A British poll published three weeks ago suggested that young people only begin to really appreciate their parents when they reach the ripe old age of 22 years.
Some parents of teenagers will find this disheartening, to say the least. 'Surely, we can expect some respect before then?', they'll say.
I was invited to address this issue on BBC TVs popular Breakfast programme recently. It seems that many people were surprised by the findings of this particular study.
As the father of three young adult children, aged between 24 and 19, I think I know what this poll is actually suggesting. It's not necessarily that teenagers don't appreciate their parents. It's just that for most of one's teenage life, the focus of the mind is firmly on oneself. A certain degree of self-centredness is a factory setting in teenagers. Besides, only an adult can begin to understand the real pressures and restrictions of adult life.
If you're a parent and you think I'm being unduly harsh on teenagers, try to remember for a moment what it was like when you were their age. As a teenager, you may not have set out to be self-obsessed, but the ongoing struggle to discover and assert your own identity, combined with the constant background pressures of peer expectation and uncertainty about your future probably tended to focus your mind in a largely inward direction.
In your middle teenage years, when the ravages of rapid hormonal change and physical growth were taking their toll, you probably didn't spare too many thoughts for your parents' feelings. You almost certainly didn't think about them as often as they thought about you.
What this study reveals ought to be common sense, really. As they approach the end of their teenage years, most young people can't wait to move out from under the dark, forbidding shadow of their parents and make their own way in the wide world. (Of course, in recessionary times such as these, financial pressures can conspire to keep them around a little while longer.) Once they achieve this magical goal, there's usually a fantastic sense of relief and sometimes even elation.
But the high doesn't last. After perhaps two or three years of this newly found freedom, young adults begin to realise that it isn't free; there is a price tag attached to independence. There's a plethora of new decisions to be made; not once but many times a month: decisions about budgeting, banking, food, transportation, insurance, health issues and much, much more.
What's more, their peers expect more from them than the family might. When you are living in shared accommodation, as most young adults do, the rules might not be the same as those under the family roof, but there is also less grace for those who fail to keep them!
So, after a couple of years away from home many young adults begin to look at their parents differently, because they are now confronting the business end of life for themselves. There is admiration for those who have trod that path successfully before; those brave pioneers who had carved a way through the wilderness - including their parents.
This new-found respect is also based on the depth of their parents' know-how. Facing major life choices, young people suddenly see their parents as a data-mine, a ready source of useful information. The study mentioned above found that by the mid-20s, young adults start plying their parents with questions about raising children, buying a house and so on.
That's hardly surprising. There is no way that a teenager can really understand the pressure of paying the rent, or meeting mortgage commitments, or holding down a job in a highly competitive marketplace. But a young adult can begin to understand all of these things, because these are now part of the business of their lives.
Even if younger teenagers could understand these everyday, life pressures, most would not have the emotional equipment to deal with them. Intuitively, they know this, yet the drive for independence and the need to express self-reliance often discourage them from showing appreciation for others who must face these pressures on their behalf.
What do we say, then, to parents of teenagers who, while they hope the children will be respectful at the ripe old age of 22, don't know if they can actually hold out that long?
If you're a parent, the most important thing to remember is that your kids won't be around the house forever. You should try to find as much good as possible in the time you have with them, because it is limited. Your children have many needs that only you can meet; but the same is true in reverse.
I remember when my son was very young, just starting school, how he told me about a school project that involved studying heroes. He was fascinated by the whole idea of someone being a hero. As I said goodnight to him one evening, he looked up at me and said, quite simply, "Dad, you're my hero." I was walking on a cloud for days after that. (Okay, I confess - it was in weeks after that. And there are still moments when I feel lifted by that simple, heartfelt statement from an innocent child.)
Moments like that are pure gold for a parent, because the number one default emotion for parents is guilt; closely followed by fear. No matter how well prepared we try to be for the parenting role, most of us constantly wonder whether we are doing it right. Is our discipline too tough; is it too light? Are we generous enough; or too indulgent? Are we making enough money to give our children a solid future? And the list of questions goes on and on.
There are nights when we toss and turn in bed wondering if we were right to get so upset with our kids and sound off the way we did. There are days spent away from home, on business trips and the like, when the sound of a voice on a telephone makes us wish with all our hearts that we were at home. (Of course, there are other times when a business trip can't come soon enough!)
We spend years giving love, discipline, values and time to our kids. Then, perhaps sooner than we thought, they're gone. The house is suddenly quieter and life seems more relaxed, yet we can't shake the feeling that a major chapter in our lives has just closed.
So, if you are parenting a teenager, it helps to try to take the long-term view. One day, with some good fortune and a bit of help from above, you will have the unique pleasure of watching as your adult children make something good of the start you gave them. And, if this study is anything to go by, you will have the added bonus of playing the expert to their questions about the practicalities of life. It's called going from zero to hero.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
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