Young People Ask . . .
Can I Do Any Better Than My Parents?
“BE IT ever so humble, there’s no place like home.” So goes a popular song of former years. Today, however, while many youths do enjoy a happy and stimulating family circle, others do not. For those enduring troubled homes—family arguments, divorce, an alcoholic or a mentally ill parent—life is no fond song.
Getting Out of the Rut
It’s tough to feel that you are in a rut, almost doomed by circumstances of family or community. “At age 14,” one young woman relates, “I became convinced I could never have a happy marriage.” Why? Her parents argued violently over trifles. They would scream, curse, and throw objects around the house for hours at a time without letup. “My younger sister and I even feared inheriting mental illness! We made a family tree, tracing which relatives seemed to have been mentally ill. We were afraid to marry and become like our folks.”
But what actually occurred? Both are grown and happily married. Realizing now that they overreacted to their parents’ situation, they have come to see value in their parents.
So how crucial is the kind of start you get in life? True, our families greatly influence how we grow up, but they don’t seal our fate. In fact, experts have been amazed to find that there are youths who bounce back from hard blows, such as extreme poverty and divorced or mentally ill parents. ‘Despite the most appalling living conditions and horrifying life experiences, these children manage to cope with an excellence and flexibility that seem to come out of nowhere,’ says one psychiatrist.
Researchers now recognize and study resilient children.* And the secret of these so-called superkids may amount to little more than the Biblical principle, “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.” (Acts 20:35) It seems that responsive, giving children—even infants—bring out the best in their parents. Such youngsters get better parenting than others in the same family who may be unresponsive, self-centered, or difficult to handle.
To illustrate, one study revealed that the ‘resilient babies’ were the ones that were ‘cuddly, affectionate, very active, and easy to deal with.’ As Dr. Emmy Werner puts it, “Responsive active infants can capture the love and attention of initially unresponsive or depressed mothers.”
Even those of us who were not cuddly and affectionate as babies can now make up for lost time by being happy, giving persons who cultivate what the Bible calls “the fruitage of the spirit . . . love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22, 23) Like money in the bank, these “giving” qualities let you “draw out” of your home more than you might expect.
Benefiting More From Home
Even the humblest home fills a basic need for familiar surroundings as we grow up. At home you learned to talk when you were little. And there you can continue to learn about people and how they cope, even now as you grow older. As one authority writes: ‘Home is the place to which one brings the everyday run of social experiences, to sift, to evaluate, to appraise, to understand, or to be twisted, to fester, to be magnified, or ignored, as the case may be.’
What you learn at home depends, though, on how well you employ those “giving” qualities—love, joy, peace, long-suffering, and self-control. Dr. E. James Anthony found that resilient children of even psychotic parents could create an oasis of normalcy in a disrupted household. “They can make something out of very little,” he says. “They’re the type who could find a flower in the desert.”—Parents, November 1983.
Learning to Do Better
The ability to find that “flower in the desert” can be acquired. “I was anything but a ‘superkid,’” Warren admits. “I had to learn to enjoy my family. Can you believe that?” Warren came from a very poor, racial-minority family that lived in a wealthy community. His alcoholic father, when employed, was a poorly paid laborer. No surprise, then, that Warren’s oldest brother became delinquent, landed in jail, and became subject to mental depression. Or that his younger brother was recommended for psychiatric help.
How could Warren rise above all of this? Several things helped. First, Warren showed a liking for school. When his teachers saw his good grades, they encouraged him. At age ten he became more outgoing, less introverted. He got interested in playing a musical instrument. Significantly, he and his mother became interested in the message of the Bible. At the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, they developed a stimulating circle of friends of all ages who accepted them as equals. Warren thus managed to break out of his family’s rut. And with Warren’s assistance, his younger brother, still at home, has done very well without professional attention. Says Warren, “It’s great to be able to help people, and the future looks good.”
Building Your Confidence
So why be plagued with self-doubt? Rid yourself of doubts by taking on challenges. Broaden your interests, both in things and in people. Pursue a hobby. Cultivate good friends by being helpful. Proverbs 17:17 says: “Friends always show their love. What are brothers for if not to share trouble?” (Today’s English Version) Each accomplishment, however small, will increase your skill and self-confidence.
True, your parents and other adults have imperfections, but they also have much to offer. Learn to approach adults rather than withdraw from them. If you show interest in teachers, relatives, and parents of friends, they will more than return your investment. And at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, you can tap a valuable reservoir of helpful, mature Christians who are interested in youths.
For example, a 20-year study was made of 300 Hawaiians born in 1955 under severely deprived conditions. Nevertheless, about 10 percent became exceptionally capable adults. Reportedly, they “work well, play well, love well and expect well.”
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Eleanor, Albert, and Thomas Surprise the Experts!
‘Eleanor was a homely child rejected by her mother,’ Dr. Victor Goertzel would tell his audiences of graduate students in education. In addition, her father, an alcoholic, separated from her mother. As a child she was known to steal sweets and to lie—on one occasion even swallowing a coin to attract attention to herself. After her father died, she was placed with her widowed grandmother. Living there were four young uncles and aunts. One uncle drank and ran away from home. One aunt, heartbroken over a love affair, locked herself in her room. Eleanor was denied playmates, kept out of grade school, and dressed oddly by her grandmother.
‘Now predict how 16-year-old Eleanor would do in five years,’ research psychiatrist Dr. Goertzel would challenge the audience. She turned out much better than expected—Eleanor Roosevelt, celebrated American writer and lecturer, and wife of the president of the United States.
Dr. Goertzel also cites young Albert [Einstein] and Thomas [Edison] as examples of youths who rose above dismal childhoods. The lesson is not that young people should mindlessly imitate these famous people, but that they can overcome a shaky start in life. Says the Bible: “Even by his practices a boy makes himself recognized.”—Proverbs 20:11.
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Many youths wonder if they can rise above the circumstances of their home and community