Negativity from Teen to Parents

Question

our son seem to be caught in negative thoughts which often pertain to us — parents. he comes out of them on his own, but they bother him time and again. I would like to help him heal and overcome these thoughts. please help me.As a mother I can understand the torture he goes through when these thoughts over power him.

thank you

—nidhi, india

Answer

Dear Nidhi,

May I assume your son is a teenager or very close to being a teenager? At that stage a teen is naturally beginning to explore his own identity. To do that requires separating his feelings and perceptions from those he’s received as a child from his parents and family. The natural anxiety and self-consciousness that accompanies the teen years tends to produce moods and rebelliousness. It is, for many teens, a very difficult time in life.

It is for reasons such as this that I advise troubled parents to consider that the negative things your teen says to you is not really about YOU but about HIS need to separate from you. Now, naturally a smart teen may say something that has some hurtful truth in it, but that’s when I also say to the parents: “Remember: YOU’RE the parent, and HE’s the teen!” What I mean by this is that it is important for him to see you model what an adult does in handling conflict and confrontation. If your response to his anger and jibes is to get angry right back then that is more the teen or childish behavior that makes things worse. It’s only downhill from there.

An adult will remain calm and respectful when confronted. Sometimes this may mean remaining silent, or saying something like “You’re upset right now. Let’s talk about this later.” “Or, I am sorry you feel that way, but we’ll just have to disagree for now.”

It is NOT a time generally to defend yourself. You must be willing to “take it like a (wo)man” (so to speak!). The worst thing is to get in an argument and descend to your teen’s level of verbal abuse or anger. How you respond is VERY very important.

Now, having said that: no one, not even a parent, should tolerate serious abuse (verbal and definitely physical). So you will also have to be prepared to respond firmly but still calmly: “I am sorry, Johnny, but that’s not acceptable and I refuse to discuss this right now.” As to what constitutes “abuse” depends on you and your family relationships and habits. Some families yell at each other all the time; others, speak quietly and respectfully and rarely raise their voices. But THERE IS BOUNDARY beyond which you must not accept and you must honor and defend that boundary with dignity.

What are the consequences of going beyond a boundary? Well, again, you have to decide based on your circumstances and temperament. If you threaten consequences to a teen, however, you’d better be prepared to enforce them AND actually be physically able to do so. Otherwise, by the time a boy becomes a teenager, there’s very little a parent can do to control a teen’s movements and activities.

This is also why it is time to begin relating as adults, even when HE does NOT act as an adult. Fact is you have probably NO control over his words or actions, short of sending him away and refusing him entrance to your home!!!! (Something very few parents are willing or able to do.)

Now, if you act with the patience I am describing and if you do, underneath it all, have a loving relationship and respect for one another, then when he is calm, there will be times when he will probably open up to you and speak in a meaningful way. But you have to be patient and very often you must remain silent. Getting emotional whether crying or in anger does no good. He needs you to show him how adults behave including with a level of non-attachment to the follies and mistakes that loved ones can make sometimes. It’s very soon going to be HIS life and you can do nothing about it. So get ready! “Meet the man to-be!”

If your boy is still a child and I have misunderstood your question, then another response is required. I won’t try to cover all possibilities in this response.

I also acknowledge that family relationships are cultural circumscribed. In India, relations between parents and teens will differ to some degree from America where I live. I may have perhaps described above a more American scenario but the principles remain true. I hope this will prove helpful to you.

Blessings!

Nayaswami Hriman