I am a great fan of James Herriot, the Yorkshire veterinarian, who continues to delight successive generations with his semi-autobiographical stories on treating animals. In one of his books, the reader is introduced to his two young children who love to accompany him on his cases. In one such story featuring his mischievous son, I came across a piece of advice which has been coming to mind quite frequently over the past couple of years: You need nerves of steel to be a parent. In this instance, Herriot’s son climbs the wisteria creeping up the wall of the multi-storied dispensary to the higher dangerous regions and hangs upside down despite being forbidden to do so. He falls down with a loud yell which spurs Herriot to abandon his patient on the table and rush to his aid. When Herriot returns, after assuring himself that his son is unhurt, and apologizes to the owner of the animal, the gentleman comforts him and offers the above homily. Though this was in the context of the trials and tribulations faced by parents raising young hyperactive children, the teen years bring their own share of such hair-raising incidents.
Today, in Bangalore, there are many teens—not yet 18—who ride two-wheelers with an engine size above 50 cc (16-year olds are legally allowed to ride vehicles with an engine size below 50 cc only) to school. This creates problems for law abiding parents who have to deal with the resentment of their teens at being refused a two-wheeler. Not acceding to the demand for a vehicle does not necessarily mean that parents have prevented illegal driving by their teens—there are several instances of teens borrowing their friends’ vehicles for a joy ride. My son is not yet 18 and neither are most of his classmates; but quite a few of them ride two-wheelers (above 50 cc) to school. I had to deal with a fair amount of resentment and anger when I told my son that he would get a two-wheeler only when he turned 18. I was doubtful about the safety and stability of these flimsy vehicles and my son’s ability to comply with the restrictions imposed by then. Also, buying him a 50 cc vehicle at 16 would be a waste two years down the line—no self-respecting 18-year old will touch a 50 cc vehicle with a barge pole! He campaigned tenaciously for several weeks and even tried to convince me by giving me demos on his friend’s vehicle. At first the demos were intended to reassure me as to what a careful driver he was; later their character changed and it was more about ‘I am old enough to make my own decisions and you can’t prevent me from riding if I want to, thank you very much’. Living through these demos was nerve-racking to say the least but mercifully they didn’t last very long once he realized that I was not going to budge. This incident taught me some valuable lessons on dealing with teen anger and resentment when refusing unreasonable demands:
• Stay resolute: you need that steely resolve to not give in to the pressure; at the same time, be friendly and continue to express love and concern. Carry on as though everything is normal and ignore indirect or snide references to the issue at hand.
• Communicate: look for opportunities to talk to your teen about your reasons for not agreeing to their request/demand. I have found that a logical explanation backed by facts and figures often does the trick. Be open and don’t try to hide pertinent facts that have influenced your decision.
• Take time to respond: when your teen first approaches you with his/her demand and your first instinct is to vehemently refuse it, control yourself and ask for time to think about it. This will give you time to frame an adequate response and prevent harsh words.
• Retain your sense of humor: easier said than done but when all else fails, quite often, humor saves the day!
We are not the only influences in our teen’s lives; they have their own friends and peers who have greater power over them. To remain effective, stay involved, yet set firm limits about what is acceptable and what is not and continue to shower them with love and affection. Eventually, these difficult years will be behind you and your hostile teen will grow into a strong, mature, independent adult that you can be proud of!
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