Be a trusted friend : Parents and teenagers do not understand one another | Sunday Observer

Be a trusted friend : Parents and teenagers do not understand one another

I asked a young man, aged 17 or 18, whether he understands the meaning of the term “generation-gap.” He said, “I grew up hearing this term but never did I fathom what it really was about. I googled it and came to understand that it was exactly how I felt. Our adults have different images in their heads and they don’t make an effort to understand what our opinions are and how we look at the world. That is what you call ‘generation gap’.

Is the youth right in his interpretation?

Before answering it, let’s go through a couple of my experiences. A mother with two kids aged 17 and 15 recently told me, “My elder son keeps telling me: There’s no point in talking to you: you don’t understand me. You don’t even know me.”

She was hurt and outraged. “How can my own child say these things? I worked hard to know my children, learning to read their feelings from voice and gesture, learning to place their words in the context of his day-to-day life. How can one of them now say to me, “You don’t know who I really am,” she added.

Nothing shakes a parent’s confidence as much as the onset of a son’s or daughter’s adolescence. The communication that flowed easily, with words, glances and touch, becomes a battlefield.

Another young mother says, her once affectionate daughter, now 14, is gruff, grumpy and guarded, with “porcupine-like spines that bristle whenever I get near her”. She says, her 16-year-old elder son “gives off hate rays the minute I step into the room. His response to everything I say is a groan. Sometimes, I get furious, but mostly he manages to make me as unhappy as he seems to be.”


So, what is going wrong? Was that youngster right? Who are to be blamed – parents or teenagers?

Terri Apter, Ph.D., a highly acclaimed clinical psychologist and writer has something to contribute. Her books on family dynamics, identity and relationships received international acclaim.

Let us see what she says:

First, let us look at the teenager’s point of view. A teen often looks upon peers as models: “I don’t know who I am, but I know who he is, so I’ll be like him,” is the underlying thought. Parents become mirrors: teens want that mirror to reflect back to them the vividness and clarity they themselves do not feel.

The common teenager/parent quarrels, which explode every few days, can often be understood in this context. Those ‘quarrels’ are, at a superficial level, about curfews, homework, housework, and respect. On the other hand, a teenager’s real focus is on a parent’s acknowledgement of his maturity, knowledge and capability. “No, you can’t do that,” causes more than a glitch in a teen’s plan; it implies that a parent doesn’t trust him to make his own decisions. And, in a teen’s eyes, that’s not only unfair; it’s humiliating.

Apparently, minor exchanges can trigger major reactions, making a parent feel that “everything I say is wrong!” For example. a parent asks a checking-up question, and the teen feels like a little child again. “Have you got your keys?” and, “Do you have enough money for the bus?” imply, “You’re not able to look after yourself.” The teenager may tolerate such questions if uttered by a concerned friend, but from a parent they pinch on a teen’s own doubts.


Why do teens get so heated in arguments with parents? It is because so much is at stake: they are fighting to change their relationship with a parent, to make a parent see that they are not the child the parent thinks she knows. They want to shake a parent into awareness of the new and exciting person they hope to become.

Dr. Apter’s research, reassuringly, shows, that quarrelling with your teen doesn’t necessarily mean you have a bad relationship. The quality of a parent/teen bond has several measures: there is the comfort of simply being together, the willingness to share a range of daily experiences and to express a range of feelings - happiness as well as their unhappiness.

Some parents and teens who engage in frequent arguments have, by these measures, a good relationship: what matters is that a quarrel doesn’t end in two people brooding over their own anger. What a teen is aiming at, is to gain recognition and new respect for the parents he still loves.

Few other things

Dr. Apter also says, parents should not forget few other things.

Unlike in the good old days, today, parents have a far busier schedule. They have the never-ending work tension, a big social circle and are as obsessed with the smartphones and Internet as the teens. There is only little family time.

But teenagers are also equally busy. They feel stressed because they have a lot to do and excel at. Their calendar is so full they hardly find time to contemplate what is going on. They have to perform well and the pressure keeps piling up.

And, technology also played its part. Teenagers are accessible to smartphones, tablets, Internet, emails and all the social media apps. Instead of making free times fun, they keep busy with phones and tablets, checking out on the latest from their friends and replying to chats and emails.

So, what can parents do to get closer to their teenage children? Dr. Apter makes a few suggestions. Open up to them. Genuinely share their interests.

Trust and respect them. Do not mollycoddle them or preach to them. Do not run them down in front of others. Ask their opinion for family decisions and accept wherever possible. Give them credit where it is due. Think of every way to win their trust. In short, be a ‘trusted friend,’

It’s not going to be easy, but it’s worth trying!