Young People Ask . . .
How Can I Tell My Parents?
“When I come home with a bad mark on a test, I want to tell my parents, but I can’t because if I tell them, they’ll yell at me.”—13-year-old Benita.
SAYS writer Ruth Bell: “It’s part of the teenage experience to do things without being too cautious. But sometimes you end up getting yourself in trouble, and that’s when you might want your parents to come through for you.” Yet, whether it is sagging grades, a youthful scheme gone awry, a failure to carry out some parental instruction, or a serious moral problem, the task of telling your parents is not a pleasant one to contemplate.
You may dread bearing bad tidings to your folks—especially when it involves some failure on your part. The thought of being cross-examined may make you queasy. Said 18-year-old Willa: “They never stop asking questions if I tell them something. It’s like opening up Pandora’s Box.” You may also wish you could avoid the inevitable—and perhaps embarrassing—discipline. But worst of all is the thought of disappointing your parents. As young Vince put it: “I always sensed that my parents had a lot of trust in me and that made it difficult for me to approach them because I didn’t want to hurt them.”
Nevertheless, bad news travels fast. And your folks probably know you so well that they can often figure out that something is wrong even when you are doing your best to conceal it. So not telling your parents thus merely postpones the inevitable. (Compare Proverbs 28:13.) The question is, How do you tell them?
First, remember what the Bible says about mistakes: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23; 5:12) Some mistakes result from not knowing, others because of not caring. And, admittedly, at times a person does what he knows to be wrong. Nevertheless, mistakes are a part of life.
How, though, do you feel about someone who is incapable of admitting a mistake? In the long run, wouldn’t your opinion of him go up if one day he came right out and said, “I’m sorry—I can see that I was wrong”? Similarly, your parents may be upset over your shortcoming. But the fact that you were humble enough to admit your error may work to temper their anger.
The Right Time
Often the response of your parents will also be greatly affected by how and when you tell them. The Bible speaks of “a word spoken at the right time for it.” (Proverbs 25:11; compare Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7.) True, you do not want to procrastinate. Said young Vince: “I found that waiting only made things worse.” However, if possible, find a time to talk to your folks when they are more likely to be in a receptive frame of mind. Latia, age 16, puts it this way: “I never talk to Mom about such things when she’s busy because she’ll either block me out or get upset.” Advises 15-year-old Kelly: “Wait for a time when your parents’ problems seem smallest so you aren’t just adding to them.”
When might that be? Eighteen-year-old Chris says: “I wait until suppertime and then tell Dad that I need to talk to him.” The son of a single parent tried yet another time: “I would usually talk to Mom right before bedtime; she’d be more relaxed then. When she came home from work, she was all wound up.”
When the time is right, approach your parents. Perhaps you might say something like, “Mom and Dad, something is troubling me.” And what if the right moment doesn’t come or if your parents seem too busy to care? Be understanding. The fact that they are too busy to notice that you have a problem doesn’t mean that they do not care. You may say something like, “I know you’re busy, but something is really troubling me. Can we talk?” When you have their attention, you might ask: “Did you ever do something that you were too ashamed to talk about?” This tells your parents: (1) You take this matter seriously, (2) it is a difficult matter for you to discuss, and (3) you sincerely regret what has occurred.
Now comes the hard part: telling your parents about the wrong itself. A parable of Jesus teaches us much about doing this. In Luke 15:11-32, we read about a certain man’s son who one day left home to enjoy independence. However, the wasteful youth squandered his resources and fell into an immoral life-style. Having reached rock bottom, he came to his senses and decided to return to his father in hopes of being accepted back. But how? Would he cleverly try to hide his wrongdoing from his father or water down the seriousness of his sin? On the contrary, his opening words to his father were: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy of being called your son.” Yes, he spoke with humility and without pretense. He did not ask to be spared discipline; he asked only to be forgiven.
How did the father react? To the youth’s surprise, the expected reprimand did not come. Evidently the father was so convinced of his son’s sincere repentance that no further discipline seemed necessary! A humble and honest approach may likewise help your parents to see that you have learned from your mistake. Now this does not necessarily mean that you will escape discipline. In some cases severe punishment will be well deserved! “The rod and reproof are what give wisdom,” says the Bible. (Proverbs 29:15) So have the right attitude toward discipline: “True, no discipline seems for the present to be joyous, but grievous; yet afterward to those who have been trained by it it yields peaceable fruit, namely, righteousness.”—Hebrews 12:11.
The Bible further exhorts us to “speak truth.” (Ephesians 4:25) So while you may be tempted to withhold some of the more unpleasant details, give your folks the whole picture. Use words your folks will understand, not expressions that carry a special meaning only to young people. Show your folks that you trust them. No doubt your earnestness about setting matters straight will make a deep impression on them.—Compare 2 Corinthians 7:11.
‘How Could You Do This to Us?’
Of course, not all youths are blessed with Christian parents. But even when parents have cultivated the fruits of the spirit, such as “mildness” and “self-control,” you may still get quite a strong initial reaction to your confession. (Galatians 5:22, 23) They may rightfully feel hurt and disappointed, especially if the wrong is a serious one. So don’t be surprised or indignant if you are hit with an emotion-packed volley of words! No doubt if you had heeded their earlier warnings, you wouldn’t be in this situation. Interestingly, 21-year-old Nathan reflected: “Your parents’ display of emotion may be an indicator of how much they care for you.”
Whatever the case, stay calm. (Proverbs 17:27) Listen to your folks and answer their questions, regardless of how they ask them. Accept whatever discipline they deem necessary, remembering that the psalmist David said: “Should the righteous one strike me, it would be a loving-kindness.” (Psalm 141:5) Be determined that this is one mistake you’ll never repeat again!
Nevertheless, this will not be the last time you will need your parents’ help and mature advice. Get in the habit of confiding in them about small problems so that when the big problems come along, you won’t fear approaching them and telling them what’s on your mind.
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Choose a time when your parents might be in a more receptive frame of mind