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• Communicate unconditional love
• Communicate unconditional love
• Handle teenage anger … and your own
• Deal with adolescent depression
• Establish loving communication even when your teen shuts down
• Help your teenager grow spiritually
As you learn to love your teen in ways he or she can receive, you’ll be amazed at the joy the teenage years can bring.
Teenagers: Children in Transition
"I can't believe she did it," explained Mrs. Batten as she and Mr. Batten began to unfold their painful story in my counseling room. "She was such a good girl, always content, never gave us much trouble. I thought we were giving Debbie everything she needed—clothes, church, a good home.
"Why would she ever want to try to kill herself? How could she have taken all those pills? Does she really want to die, or is she just trying to get attention? I'm so confused. And she's gotten so hateful and sullen. I can't talk to her, and she won't talk to me. She just wants to spend time by herself in her room. And her grades have become terrible."
Mrs. Batten sat in her chair, her shoulders slumped, the sparkle missing from her usually bright eyes. As she told me more of her daughter's problems, I knew that she was as confused and lonely as Debbie. This was a typical example of the gap in understanding how to love a teenager.
"When did you notice these changes in Debbie?" I asked.
"About two or three years ago," replied Mrs. Batten. "But it was so gradual we didn't think anything was seriously wrong until fairly recently. Let's see. She's fifteen now. During the last few months of sixth grade we noticed she became bored—first with school. Her grades began falling. A teacher complained of her daydreaming and nonparticipation in class. She was very concerned about Debbie then. I wish we had listened to Mrs. Collins. She was such a fine teacher.
"Then Debbie gradually became bored with life. She gave up her favorite activities one by one and seemed to lose interest in everything, including church. She began to avoid her good friends and spend more and more time by herself. She talked less and less.
"But everything became even worse when she began seventh grade. She completely withdrew from her old standby friends and began running around with kids who were in trouble most of the time. Debbie's attitude worsened as she became more like her new friends. And they often led her into trouble—deep trouble.
"Yet we've tried almost everything," Mrs. Batten continued. "First, we spanked her. Then we began taking away her privileges and freedoms. We've grounded her. We've tried rewarding her for good behavior. We've talked to everyone we thought might be able to help us. I really believe we have tried everything. Can Debbie really be helped?" "We're desperate," Mr. Batten interjected. "Did we do a poor job as parents? We've certainly tried hard enough. Is it inherited? Maybe physical? Should we get a sugar test or an EEG? Will vitamins or minerals help? We love Debbie, Dr. Campbell. What can be done? Is it hopeless?"
I saw Debbie after her parents left. She was a pretty girl with likable ways. Although unquestionably intelligent, she had difficulty speaking in a clear, audible way. She communicated mostly in grunts with many "uh-huhs." Debbie did not have the natural spontaneity and enthusiasm we like to see in a 15-year-old girl. She was obviously unhappy, and it was difficult to communicate with her.
However, when Debbie felt more comfortable, she spoke more freely and her eye contact improved. She stated by her behavior and in her words that she had lost interest in all she once cared for. She finally said, "Nothing really matters. No one cares about me and I don't care about anything. It doesn't matter anyway."
As the conversation continued, it became clear that Debbie was suffering from an increasingly frequent and serious adolescent problem—depression. She seldom felt content with herself or her life. For years Debbie had longed for a close, warm relationship with her parents, but during the past few months, she had gradually given up hope in this dream. More and more she turned to her peers, who she thought would accept her more lovingly; but her unhappiness deepened.
Sad to say, Debbie is typical of many adolescent girls. Debbie seemed to be happy and content during her earlier years. During those years, she was a complacent child who made few demands on her parents, teachers, or others. So no one suspected that she did not feel genuinely loved and accepted by her parents. Though she had parents who deeply loved her and cared for her, Debbie did not feel genuinely loved. Yes, Debbie intellectually knew of her parents' love and care for her and never would have told you that they didn't love her. But Debbie didn't have the precious and crucial feeling of being completely and unconditionally loved and accepted.
This situation is difficult to understand because Debbie's parents loved their daughter and looked after her needs to the best of their ability. Mr. and Mrs. Batten had attempted to carry out all that they had learned and had also followed good advice from experts. In addition, their marriage was indeed a good one. They had a stable relationship and loved each other. Each treated the other with respect.
Yet, the Battens, like many parents today, experienced real difficulty raising a teenager and understanding how to guide her effectively through the stages of her life to young adulthood. With pressures increasing every day upon the American family, it's easy to become disheartened, confused, and pessimistic. Rising rates of divorce, economic and financial crises, decreasing quality of education, and declining trust in leadership—all place emotional hardships on everyone. As parents suffer increasing physical, emotional, and spiritual strain, it becomes more and more difficult to care for our teenagers. I believe that a child, especially a teenager, pays the greatest price during these difficult times. Teenagers are the most vulnerable persons in our society, and their deepest need is love.
Debbie's parents had carried out their parental responsibility in raising their daughter to the best of their ability—but something wasn't right. Debbie didn't feel genuinely loved. Was it her parents' fault? Were they to blame? I don't believe so. Mr. and Mrs. Batten had always loved Debbie but had never known how to convey their love. As with most parents, they had a vague notion of the needs of a child—protection, shelter, food, clothes, education, guidance, love, etc. They had met essentially all these needs except unconditional love.
Teenagers Are Still Children
Teenagers are children in transition. They are not young adults. Their needs, including their emotional needs, are those of children. One of the most common mistakes parents, teachers, and others make regarding adolescents is to consider them junior adults. Many people in authority over teenagers overlook their childlike needs for feeling love and acceptance, for being taken care of, and for knowing that someone really cares for them.
Far too many teenagers today feel that no one really cares about them. As a result, many of them have feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, helplessness, poor self-esteem, and self-deprecation.
Today's teenagers are sometimes described as the "apathetic generation." This apathy is on the surface. Beneath this surface is anger and confusion. Why is this? Because so many teens see themselves in a negative way, as unappreciated and worthless. Such a self-concept is the natural result of not feeling genuinely loved and cared for.
Two of the most frightening results of this apathy are depression and revolt against authority. Apathetic teens can become easy prey for unscrupulous persons who use young people for their own ends. They are susceptible to being influenced by authoritarian persons who themselves are anti-authority, against legitimate authority. As a result, our society is becoming increasingly angry against authority and authority figures. This is a dangerous threat in a democratic society where security rests on trust and personal responsibility. But there are ways that we will discuss later to prevent apathy in teenagers and to promote healthy, energetic, productive, and creative attitudes.
Influence of the Home
Parenting teenagers in today's world is difficult. One important reason for this is that most of a teenager's time is spent under the control and influence of others—school teachers, peers, neighbors, and television entertainers. Many people feel that regardless of how well they do their jobs as parents, their efforts have a small effect on their teenagers. But the opposite is true. Evidence indicates that the home is stronger than any other influence in determining how happy, secure, and stable teenagers are; how they relate to adults, peers, or children; how confident they are in themselves; and how they respond to new or strange situations. Regardless of the many distractions in the life of a teenager, the home has the deepest influence.
Teenagers may be bigger, smarter, stronger, or in other ways superior to their parents. But emotionally they are still children. They continue to need to feel loved and accepted by their parents. Unless teenagers feel that priceless assurance of love and acceptance by their parents, they will not be their best or do their best. They cannot reach their potential.
Relatively few teenagers are fortunate enough to feel truly loved and accepted as they should be. True, most parents have deep feelings of love toward their teenagers. They assume that they naturally and effectively convey this love. This is indeed the greatest error parents make today, for most parents are simply not transmitting or conveying their own heartfelt love to their teenagers. They don't know how!
As I work with teenagers who come to me with problems, a common, interweaving thread constantly presents itself as either the cause or the aggravator of their troubled situations—a feeling of not being loved and cared for by their parents.
That is what this book is all about. It's a how-to book to help parents know how to love their teenagers so they will be their best, act their best, and grow to become their best. I pray that it will be not only a book of answers for the weary, confused parent, but also a book of hope.
I, for one, love teenagers. They are among the dearest people I know. Given what they need emotionally, they are able to respond in such wholesome and joyful ways that sometimes I think my heart will burst.
Yes, they are definitely capable of trying us to our utter limits of tolerance and patience. Yes, sometimes we lose our cool and our tempers and feel we simply do not have what it takes to meet their needs. We may even want to run away or give up.
But hang in there! Your perseverance is indeed worth it. It's a priceless wonder to see teenagers develop into pleasant and productive adults. But we must be realistic. This doesn't just happen. We must pay a price.
I truly want this book to be a source of hope to you. The last thing I want is to cause you to feel guilty. We all make mistakes. Just as there are no perfect children, there are no perfect parents. Don't let guilt from past mistakes damage your efforts to raise your teenagers well.
Most adolescent problems can be alleviated or rectified by correcting tensions in the parent-teenager relationship. However, some teenage problems are caused or aggravated by neurological ills or physiological depression. These medical problems must be alleviated before attempting to correct parent-teenager relationships.
But most teenage problems do not require professional help. Your relationship with your teen can improve when you know how to genuinely and effectually transmit love to your teenager. And that's what this book is all about.CHAPTER 2
The first responsibility of parents is to provide a loving and happy home. And the most important relationship in the home is the marriage bond, which takes primacy even over the parent-child relationship. The security of a teenager and the quality of the parent-child bonding largely depend on the quality of the marital bonding. You can see how important it is to assure the best possible relationship between husband and wife since this is the basis for seriously attempting to relate to a teenager in a more positive way.
Chuck's parents brought him to me because he had problems of truancy, stealing, and disobedience. The Hargraves talked about their teenage son with frustration and anger. The intensity of their negative feelings toward the boy concerned me.
Chuck said nothing; he sat solemnly with his eyes downcast while he listened to his parents' accusations. When he finally spoke, he did so in a soft, meek voice and with short phrases rather than sentences.
I spent some time with Chuck alone after his parents left the office. He was angry, but he couldn't tell me exactly why. It soon became evident that Chuck was a confused boy. He was confused about himself and about the relationship between his parents. He also was puzzled regarding his misconduct, for he was a bright boy who had not experienced academic problems. He was well liked by his peers and had no unusual problems with his teachers. He was also confused about his stealing since he did not need the items that he took. And it was obvious that he had set himself up to be caught.
Chuck's case is not unusual. Although his parents meant well, they had made several mistakes in raising Chuck. Their marriage was in trouble, largely because they had not learned to share their feelings and opinions with each other. Mrs. Hargrave had never been able to express her normal anger in an open, healthy, direct way to her husband; therefore, she manifested her anger by getting back at him in subtle and indirect ways—such as overspending. Mr. Hargrave, who was unable to be openly honest with his wife, expressed his anger by being silent, avoiding eye contact, and evading family and home responsibilities.
Chuck had learned his lesson well. Because open, honest discussion and expression of feelings did not exist in the Hargrave home, Chuck demonstrated his anger by doing things that embarrassed and upset his parents.
Due to lack of normal communication, Mr. and Mrs. Hargrave had never understood each other's feelings and expectations regarding Chuck. So they had never agreed on behavioral limits or appropriate discipline for their son.
This had been confusing to Chuck, for he had never known his parents' expectations of him. He was a boy who naturally wanted to please. But how could he? He gave up trying to live up to his parents' standards because he never knew what they were.
All these problems existed because the parents were never able to talk things out between themselves and come to mutual decisions.
Fourteen-year-old Roger was caught breaking into a home and stealing several items. His parents brought him to me because he was failing in school, had developed a defiant attitude, and usually was in a sullen mood. A history revealed that Roger's parents had been having problems with him for several years. He usually disobeyed, constantly challenged parental authority, and would get his way by manipulation. He used what one parent said against the other. These tactics caused conflict between the parents. Mom and Dad fought about how to handle Roger, while Roger did as he pleased.
Evaluation revealed that Roger had perceptual problems, was deeply depressed, and exhibited passive-aggressive traits (see chapter 7). When I gave them my recommendations, Roger's parents, in their typical way of handling problems, argued with each other about what they should do. Even with professional recommendations, these unfortunate parents were unable to come to logical and sensible decisions regarding their son.
Of course, one of my main objectives in this case was to help the parents improve their own relationship so that they would be united in the discipline of Roger. For only then would the boy respect his parents, stop using one against the other, and learn to control himself in appropriate ways.
Need for Communication
These brief case histories from my files reveal how problems in marital relationships can produce difficulties among our teenagers. Every teenager needs parents whose marital relationship is one of stability, respect, love, and good communication.
The ability to communicate feelings, particularly unpleasant feelings, is critical in marriage. Especially during times of stress, honestly, openly talking out problems is absolutely critical and can determine whether stress will enhance or break a marriage.
Excerpted from How to Really Love Your Teen by ROSS CAMPBELL. Copyright © 1981 Ross Campbell. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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