KAMLESH D. PATEL shares his ideas on relationships with teenage children
Q: Can we speak about the relationship between parents and teenagers? I have two children, and during their adolescence, they always felt, “We are right, mummy and papa are wrong. We are being curbed.” And this is the age when they are rebellious. For everything, the answer is, “No, I will not do it. My friend’s parents let them do this, you don’t let me do it, you are wrong.” And this is also the age when there is a little separation or distance developing between adolescent children and parents. What is your advice on this, and how do you mend this relationship?
Daaji: You cannot manhandle children at that age. If you are too strong they will break. If you are too weak they will become spoilt. The most important thing is how you prepare them for the future from day one. You cannot expect to see a change in them when they have turned twelve or thirteen.
There is no easy solution. We have to support them to a certain extent, for example, “I don’t mind you going out, but by this time you should come back.” Does that mean they will postpone or pre-pone the activities which are not so good? We don’t know. We have to trust them also. Have confidence that they will not do anything wrong.
If you constantly nag them and warn them, it frustrates them. Over carefulness from the parents’ side destroys the relationship. Be careful, but don’t show it. Be very subtle, and share stories with them – beautiful stories, inspiring stories. The problem is that we have stopped reading stories to them at bedtime. Even when they are thirteen, fourteen, fifteen or eighteen, why not even when they are at thirty, share a nice story with them. Share a nice joke with them. That will make them think. This rhythm has to be placed in their hearts from a young age.
When they are teenagers, an inner awakening is there in them, and they are slowly shifting mentally and emotionally from their dependence on their parents to their own self.
They are searching, and they are discovering things. Our job is to guide them in the right direction.
When children are awake, we can intensify their observational capacity, starting with how a flower blooms, how the stars shine – keep them busy with inspiring things. Let them count the stars. It is a beautiful moment actually. Let them see the leaves changing colors every day. Take the child every day to the same tree or plant and say, “Look at this tree. We’ll come back tomorrow and we will see the color.” Continuously keep at these activities. Bring a coffee cup, fill it with soil, put some seeds in the soil, and see how new life sprouts. This training in observation that we give right from the beginning is very important.
Now all this is up to a certain age. Afterwards we can teach them regularity in life: wake up early in the morning, how to sit, how to talk, the kind of music to listen to, etc. This rhythm has to be placed in their hearts from a young age. When they are teenagers, an inner awakening is there in them, and they are slowly shifting mentally and emotionally from their dependence on their parents to their own self. They are searching, and they are discovering things. Our job is to guide them in the right direction.
Don’t be bossy. Don’t lecture them. If your child says, “I want to try this out,” you can say, “Okay, go ahead. Let’s see what happens.” Don’t always be so negative. Don’t always question, “What were you doing?” You are putting your child on the defensive. You are teaching him how to lie. You could say instead, “I wish I had known; I would have picked you up, my son or my daughter.”
Conversation is important, and communication is very important. Joking is the most important thing. Jokes that you used to share with little children do not need to stop as they become teenagers. Story sharing can continue. When you read a profound philosophical message from any source, share it with them with a lot of joy: “My child, listen to this, how wonderful it is.”
And when they do something wrong, it is not the end of the world. Children are not stupid. They know that they have made a mistake, but we make it worse by reminding them, “You see what you have done. I knew you were going to do this.” Then they rebel. They already know that they have made a mistake and feel bad about it; now you are rubbing salt into the wound.
Conversation is important, and communication is very important. Joking is the most important thing.
Jokes that you used to share with little children do not need to stop as they become teenagers. Story sharing can continue. When you read a profound philosophical message from any source, share it with them with a lot of joy, “My child, listen to this, how wonderful it is.”
You have to be sympathetic in a very indirect way also. Behave as though you don’t know anything, because their pride is riding high at that time. They don’t want to show their mistakes to the parents whom they adore so much. “I don’t want to let my parents down” is also there. Even though a child may be going haywire, yet this inner sense is always prevailing. That is why they lie. That is why they hide. Otherwise if they were so proud of their actions they would do it right in front of you. Their conscience is still active, still alive.
But there are many parents these days who rear their children according to their desire and passion. So what is your desire, what is your passion, what do you want to create in your child? How are you going to design the destiny of your child? As your children grow, at every age, your approach to them must change. Once those children become adults and marry, they have their own lives, so why interfere? When they come to you, be the best you can be. Give the best you can, but there is no point interfering. Nagging them does not work: “You must do this; you must not do that.” Don’t give them the chance to say you are stupid.
Also, be ahead of your children at the technological level, at the knowledge level. We stop learning things, and that is why our children are able to say, “Oh! You don’t even know this!” At least have some idea about certain advancements, and the changes happening in the world. You cannot insulate yourself from the things that are happening.
Changes and trends need not be bad. They can be very ennobling. Now it has become a much freer society I would say, but we are paying a price for it, we are having a war! I mean there is so much boiling and mixing happening, like never before. I don’t think there was ever a period in the history of the human race like today. It is extremely unique. Extremely intense changes are taking place. At a good level there are intense changes, and at a bad level also there are intense changes. And we must help our children to go in the right direction.
Sometimes they make mistakes, and you are watching. Don’t let them go too far. Keep on showing them sensitively and sensibly about the perils, but not by becoming negative. Then they realise, “My mom or my papa told me that, but I didn’t listen.” And when such things happen a few times they will have the confidence that, “They are more experienced than me. Now it is time to listen.”
This can happen only when you give them the freedom to do certain things. Let them make mistakes. Let them understand on their own that you advised them correctly. Slowly they will have more confidence that, “My parents are wise.” Of course it is not always universal, as exceptions are always there in life situations, but by and large respect will be greater when you don’t interfere.
You have to be very indirect. You have to play your role in such a way that children don’t feel that you are influencing them in any way. Always be guided by your heart. When you meditate, you will receive the guidance: “This is what I should be doing or not doing.”
We have to help them remove the guilt that develops because of such peer pressure.
We have to give them the confidence that “You have the ability to say ‘no’ to certain things. Use your wisdom; guide your friends. They can be foolish but you are wiser.”
Q: Some parents I know were distraught because they found out that their teenage son had started smoking and drinking a glass of beer with his friends. And there was a showdown in the house. How does one handle that situation?
Daaji: Give some level of liberty to your child. Smoking is not the end of the world. Drinking is also not the end of the world. It is not that you are giving them freedom to do all these things, but at times you have to let children learn certain lessons on their own by making mistakes. When you see that he or she is smoking, find some funny stories or movies depicting the negative effects of such a bad habit and share it with them. There is a lot of information available on drugs, drinking etc. Provide it to them.
Help your children face peer pressure in doing or not doing certain things with their friends. Peer pressure kills them. We have to help them remove the guilt that develops because of such peer pressure. We have to give them the confidence that “You have the ability to say ‘no’ to certain things. Use your wisdom; guide your friends. They can be foolish but you are wiser. If you go ahead and do it, see the impact of it on your physical system and mental system.” If they still insist, go ahead and give them the freedom. Tell them, “I will buy you a carton of cigarettes, but see for yourself how it affects your studies and your physical well-being.” Show them all the negative things that can happen because of such indulgence.
I remember in the eighties, when my boys were born one after the other, I used to get a newsletter on how to raise children. The number one suggestion was, “Never say, ‘Do this’ directly.” It is a beautiful suggestion, beautiful advice. Never force a child and say, “You must sleep now.” Instead, say something like, “Let’s make a rule: it is nine o’clock. When this hand comes to this number you must sleep because the clock says so.” Children understand all that. Afterwards, as they grow, they argue differently, and that is a different matter, but when they are young it is a matter of training. Don’t teach them the art of rebelling from an early age. Let them blame the clock!
Interviewed by ANURADHA BHATIA
This article was first published in the Heartfulness Magazine. The copyright is owned by Sahaj Marg Spirituality Foundation and it is reproduced here with permission. Other articles by the author and similar articles can be accessed at http://www.heartfulnessmagazine.com