Article by Ms Gomathi Reddy.
Ahem…Parenting was never a challenge – for my parents. I am not referring to just them, well almost everyone from that generation were cool parents – “Cool” as in being apathetic and indifferent. I don’t remember seeing even one member of that generation ever going head over heels trying to provide information to their wards over anything – from movies to college admissions, like the way I do. As their children, we did our thing. We never complained and yet got chided for not doing whatever we took upon ourselves, properly. And we listened and believed that we deserved all that mind-bashing that came in non-stop stretches of lectures, aka advice.
Today, as a parent to a teenager, I dare not try any of that on my child. I don’t see myself as such a parent. I have my own self-image of being a smart, active, well-informed(!) parent, who balances many things in her life including being there for her child, anytime he needs me. I cast aside all such monologues in my head and decided to plunge headlong into my active parenting avatar which also means I take on the roles of being his educator, counsellor, career guidance expert and generally the know-it-all which he loves to hate, but can’t.
Today is one such day. After another gruelling day at work, I gather more inputs on how his college applications must go, which ones have the right 4-year degree in the field of his choice and kept downloading their syllabus, to make an informed decision. While it’s interesting to browse through and get info, it’s also stressful to think that the choices you suggest might not turn out to be what they appear to be, in the information brochures. To me almost all information brochures are like travel websites – the reality is never anywhere close to the copy or the Photo-shopped images.
As I reach home with a few bags, the lift was out of power and the exhausted me was greeted by a teenage multi-tasking – Headphones hissing some favourite music of his, fingers tapping the laptop playing FIFA and watching Flash on TV all at the same time. He’s a cool kid, “cool” as in the way his grandparents were. And finally we catch up on all that he did for the day, across the dinner table.
I was quite impressed to note that amidst his multi-tasking, he was able to revise his portions, ping his friends on FB and has stayed in touch with his teachers; has downloaded all material that was required for self-study and has gotten enrolled into an EdX course, just to get the hang of Linux. And he was all too eager to learn other aspects of offline “meaningful” socializing a well, though he comes across as an introverted child. I was happy to see his progress. He has a natural penchant for anything digital, and he learns things with just a few clicks and miffs, without a fuss. He would never even discuss all that he learnt and has always surprised me with his right answers and observations, bang on. Can I take credit for any of this? Certainly not!
So what can parents teach their children in this information-surfeit-age?
1. Define your circles. Choose them right: Talk to them on how to maintain cordial relationships with everyone, but with the understanding that one must be able to group their friends – the inner circle of 5-6 people, the offline social circle of 15-20 people and the larger circle of any number (this includes your social media friends etc).
Let him know that these circles are essentially a way of defining how transparent and vulnerable you can be with people. The innermost circle of 5-6 people are the ones who will never judge you, and with them you can be yourself – devoid of masks. They’d never do anything to take advantage of you or are never judgemental about you, or your actions.
They are an extension of you, and they readily provide the life-long emotional support system that you need. Teach them that you must be available to them in a similar way. Choosing people for this inner circle is going to be a long-drawn process and they must deserve to be there. Reinforce it to them that by defining them, you clearly set rules for yourself on who gets to know what about you. You interact, have fun, get work done, but you always stay aware about yourself as a person.
This helps your teen gain confidence to handle life as it happens and they are never overwhelmed by people or their motives.
2. Teach them a way of life: Set simple goals and work to reach those goals. This can be as simple as cleaning up the cupboards over a weekend or planning to “investing in a plot by the end of the year.” Share your goals with your children and let them see that you are working toward your goals.
Let them observe that you will be willing to put aside your indulgences, if need be, to meet those goals. Let them understand that family is about having a team to support, nourish and celebrate your dreams. Let them know when you’ve achieved your goal, and throw a little celebratory event for them on achieving your goal.
They imbibe these qualities and pass it on in a similar fashion to their own children, at the right time. No school or website can teach them these skills. Only you can.
3. You fall, to rise up again: Let them know that disappointments and failures are a way of life, and that they are part of one’s growth trajectory. If you are not falling and failing, you are not learning. Show them that failures happen, so that you learn a lesson – The harder the emotional impact, the greater is the learning, and some part of you changes for the better or worse, after a fall.
Discuss with them that the important thing is to learn to rise up again, every time you fall. Don’t hesitate to share your pain with your teen, but also live it up – show them that you are an indomitable spirit and you’ll fight back to get out of an adverse situation.
They quickly understand that being resilient to adversity defines your character. Immaterial of how materially rich or poor you are, they understand that challenges come your way to refine you as a person, and true wealth and abundance is from within.
4. Faith and forgiveness: Show them that you must learn to let go things that are becoming hurdles to your own growth – these can be situations or even people. Show them that “commitment” is all about the self and not about the other person. You should share with them that forgiving the ones who matter, and placing faith in your ability to judge a situation, even after you’ve had a rough day, is self-development.
Share specific examples from their day-to-day life to illustrate these points. Keep communication channels open and ask them to stay open to sharing these experiences with those in their inner circle. Allow them to assess their inner circle of friends every now and then, and stay hands-off. Don’t get judgemental about their choices. You must place faith in their ability to learn from their mistakes as well. They are the best lessons and they are come without a finders-fee.
5. Believe in your higher purpose: Let them know that they are here for a higher purpose. Let them know that survival teaches all of us a few things, so that we can hone our skills to take on your higher purpose of life. Let them know that they can stay connected with the all-loving-Universal-energy to guide them at times of a dilemma, provided they allow it to.
Share stories about successful people who have been guided by this connection to the Universal energy, and who have shaped up this mankind. Examples include Mahatma Gandhi, Einstein, Kekule, Martin Luther King, Socrates etc. While this may look too abstract, believe in the simplicity of the message – You are never alone. You are guided by a higher energy to help you achieve your purpose. Difficulties happen, only when you deviate from your higher purpose. So introspect and course correct – every day.
Your teen will understand these things intuitively, as much as did Kahlil Gibran.
Your children are not your children
They are the sons and daughters of
Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you, but not from you.
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you
You may give them your love, but not your thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams…
About the author: Gomathi Reddy is a single-parent, writer and learning & knowledge services resource. In this column she shares her personal experiences and perspectives, which she hopes will help anyone wanting to live a full life. You can reach her at [email protected]