When the new school term starts in January each year, I will be at a particular primary school in the eastern part of Singapore on the first day of school. And then at a particular secondary school in the West on the Friday of that week. I am not there on behalf of my kids, but for the sake of other parents’ kids! I have been a regular feature at these two schools for the past few years, because the authorities there feel I am able to speak to the heart of the parents so that their children can get a headstart in their growing up years.
I have a theory that, like the law of gravity, our ‘connecting time’ with our children automatically drops from the time the child is born till he is about 18 years old. So whatever you do as a parent, remember this: ‘Correction does much; connection does more.’ This was modelled to me by none other than my own beloved parents.
Of course, I prefer to speak to parents of primary school children rather than parents of secondary school children. I believe we should catch them when they are young, the children as well as the parents. Otherwise habits, once formed, are hard to change!
Sometimes a parent will approach me at the end of my talks, seeking advice on how to handle a wayward 18-year-old child. My standard reply is that we do not make an 18-year-old only in the eighteenth year. We help grow an 18-year-old all of eighteen years. So how do we raise a healthy, happy, confident, cooperative and responsible child? It is indeed a challenge.
Teens are just little kids grown big. But the thing is: they are leaving the time when they are little children and growing towards adulthood. Do you know why they are called ‘teenagers’? It is because they are in their teens… and they age their parents quickly!
But seriously, my own experience was like this: Our three children – two girls and a boy – were each born three years apart. They are young adults now. When they were young, we used to gather them to tell them stories. We had to stop when the eldest protested that the stories, although just right for the two youngest, had gotten a bit ‘lame’ for her.
Lesson learnt: We cannot and must not lump them all together. We have to spend quality time with each of our children, doing their thing and not the things we as parents figure is good for them.
With my elder daughter (the tanned one), we did lots of outdoor activities when she was a teen – swimming, bowling, jogging and cycling together. With my second daughter (the fair one), it was more like trying out various eating joints. With my son, we ventured out to all manner of gaming outlets to satisfy his competitive nature – and yet ensure that he did not mix with the wrong company. The thing is, although all three were from the same issue as a result of my union with my wife, they are of different temperaments and personalities.
Another lesson learnt: Our children outgrow their initial interests as they move from one stage of their lives into the next. And the teenage years is one big unknown stage.
At this juncture I would like to just share that this is a scary time for both us parents and for our teenagers. While adolescence hits them, mid-life hits us! It is an identity crisis of sorts for both parties!
In order to foster healthy psychological development, teens have to develop physically and emotionally. They have to begin to develop a personal belief and value system and a sense of individuality and personal identity. They need to develop their own healthy relationships.
Many years ago, a niece of mine begged me to intercede on her behalf to convince her mother to allow her to hang out with her classmates at a holiday chalet by the beach. This was to celebrate the end of her mid-year Secondary Four examinations. Her mother’s objection: she was afraid that her daughter would get into difficulties in the water. My niece’s plea: just let her be with her friends! She promised not to go near the sea, and also promised to do well in her final examinations. Finally her mother relented after this Uncle stood as a guarantor for her daughter’s good behavior.
I saw it as a teenager’s need to be seen as being part of the ‘in’ group rather than being left out. More than a quarter of a century has gone by. Today, this niece is an enterprising businesswoman in her own right and an accomplished mother of two – a teen and a pre-teen. Together with her husband, she owns a successful business, several properties and a nice bungalow with a swimming pool (filled with water, of course!).
An expert shared his views on how parents can handle their children’s adolescent years, and I am now sharing them with you:
- Catch them young and explain the changes taking place in them
- Be loving, patient and understanding
- Don’t take your teen’s rejection of a parent’s values, lifestyle or beliefs personally
- Treat your teen like an adult, with respect and dignity
- Keep communication lines open
- Allow your teen increasing independence, but be firm in enforcing the main boundaries
- Choose your battles
- Keep on encouraging and praising your teen
Remember, you too can raise positive teens and have a life-long relationship with them. So just relax and enjoy this amazing journey together!