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Mission Impossible?

Hope for parenting today’s teenagers

Mission Impossible?

Picture this: A dad looks into his 14-year-old son’s laptop and finds violent adult material. Now he understands the aloof and sullen behaviour that he has been encountering with his son. Should he confront him? Yes? But wait! Maybe not…What if his son decides to walk out of the home just like the last time? Or worse, gets violent and hits back?

The 21st Century Parent is almost afraid of exercising authority over their kids, especially with their teens. This fear is fueled by a personal belief and experience that kids do not listen any more. This parent-child disconnect is driving parents to despair as they lose confidence in their parenting skills.

Incapacitated by self-doubt, parents belittle their own parental rights by grasping whatever little that’s left to win their children back. It seems that the only way to reclaim authority is through compromise and gentle coaxing. Any other way will simply not make the cut with today’s willful and entitled child.

Growing Kids in a Twitch-Speed World

Our media-saturated world is responsible for a new generation that thrives in the digital playgrounds of Facebook, Twitter, iPhones, and the like. These young netizens prefer to connect online than in real time. They are perpetually plugged-in to their iPods and logged-on to social networks; the art of engaging in heart-to-heart conversation with family and friends takes a lesser role.

A recent survey by an advertising journal released the following statistics in South East Asia: 97% of youths have Facebook accounts and 931,000 Twitter accounts post some 50 million tweets a day.  45% are avid bloggers whose feelings, preferences and grievances are broadcast with much passion and dedication. YouTube  ranks third in social media platforms, raking in a 36% viewership for those aged 18-34. Their sole obsession? To download and upload video streams as fast as they can for all to see.

You see these kids in their daily commute and study, comfortably tethered to their mobile devices. These multi-taskers appear isolated in the real world but are very connected through the cyber waves. In short, welcome to the Age of Virtual Community, where the ultimate claim to fame is when one’s online presence is larger than in real life.

The Missing Parents of the 21st Century

Most parents are sincere in their aspirations to be good parents. Somewhere in their kids’ growing up years, that intention gets lost in a maze of missed opportunities, discouragements and misplaced hope.

The biblical mandate “not to withhold discipline from a child” (Proverbs 23:13) becomes vague with parents increasingly hesitant, unsure how to deal with this ambivalent generation of kids.

Faced with the daunting task of trying to understand why their kids stay self-absorbed, isolated, entitled and dismissive, the Hesitant Parent turns to the very same source of distraction, to Google for parenting help. Herein lies the greatest irony, as they too trawl for aggregated opinions and solicit help. In all likelihood, the advice found may equally be tainted with half-truths. Christian parents have forgotten to claim the real promises from the Word that gives Life.

The Left-Behind Parent on the other hand cowers behind the fear of offending their child. Hampered by a lack of understanding and insufficient knowledge, they become suspicious and overly cautious when their tech-savvy kids shut them out. Left behind and weighted down by insecurity and vulnerability, these parents are easily intimidated by their kids’ demands for privacy. “Don’t intrude into their private space, don’t sneak into their SMS and chats, don’t question their choice of friends” and the list grows longer each day as a mistaken token of respect for their kids’ demands for privacy.

The Weary Parent is another sad reflection of our fast-paced world. Overworked and overscheduled both in the office and at home, parents find themselves trapped in a treadmill lifestyle that leaves them perpetually exhausted and stressed. Family time is minimized and kids are outsourced to surrogate helpers for enrichment classes and playtime. It gets even scarier when iPhones and iPads are touted by weary parents as the best babysitters whenever they need a brief respite.

Too self-absorbed in chasing corporate success or personal fulfillment in life, the Abdicated Parent has become disinterested in their parenting responsibilities.  They abandon their rights at home and step down from their roles as protective dads and nurturing mums. Their kids gradually grow the distance to avoid living with the pain of abandonment and neglect.

Reclaiming the Biblical Mandate for Family

Parents need to unlearn the bad habits of being lulled by the world and swayed by its norms. They need to look to the ancient ways, where biblical wisdom is gleaned and peace is found. Parenting with a biblical purpose is a good start to “being transformed by the renewing of the mind” so that family members can connect meaningfully. A family can only stay intact when there’s healthy respect and honour for each other.

In short, Ephesians 6:1-4 and Deuteronomy 6:4-9 present a good biblical template for an orderly family life. This mandate outlines an authoritative and meaningful connectivity where both parent and child can relate to each other in an authentic manner so that their lives “may go well…” and they “may enjoy long life on earth”.

Translated into practical terms, here are 10 parenting tips that can help lessen the heartache of parenting challenges and usher in hope:

  • Integrate your children back into the core of Scriptural truths through bold proclamations, even when they may appear unreceptive.

  • Model daily acts of humility, integrity, respect, honour and trust. Good character traits cannot be taught overnight but must be “caught” when kids watch you do good.

  • Be intentional about setting aside time for family bonding and caring. Love is grown when time is spent to meet each other’s needs.

  • Learn to stay grateful as a family so that the blessings can multiply. A grateful heart is less self-centered and opens the way to generosity.

  • Teach kids that submission to parental authority is not about blind compliance but the recognition that discipline paves the way to successful living.

  • Respect your kids for their opinions but do steer them right when you recognise a bad life choice.

  • Be more of a coach as they grow older. Negotiate rather than command. They hear better when they feel that they are being heard.

  • Don’t personalise all rejection as an indication that you’re a bad parent. Remember that they are still kids at heart: work in progress.

  • Be less reactive and more proactive. Kids like you to be around but baulk at the thought of you jumping in every time with your rescue gear.

  • Keep the relationship at all cost. They will always see your love even in the midst of tensions.

Chong Cheh Hoon is a certified counsellor and an occasional writer. Her passion in life is to journey alongside couples and families struggling with life challenges. Married to Calvin, they try to keep up with societal developments through the lens of their two teenage (now grown up) sons.

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