Friday, June 10, 2011

When to empower your teenager

By Focus on the Family Malaysia

The teenage years are often considered a complex time for any person. One of the difficulties faced by teenagers is knowing the extent they should be treated as an adult while recognizing they still have quite a bit of  “growing up” to do.

Teenagers feel that they have come of age when they obtain their myKad and when they first enter secondary school. While these are laudable milestones towards maturity, it is often best to ensure they are taught and nurtured to trust their parents and adults and go to them for advice.

You are never too old to receive advice. And being available at all times for your teenager is the first step in building trust and opening communication channels for years to come.

Coping with change is difficult even for mature adults. For teenagers, the physical and emotional changes they face can be frightening and and also very confusing.

Meeting their needs at this challenging stage in their life is important and parents need to ensure that they understand and provide the assurance teenagers need.

It is so important that parents affirm and show value for each child. Praising and encouraging them in what they excel at is a great way of establishing strong lines of communication.

Decision-making is another challenge that teenagers are confronted with. As they grow older, they have to make decisions concerning their friends and relationships, their academic stream and soon, even career decisions.

These are important areas of their lives where your input would be valued. Of course they could go to the school counselor but they would probably receive a perfunctory listen and a list of alternatives.

To have someone with whom they can confide in meaningfully; someone whom they have confidence in; someone who believes in them, knows them better than anyone else and wants the best for them – they couldn’t find a better person than their parents!

So, remember to bond and make time for your children when they are young so that both of you can continue to enjoy the fruits of a healthy parent-teen relationship well after your teenagers become adults.


Explain in greater detail the role of power in the life of a teenager.

Answer: Let’s begin with a definition. Power is the ability to control others, to control our circumstances, and especially, to control ourselves. The lust for it lies deep within the human spirit. We all want to be the boss, and that impulse begins very early in life.

Studies show that one-day-old infants actually reach for control of the adults around them. Even at that tender age, they behave in ways designed to get their guardians to meet their needs.

The desire for power is evident when a toddler runs from his mother in a supermarket or when a 10-year-old refuses to do his or her homework or when a husband and wife fight over money. We see it when an elderly woman refuses to move to a nursing home.

The common thread between these and a thousand other examples is the passion to run our own lives – and everything else, if given the chance. People vary in the intensity of this urge, but it seems to motivate all of us to one degree or another.

Now, what about your sons and daughters? Have you wondered why they come home from school in such a terrible mood? Have you asked them why they are so jumpy and irritable through the evening?

Perhaps they are unable to describe their feelings to you, but they may have engaged in a form of combat all day. Even if they haven’t had to fight with their fists, it is likely that they are embroiled in a highly competitive, openly hostile environment where emotional danger lurks on every side.

Am I overstating the case? Yes, for the kid who is coping well. But for the powerless young man and woman, I haven’t begun to tell their stories.

That’s why they are nervous wrecks on the first day of school or before the team plays its initial game or any other time when their power base is on the line.

The raw nerve, you see, is not really dominance but self-worth. One’s sense of value is dependent on peer acceptance at that age and that is why the group holds such enormous influence over the individual.

If he or she is mocked, disrespected, ridiculed, and excluded – in other words, if that individual is stripped of power – he or she feels it deeply.


If power is so important to teenagers, then it must play a key role in family dynamics. How does it work itself out at home?

Answer: You’ve asked a very perceptive question. It is a wise parent who knows intuitively how to transfer power, or independence, to the next generation.

That task requires a balancing act between two equally dangerous extremes. They dare not set their teenagers free before they are mature enough to handle the autonomy – even though they are screaming for it.

Adolescents still need parental leadership, and parents are obligated to provide it – that’s the law of the land. One of the characteristics of those who acquire power too early is a prevailing attitude of disrespect for authority.

It extends to teachers, ministers, policemen, judges, and even to God Himself. Such an individual has never yielded to parental leadership at home. Why should he or she submit himself or herself to anyone else?

For a rebellious teenager, it is only a short step from there to drug abuse, sexual experimentation, running away, and so on. The early acquisition of power has claimed countless young victims by this very process.

On the other hand, there is an equally dangerous mistake to be avoided at the latter end of adolescence. We must not wait too long to set our young adults free. Self-determination is a basic human right to which every adult is entitled. To withhold that liberty too long is to incite wars of revolution.

My good friend Jay Kesler observed that Mother England made that specific mistake with her children in the American colonies. They grew to become rebellious “teenagers” who demanded their freedom. Still she refused to release them, and unnecessary bloodshed ensued.

Fortunately, England learned a valuable lesson from that painful experience. Some 171 years later, she granted a peaceful and orderly transfer of power to another tempestuous offspring named India. Revolution was averted.

At the risk of being redundant, let me summarize our goal as parents: First, we must not transfer power too early, even if our children take us daily to the battlefield. Mothers who make that mistake are some of the most frustrated people on the face of the earth.

On the other hand, we must not retain parental power too long. Control will be torn from our grasp if we refuse to surrender it voluntarily. The granting of self-determination should be matched stride for stride with the arrival of maturity, culminating with complete release during early adulthood.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? We all know better. I consider this orderly transfer of power to be one of the most delicate and difficult responsibilities in the entire realm of parenthood.


What guidelines can you offer to help us transfer power at the right time – neither early nor late?

Answer: There are some approaches that have been successful in lessening this conflict. The Amish people have developed a unique tradition that has succeeded for them.

Their children are kept under very tight control when they are young. Strict discipline and harsh standards of behaviour are imposed from infancy.

When children turn 16 years of age, however, they enter a period called "Rumspringa". Suddenly, all restrictions are lifted. They are free to drink, smoke, date, marry, or behave in ways that horrify their parents.

Some do just that. But most don’t. They are even granted the right to leave the Amish community if they choose. But if they stay, it must be in accordance with the social order. The majority accepts the heritage of their families, not because they must, but because they choose to.

Although I admire the Amish and many of their approaches to child rearing, I believe the "Rumspringa" concept is implemented too quickly for children raised in a more open society.

To take a teenager overnight from rigid control to complete emancipation is an invitation to anarchy. It works in the controlled environment of Amish country, but it would be disastrous for most of the rest of us.

I’ve seen families grant “instant adulthood” to their adolescents, to their regret. The result has been similar to what occurred in African colonies when European leadership was suddenly withdrawn. Bloody revolutions were often fought in the power vacuum that was created.

If it doesn’t work to transfer power suddenly to young people, how can they be established as full-fledged adults without creating a civil war in the process?

I have recommended that parents begin granting tiny elements of independence literally in toddlerhood. When a child can tie his shoes, he should be permitted – yes, required – to do it. When she can choose her clothes, she should make her own selections, within reason.

When he can walk safely to school, he should be allowed to do so. Each year, more responsibility and freedom (they are companions) must be given to the child so that the final release in early adulthood is merely a small, final release of authority. This is the theory, at least. Pulling it off is sometimes quite another matter.

In the final analysis, your own son or daughter will let you know when the time is right for independence. You must judge his or her maturity, wisdom, and emotional readiness for full-fledged adulthood. Then you grant it – and pray diligently for the next 30 years.

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