There is another time to be patient, and that is when children are teenagers. The trouble with this age is in fact that it is difficult not only for adults but also for the adolescents as well. Childhood can be compared to good health. Adolescence is like an illness. Teenagers are not well physically because the body develops; heart beat accelerates, and many teens suffer from growing pains. They are also not well in their souls. They feel depressed without obvious reasons; they seem to experience excitement without explanation. It is an illness. It is a dark hole, a boiling pot. Each of us has a year or two of those teen years, during which we don’t remember anything. We barely remember teachers, and we have almost forgotten classmates. To judge a child during his adolescence, to rebuke him with “What will you grow up to be?” is absolute nonsense. It is similar to standing by the bed of a sick person and exclaiming, “How are you going to live with such fever?”
It is not easy to predict what will result from the adolescent pot. What handsome prince? What beautiful princess?
The teenager has an inflated sense of independence: “I-myself.” I know this myself. I will do it myself. I know better what I need or don’t need; I, myself! With time, this will pass. It will end as suddenly as it began. But to survive it, to tolerate this all-knowing arrogance is difficult. It seems that the self-opinion of a teenager doesn’t know any boundaries. If you argue with him, he will become irritated, angry, and look fiercely at you. What can be done? Adults are also ill-tempered when they are sick, but people don’t become angry with them. This is a test of love and loyalty, and patience! It is so easy to become disappointed with a son. It is so difficult to imagine that this will pass itself. We want to react immediately, to respond rudely to rudeness, to be offended by the offence! You don’t need us? Okay, we also don’t need you!
But a teenager needs us more than ever at this time. The world shakes in his eyes; discovery follows discovery; a new set of unknown, unclear, unfamiliar desires well up within: he wants something, but what? A new storm of possibilities, and it is not clear what he can do, and what he can’t. A teenager is similar to a baby who is just out of the cradle.
Everything changes in the eyes of a teenager, but one thing must stay intact: his confidence in his parents’ love and support. Yes, he acts thankless; he destroys relations with his parents, “Okay, let it be worse to me!” But he needs a home as a harbor, as a bay, or as a den where he could be safe, home, as a shelter and as a defense. The school, playground, street, and peers are a front for him. What do we do if we deprive him of his only shelter? Or when we persecute him, “Where have you been? Why didn’t you do your homework? How long will this continue, hah?” He takes his cap and runs out to the street. Look at the outsider- teenage groups; they are all persecuted. It seems that it will be easier for them if they were persecuted at home only once. But they are persecuted constantly day after day, consistently and persistently. They are blamed for everything, “We feed you, we buy you clothes, and what do you do? We give our life to you, and what do you give us? Kids your own age…, but you? You are grown up already, but still have no goals!” And parents use newspapers, which have hidden messages against the youth, “Gaidar at sixteen years old led a regiment; Mendelssohn at fifteen wrote a symphony, but you, what do you do?” A teenager is an excellent object for upbringing. He does everything incorrectly, and here we are given chances to teach. But give him a regiment – he will lead; and why mention Mendelssohn at all? Instead of creating conditions for passing adolescence smoothly, we complicate it even more. A teenager may run out of the house, to his peers, when in fact he needs home. Not a roof over his head, but shelter for his soul, where his family sees his difficulties, his mistakes, and his foolishness, and where he is accepted anyway, accepted as a healthy person, not as a sick one. He is “ill” if we expect from him ideal behavior. At least, in the time of adolescence, let’s refuse the nonsensical idea to bring up a perfect man. A teenager hardly fits our ideal! And we, too, don’t look like ideals to him. Even in the best families when a child turns eleven he demotes his parents from the idol’s positions. What a shock it is for parents’ sense of self! It seems as if everything is broken; all efforts were for nothing! Someone spoiled the child! “It is as though he has been exchanged for someone else!”
An old teacher was asked to write a list of difficult teenagers for the police. He answered that he cannot write this list because they are all difficult. There are no trouble-free teenagers.
But, of course, there are in fact very difficult teenagers – those, who don’t believe adults, don’t listen to them, and don’t understand them. They can only be saved by people who can win their trust, gradually make good relations with them, and be able to decrease tenseness in relations. We fear for those teens. They roam nobody knows where, nobody knows with whom; they come home late, and whatever you do with them – nothing changes. They are sure that nothing will happen to them – how strong that confidence is! We, with our fears, only hassle them about how they live. It is even worse when we suspect a son: if we let him go walking with friends – he might rob the store. But if he is able to rob the store then it doesn’t matter if you let him go or not; you must think of something else, but not about how late he comes home…
It is difficult to fight about smoking. But it is a symptom, not a reason, for bad conduct. If our home is a real home for a teenager then most likely he won’t smoke. If he lost his home and his soul is in the street then the only thing you can do – to make him hide and smoke. Smoking completely depends on the surroundings, in which our son grows up. We cannot change these surroundings. If the street has won, then let’s keep, at least, the remaining of our attachment; let’s not quarrel with our children. With children in their adolescence, it is important to keep home a safe place, then, perhaps, they may avoid smoking and drugs.
We can raise a little child loving his home, parents, and friends. But we practically can’t raise a teenager to become a man in such a loving home environment. A teenager lives for people. He strives for something higher: he doesn’t need concrete fairness, but – a higher justice. He is tormented not by being bad (often this doesn’t torment him), but why people can be bad. His spirit strives higher, to the world; it is too confining at home for him, among the conventional home conversations. More often teenagers complain about their parents, not because the parents are bad, no; they are good; they work hard and relate to children well. But what the parents talk about – this causes desperation!
Why are there such boring, repetitive conversations, such narrow interests, such poor relations? These things burden a teenager and cause him to run out of the home – far from parents. Poor, basic interests of adults are perceived by a teenager as a lack of spirituality, as well as lofty words and morals, if they don’t have a real spiritual foundation and are repeated mechanically because “we must say it.” It is especially hard for a teenager when for his weak spiritual striving and queries he hears, “Would you rather go shopping or clean the room…”
Yes, he doesn’t like trivialities of life, our grown up child. He runs away from them. He lives now in a different measure. But the time will come – and he will learn to manage between striving for higher ideas and accepting everyday trivialities. This is not easy for a man. This is the most difficult question of life. If we prematurely vex a child, tell him, “don’t be carried away,” we may cool the passion of the soul and turn our child into a young thrifty practitioner, who doesn’t believe in anything or appreciate anything. Then, we will begin to question: Where did this person come from?
For consolation we may say that the adolescent ages are not difficult all the time. There are breaks; likewise nature gives us the possibility to rest and gradually get used to changes in children.
At ten years of age a child is almost an angel. At eleven he suddenly begins to separate from parents; his behavior sharply changes; he is laughing ugly, makes grimaces; does God knows what. At twelve he becomes energetic, active, and cheerful. A twelve year old child may bring lots of joy to parents. At thirteen a teenager becomes closed, goes to his room, slams the door angrily; he even rudely replies to elders and neglects them. At fourteen a period of well-being begins; to be friends with fourteen year old teens is full enjoyment. At fifteen a teenager is not confident in himself; he seems to be shy, suspicious, and awkward; he suffers, and he has so much grief. He feels he is worthless, worse than all people. From this suffering he can be rude, impertinent, and tactless. At sixteen, if everything is fine, if the parents use patience and they don’t make mistakes, if they avoid pushing the child from themselves and are able to accept the child as he is, if they show him that they love everything about him and they tolerate everything – then at sixteen a long awaited peace begins…
Parenting For Everyone, by S.Soloveychik, Book1 Part3 Chapter 22