Why Don’t My Parents Understand Me?
IT’S only human to want to be understood. And if your parents are critical of—or uninterested in—things you love or think are important, you can feel very frustrated.
Sixteen-year-old Robert feels that his father does not understand his choice of music. “All he does is scream and say, ‘Turn it off!’” said Robert. “So I turn it and him off.” Many youths similarly withdraw emotionally into their own private world when parental understanding seems to be lacking. In one extensive study of youths, 26 percent of the youths surveyed admitted, “I try to stay away from home most of the time.”
A huge rift, or gap, between youths and parents thus exists in many homes. What causes it?
“Power” Versus “Gray-Headedness”
Proverbs 20:29 states: “The beauty of young men [or women] is their power.” This strength, or “power,” though, can lay the groundwork for all sorts of conflicts between you and your parents. The proverb continues: “And the splendor of old men is their gray-headedness.” Your parents may not literally be ‘gray-headed,’ but they are older and tend to view life differently. They realize that not every situation in life has a happy ending. Bitter personal experience may have tempered the idealism they once had as youths. Because of this wisdom born of experience—“gray-headedness,” as it were—they just may not share your enthusiasm over certain matters.
Says young Jim: “My parents (depression-era children) feel that money should be saved to buy or spend on things of importance. But I am living right now too. . . . I want to travel a lot.” Yes, between one’s youthful “power” and one’s parents’ “gray-headedness” may lie a huge gap. Many families are thus bitterly divided over issues such as dress and grooming, behavior with the opposite sex, use of drugs and alcohol, curfews, associates, and chores. The generation gap can be bridged. But before you can expect your parents to understand you, you must try to understand them.
Parents Are Human Too
“When I was younger, I naturally felt that Mom was ‘perfect’ and didn’t have any of the weaknesses and feelings I had,” says John. Then his parents divorced, leaving his mother to care for seven children alone. John’s sister April recalls: “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 always at the right time and in the right way. We saw that she had feelings and was human too.”
Recognizing that your parents are simply humans with feelings like yours is a big step toward your understanding them. They might, for example, feel very insecure about their ability to rear you properly. Or, feeling overwhelmed by all the moral dangers and temptations you face, they may tend to overreact to things at times. They also may be contending with physical, financial, or emotional hardships. A father, for instance, may hate his job but may never complain. So when his child says, “I can’t stand school,” it is no wonder that rather than respond sympathetically, he retorts, “What’s the matter with you? You kids have it easy!”
Take a “Personal Interest”
How, then, can you find out how your parents feel? By “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) Try asking your mother what she was like as a teenager. What were her feelings, her goals? “Chances are,” said ’Teen magazine, “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 would no doubt be true of your father.
If a conflict arises, do not be quick to accuse your folks of being insensitive. Ask yourself: ‘Was my parent not feeling well or worried about something? Was he or she perhaps hurt over some thoughtless deed or word on my part? Do they simply misunderstand what I mean?’ (Proverbs 12:18) Showing such empathy is a good start at closing that generation gap. Now you can work on getting your parents to understand you! Many youths, though, make that extremely difficult. How?
Living a Double Life
Seventeen-year-old Vickie was doing just that by secretly dating a boy against her parents’ wishes. She was sure her parents just wouldn’t understand her feelings for her boyfriend. Naturally, the gap between her and them widened. “We were making each other miserable,” says Vickie. “I hated coming home.” She decided she would get married—anything to get away from home!
Many youths similarly live double lives—doing things unknown to and forbidden by their parents—and then bemoan the fact that their parents ‘do not understand them’! Fortunately, Vickie was helped by an older Christian woman who told her: “Vickie, just think about your parents . . . They raised you. If you can’t handle this relationship, how can you handle one with someone of your own age that hasn’t put 17 years of love into you?”
Vickie took an honest look at herself. She soon realized that her parents were right and that her own heart was wrong. She terminated her association with her boyfriend and began closing the breach between her and her parents. If you have similarly kept an important part of your life secret from your parents, isn’t it time to be honest with them?—See insert “How Can I Tell My Parents?”
Take the Time to Talk
‘It was the best time I ever had with my dad!’ said John of a trip he and his father made together. “I’d never spent six hours alone with him in my whole life. Six hours up, six hours back. No car radio. We really talked. It’s as if we discovered each other. There’s more to him than I thought. It made us friends.” Why not similarly try to have a good talk with your mom or dad—regularly?
It also helps to make friends with other adults. Recalls Vickie: “I had absolutely no rapport with older ones. But I made a point of tagging along with my parents when they associated with other adults. In time I developed friendships with these who were my parents’ age, and this gave me a more rounded outlook. It was easier to carry on conversations with my parents. The atmosphere at home improved dramatically.”
Associating with those who have gained wisdom over the years will also prevent you from adopting a narrow, limited outlook on life, which can happen if you keep company only with your youthful peers.—Proverbs 13:20.
Communicate Your Feelings
“I talk straight from my heart and speak sincerely the knowledge coming from my lips,” said young Elihu. (Job 33:3, The Holy Bible in the Language of Today, by William Beck) Is that how you talk with your parents when you clash over such matters as clothes, curfews, or music?
Young Gregory felt that his mom was totally unreasonable. He coped with the heated conflict between them by staying away from home as much as he could. But then he acted on the advice of some Christian elders. He says, “I began to tell Mom how I felt. I told her why I wanted to do things and did not just assume she knew. Often I poured out my heart and explained that I wasn’t trying to do anything wrong and how bad I felt because she treated me like a little child. Then she began to understand and slowly things got a whole lot better.”
You may likewise find that speaking ‘straight from the heart’ can help settle many misunderstandings.
This does not mean, however, that your parents will immediately come to view things your way. You must therefore keep a grip on your emotions. “All his spirit [impulses] is what a stupid one lets out, but he that is wise keeps it calm to the last.” (Proverbs 29:11) Calmly discuss the merits of your viewpoint. Stick to the issues instead of arguing that “everybody else does it!”
At times your parents are going to say no. This does not mean they do not understand you. They may simply want to forestall disaster. “My mother is strict on me,” admits one 16-year-old girl. “It bothers me that she tells me I can’t do something, or [that I must] come into the house at a certain time. But deep down inside, she really cares. . . . she looks out for me.”
The security and warmth that mutual understanding brings to a family is beyond words. It makes the home a haven in times of anguish. But real effort is needed on the part of everyone involved.
Questions for Discussion
◻ Why do youths and parents often conflict?
◻ How might a better understanding of your parents affect your view of them?
◻ How can you come to understand your parents better?
◻ Why does leading a double life deepen the rift between you and your parents?
◻ Why is it best to let parents know when you are having serious problems? How can you go about telling them?
◻ How can you help your parents understand you better?
[Blurb on page 22]
“If [your mother] 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.”—’Teen magazine
[Box/Picture on page 20, 21]
How Can I Tell My Parents?
The task of confessing a wrong to your folks is not pleasant. Young Vince says: “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.”
Youths who resort to cover-ups often suffer the pangs of a wounded conscience. (Romans 2:15) Their errors can become “a heavy load,” too weighty to bear. (Psalm 38:4) Almost inevitably, they are forced to deceive their parents by lying, thereby committing further wrongs. Their relationship with God is thus damaged.
The Bible says: “He that is covering over his transgressions will not succeed, but he that is confessing and leaving them will be shown mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13) As 19-year-old Betty puts it: “Jehovah sees everything anyway.”
If the matter involves serious wrongdoing, seek Jehovah’s forgiveness, confessing your wrong in prayer. (Psalm 62:8) Next, tell your parents. (Proverbs 23:26) They have experience in life and can often help you leave your mistakes behind and avoid repeating them. “It really can help you to talk about it,” reports 18-year-old Chris. “It’s finally a relief to get it off your mind.” The problem is, how do you tell your parents?
The Bible speaks of “a word spoken at the right time for it.” (Proverbs 25:11; compare Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7.) When might that be? Chris continues: “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.”
Perhaps you might say something like, “Mom and Dad, something is troubling me.” And what if your parents seem too busy to care? You might say, “I know you’re busy, but something is really troubling me. Can we talk?” You might then ask: “Did you ever do something that you were too ashamed to talk about?”
Now comes the hard part: telling your parents about the wrong itself. Be humble and “speak truth,” not watering down the seriousness of your error or trying to withhold some of the more unpleasant details. (Ephesians 4:25; compare Luke 15:21.) Use words your folks will understand, not expressions that carry a special meaning only to young people.
Naturally, your parents may feel hurt and disappointed at first. So don’t be surprised or indignant if you are hit with an emotion-packed volley of words! If you had heeded their earlier warnings, you probably wouldn’t be in this situation. So stay calm. (Proverbs 17:27) Listen to your folks and answer their questions, regardless of how they ask them.
No doubt your earnestness about setting matters straight will make a deep impression on them. (Compare 2 Corinthians 7:11.) Nevertheless, be prepared to accept some well-deserved 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) Remember, too, that this will not be the last time you will need your parents’ help and mature advice. Get into the habit of confiding in them about small problems so that when the big problems come along, you won’t fear telling them what’s on your mind.
Choose a time when your parents might be in a more receptive frame of mind