more sleep (8-10 hours) than adults (7-9 hours). Teenagers often feel sleepy in late night.
- You should get super, super interested in what your children are interested.
- Teach your teen on how to deal with toxic and difficult people.
- Teach your kids to be satisfied rather than successful. Competition is steep, and there will always be someone who is further along. That’s the beauty of human potential.
- You can consult an NLP practitioner to create an anchor, link, and association. I am adding this as an extreme measure as I witnessed the benefit of the same to manage a teenage daughter of my colleague who has a habit of partying late night and drinking.
Being teenagers are hard as their brains are going through massive changes. So, follow Elaine M. Ward’s saying “the rules for parents are but three… love, limit, and let them be.” There is no such thing as a perfect parent so just be a real parent.
Suggested reading on how to deal with adolescent boys:
- Social cognitive development during adolescence
- Secrets of the teenage brain: a psychologist's guide for teachers
- Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior
- 10 Simple Steps to Stop Toxic Parenting
A Satisfied father