So imagine this.
You're a 40 year old parent to 2 teens. It's dinner time, so you shout to your kids who are still in their room to come out for dinner. Your children emerge from their rooms and reluctantly put away their smartphones as they slowly make their way to the dinner table. Conversation at the dinner table is limited and before you know it, your children are done with their dinner and they're rushing back to whatever they were doing.
In your head you're wondering: Why do my kids not listen to me? Why are my kids always on their phones? Why are my kids argumentative and rebellious?
Well, what do a 'perfect family' and 'pothole free Malaysian roads' have in common? They're both myths.
But that doesn't mean we can't learn to improve.
From the perspective of a 21 year old fresh graduate who deals with youth on a weekly basis, let me try to give you a backstage pass to some of the reasons why parents struggle to understand their kids and what you can do to improve that relationship.
1. The Times They Are A-Changin'
The fact is that the times you grew up in as a teenager are far different from what your teenager has to face today. The challenges, trends, education system, technology, socio-economic conditions and so much more ARE DIFFERENT. Yet as parents, we may still choose to compare our childhood with that of our children's.
If you've ever used the words "When I was your age", you have chosen one of the least effective paths to lecturing your teenager. Let me list out a few common "When I was your age" moments which I've gathered over the past 21 years.
When I was your age:
1) I never used to jump jobs when things got tough. I learned the meaning of hard work.
In reality, Gen Z faces the challenge of increased competition for jobs because degrees are common among society. So the only way of gaining better opportunities is to move around.
2) There was no such thing as Wikipedia and we had to go to libraries and use Encyclopedia Britannica for our assignments. You Gen Z have it so easy.
In reality, since there are so many sources to choose from, teachers and lecturers expect more from the Gen Z. And it's not that easy combing through all the information either!
3) I had to work hard for everything I wanted. My parents didn't give me anything whereas now you dont have to worry. You Gen Z have it so easy.
Life was much simpler in the old days, not so much now. Teens these days face peer pressure even in the form of not having something they consider the most basic--mobile phones. If you own an older mobile phone, you will probably get laughed at. Being a teen these days, the stakes are higher.
My point? As parents, you should never compare your own lives to that of your children. Hard work and challenges for them may look different than it did to you.
2. Comparisons and selective blindness
If your friend / neighbour / cousin can get 9A's in SPM, then why can't you?
We're all guilty of this. We love making upward comparisons in society, where we look at those who did better. Every child is different, and that's what makes the world beautiful. Not every child was made to study science, not every child was made to excel at sports, not every child was made to... You get my point.
You know what a 'fair playing ground' is? Let's look at it this way--If you ask your child why they aren't as good as your friend's children, then what's stopping them from saying: "Hey dad, how come you're not as rich and successful as Mr. XYZ?" If you want your relationship with your child to improve, put an end to constant upward comparisons.
Additionally, there is a disease I found to be prevalent among us: Selective Blindness
Your child comes home, report card in hand--8A's and 1B. I promise you, that B will stick out more than a guy on an 'All Ladies KTM Coach'.
Even though your intentions may seem noble and for the benefit of your child, by highlighting the B and ignoring the A's, you magnify your child's weakness and disregard their strengths. A deadly duo. By highlighting their strengths and helping them work on their weaknesses, you instead build confidence in your children; who will then be more willing to trust you.
3. Mirror mirror on the wall
Recently at one of our programs, we were teaching parents about how to deal with 'The Internet Generation'. One of the fathers approached me and asked me why his daughter was so rebellious. He mentioned that at the dinner table, she would refuse to look up from her phone. And ever since phones were banned from the dining table, she would refuse to come down for dinner at all. Always glued to her screen 24/7.
Later on as our session continued, I realised something. While the trainer was speaking up front, this man was using his phone. I couldn't help but notice the irony. Many times as parents, we are quick to point out the flaws in our children. Our argumentative, rebellious, Gen Z children. No matter how much we tell them to obey, they simply don't!
If you are a leader who tells your followers to do something which you yourself don't practice, no follower will listen to you.
About a year ago, one of my lecturers told our class this quote. Similarly, if you want your children to obey you, as cliché as it sounds, lead by example. A lazy man who tells his children to work hard is going to end up with lazy children.
4. Long distance relationships
Building relationships is key to understanding your child better. How to build this relationship? By spending time with them. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither will a relationship.
Some parent-child relationships are distanced because of a lack of time, others because of a lack of effort. Crazy busy office hours and widening social circles cause parents to neglect spending time with their kids at home. Not to mention the fact that some parents even use their smartphones more than their kids. There is little to no family time in a modern family setting and that's one huge reason why children may feel distant from their parents.
One practical way to close this gap is to try and take up an interest in the things your children like to do. Rather than complaining about how much time your child spends on computer games, try to understand the game or even try playing it yourself. Get interested in the things your children are interested in and put an end to this type of 'long distance relationships'.
Another way to grow closer in your relationship with your child is to simply take time to listen to them. Rather than listening with the intent to respond, let's first try to listen with the intent to understand.
Aside from that, we also need to inform our kids about the 'Why'. If you want your child to do something, rather than just giving a directive, try to instead provide a reason as to why you're giving that directive. No child likes the phrase "Because I said so".
So instead of saying "Why are you so stubborn!", turn it into a "You want to know why? Because..." Most arguments happen because of a communication breakdown, so make sure you communicate your reasoning as much as possible.
Although at times it may feel like you're navigating a minefield, just remember these things:
Realise that your children face their own challenges and support them through it.
Never compare your kids with others but always acknowledge their accomplishments.
Lead by example
Make an effort to listen to your child and hear them out
To improve is a journey of which you take the first step.
'Day one' or 'One day', you decide.