Young People Ask . . .
Why Don’t My Parents Understand Me?
Dear Watchtower Society,
In the last two years it seems like I’ve developed thousands of problems within myself. I feel sometimes as if I’m going crazy. I’m starting to change physically, and all of a sudden my parents don’t trust me with boys anymore. Every time I do something wrong Mom and Dad compare me to my mean older sister, and this hurts. I went to them and talked, but they didn’t understand my feelings. Perhaps I need to go someplace where I can be alone for at least a year. I hope you have some answers.—A 16-year-old girl.
PERHAPS you have similarly longed for your parents to understand you better. After all, it’s only human to want to be understood. And if you have problems and your parents are critical of things you love or think are important, you can feel very frustrated. Sixteen-year-old Robert, for example, felt that his father did not understand his choice of music. “All he does is scream and say, ‘Turn it off!’” said he. How did Robert handle this situation? “So I turn it and him off.”
Many youths react the same way. They may withdraw emotionally into their own private world or take refuge among their peers. Said 19-year-old Birgit of West Germany: “When I have problems with my parents, I really want to cry on someone’s shoulder, someone who understands me differently.” Yet others take the drastic step of running away from home. A 1981 study by researchers Offer, Ostrov and Howard that embraced over 20,000 average adolescents in four countries revealed that although the vast majority did “not perceive any major problems between themselves and their parents,” 26 percent admitted, “I try to stay away from home most of the time.” Almost 50 percent of those who had got into trouble with the law felt this way.—The Adolescent—A Psychological Self-Portrait.
Whether one withdraws physically or emotionally, the sad result of this lack of understanding is a gap between a youth and his parents. But is it true that this gap is caused simply because parents don’t understand their teenaged children?
“Power” Versus “Gray-Headedness”
No doubt there are many things you wish to see and do, now that you are a teenager. You are on the threshold of adult life and probably raring to enjoy some adult privileges. Proverbs 20:29 states: “The beauty of young men [or, women] is their power.”
This newly acquired strength, or “power,” can lay the groundwork for a generation gap. The proverb continues: “And the splendor of old men is their gray-headedness.” Older persons, like your parents, view life differently. Though perhaps understanding your feelings, they realize that not every experience in life has a happy ending. Their realism learned through the years (perhaps by a bitter personal experience) has tempered the enthusiastic idealism they once had as young persons. Because of this wise experience—as it were, “gray-headedness”—they just may not share your eagerness over certain matters.
For example, Jim, a teenager, said: “On the subject of money, my parents (depression-era children) feel that money should be saved to buy or spend on things of importance.” His experienced parents saw the need to worry about future security. “But I am living right now too,” insisted Jim. “This is an important part of my life. I want to travel a lot.” Yes, his “power” and his parents’ “gray-headedness” helped create an emotional gap.
This emotional gap can run deep on other issues, such as dress and grooming, behavior with the opposite sex, use of drugs and alcohol, curfews, associations and even household manners and chores. You may be plagued with “desires incidental to youth” and still be trying to follow right standards. (2 Timothy 2:22) This can be emotionally confusing. While striving for more independence, you still are hesitant and may feel the need for your parents’ guidance. The previously mentioned study found that 63 percent of those polled agreed with the statement, “When my parents are strict, I feel that they are right even if I get angry.”
So the reasons for an emotional gap between youths and parents are complex. This gap, however, can be bridged! Recognizing the need for mutual understanding is a first step.
Do I Understand My Parents?
“When I was younger I naturally felt that Mom was ‘perfect’ and didn’t have any of the weaknesses and feelings I had,” stated John, as he reflected on the time before his parents were divorced. Now his mother was trying to care for seven children alone.
“More and more Mom would ask us what to do about various matters,” continued John. “Then one day I saw a truly bewildered look on her face. I thought, ‘What’s going on, she really doesn’t know what to do.’ Then I began to see that she didn’t have all the answers. I began to sympathize with her more from that point on, knowing that she’s ‘normal’ just like everybody else.” John’s teenage sister, April, added, “I remember seeing her cry because of the frustration of trying to keep up with everything. Then I realized we had a wrong viewpoint. She can’t do everything, and always at the right time and in the right way. We were drawn to her when we saw that she had feelings and was human too.”
These young people developed empathy, and it contributed to a warm family. “If errors were what you watch, O Jah,” said the psalmist, “O Jehovah, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3) No one could! Neither you nor your parents. “All of you,” states 1 Peter 3:8, “be like-minded, showing fellow feeling, having brotherly affection, tenderly compassionate.”
Remember that your parents may feel very insecure in their ability to rear you properly. They may feel overwhelmed by all the moral dangers and temptations you face and may overreact. As you get older, they may feel unneeded, unloved and misunderstood.
Your parents may have certain physical, financial or emotional hardships that you may not fully realize. For instance, a father may hate his job, but because of his family he suppresses those feelings. When his child says, “I can’t stand school,” rather than being sympathetic he may retort, “What’s the matter with you? You kids have it easy!” But would not fellow feeling on your part ease the situation?
“I never think about my parents’ problems because I have my own,” explained one teenager. Don’t you appreciate it when someone listens, absorbs your verbal bombardment and is sympathetic? You feel as if you’re worth something. Well, your Mom or Dad feels similarly. “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you,” taught Jesus Christ, “you also must likewise do to them.”—Matthew 7:12.
Naturally this is easier said than done, but a big help is: “Keeping an eye, not in personal interest upon just your own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others.” (Philippians 2:4) How?
Take a “Personal Interest”
“Try asking your mother about her relationship with her mother, what opportunities she had or didn’t have when she was your age, or what choices she felt were available or unavailable to her when she was growing up,” wrote feature editor Aurora Mackey in Teen magazine. “Chances are that if she feels that you’re interested in, and aware of the reasons for some of her feelings, she’ll try to be more aware of yours.” The same is true of fathers.
True you can’t control what your parents say or do, but you can control your own reaction. By trying to look at pressures and problems from the other person’s perspective, and recognizing that we all make mistakes, you will develop insight. “The insight of a man certainly slows down his anger, and it is beauty on his part to pass over transgression.”—Proverbs 19:11.
If your parent has been insensitive, ask yourself the questions in the accompanying box. Such analysis may help you “pass over transgression” and overlook the lack of understanding. This would be ‘beautiful’ on your part and contribute to mutual understanding—to the joy of you and your parents.*
The next issue of Awake! will provide additional positive steps by answering the question, “How can I get my parents to understand me?”
[Blurb on page 22]
“Working together at home helps a lot in the growing-up process for both parents and children. . . . By having to cooperate to run the house, families learn a lot about successful human relations right under their own roof.”—The Cooperating Family by Eleanor Berman
[Box on page 23]
If your parent has been insensitive, ask yourself: Was my parent—
● Not feeling well, or was he/she worried about a matter?
● Hurt over some thoughtless deed or word on my part?—Proverbs 12:18.
● Afraid I’ll get into trouble and is he/she perhaps right?
● Simply misunderstanding what I meant?
[Picture on page 21]
Do your parents understand you?