Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Understanding Your Kid: A Perspective From Someone In Between

One of these days, it is very possible that I too may become a parent. I'm already well on my way leaving "youth" in terms of piling up the years. I don't consider myself quite grown up yet though, now while I still can remember my childhood and teenage years I would like to act as and arbiter between the parent and their kid; the adult and the child.

Is it possible that parents have forgotten how it felt to be kids and teenagers? Part of me know how it feels. For most adults, there are bills to worry about, stress from work, additional stress and work to come home to. There's always not enough time and energy for things that need to be done, even worse, there may be dreams and aspirations being sidetracked in the process, never to be fulfilled because now you have a life dedicated to working and caring for your family. You are always treading the thin line between making or breaking since you are now in charge, so you almost always play it safe and walk the road often taken, as the risk of failure may lead to utter disaster for you and your family.

Most kids and teenagers do whatever is that tickles their fancies at any given moment. They possess the idealism, they have the energy and passion for life. They think they are invincible and that they know everything, or certainly a bit more than their parents. In most cases, indeed they are more intelligent than the older generation but not wiser. They may be faster and stronger but in need of guidance.

These circumstances seem to complement each other. If this is the case, then why can't children, specifically teenagers and their parents get along?

Of course not all kids and teens are troublesome. Also, not all adults are as uptight and stringent. But for those parents who are having trouble with their kids, I would like you to muse over the following thoughts.

How did your child learn how to eat with eating utensils? How did he learn how to speak? One of the primal and most effective way of learning is through imitation. Your child will imitate consciously or unconsciously whoever he spends the most time with. It can be the people on the TV, his friends and peers, can be other people, it can be you. During his early childhood, it might as well be you, the parent, thus you had better become a good example to him. When he is older, he will spend more time at school with his peers and teachers. Therefore, it is crucial for you to get him into a good school and around good kids and teachers. Peer pressure is a double edged sword. I can clearly recall being the typical rebellious teenager in high school. I'd cut classes and go smoke, drink and party with older kids. Some of my friends went with me. However, after a year or so when entrance exams for colleges were about to commence, almost none of my friends would go with me anymore because they had to study. It is certainly no fun partying with oneself! My parents would often compare me to my friends, teachers would ignore me because they would rather work on students who were intent on achieving something. My friends were good, smart kids and all of us had the dream of going to the same university so we can continue to be together. Hence, I really had no choice but to study, just to be able to keep up with my friends.

See, peer pressure can also work wonders. Lucky for me though, my friends parents knew my friends' parents (it was a pretty small town). I still see and go out with my friends today, even though they have gone on to be successful doctors and lawyers already. As for me, I ended up being a lowly writer. I'd like to attribute this to the fact that I'm too young at heart. It's either that or I still have a hefty dose of party left in my veins!

Parents, don't be to quick to shoot down your kid. What works and what does not work in the real world will also surely apply on your child. Carpet bombing the enemy as a show of strength has never worked in the long run, it just ensures you another generation of suicide bombers burning with hatred for the "infidel". Diplomacy and compromise is the key. Even with adults, an outright NO will only breed dissent and reinforce adamance in the opposing party. Why not listen first, agree on what you think are the correct points of the argument, then proceed to express your contrary opinion. Taking a more sinister perspective, you will have to gain their trust first, build rapport before subtly imposing your agenda on them. Quoting Sun Tzu from "The Art of War"...

“Seeking armed conflict can be disastrous. Because of this, a detour can be the shortest path. because of this problems can become opportunities. Use the indirect route as your highway. Use the search for advantage to guide you. When you fall behind, you must catch up. When you get ahead you must wait. You must know the detour that most directly accomplishes your plan.”

This is also what makes Aikido, a form of Japanese martial art so effective. Rather than employing head on opposing attacks, Aikido uses the motion of the attacker and then redirecting the force of the attack. This requires very little physical energy, as the aikidōka (aikido practitioner) "leads" the attacker's momentum using entering and turning movements.

Do you remember Steven Segal? When you hear bones crack and joints snap, that is the power of Aikido. This is the same kind of power that you will have over your child if you'll just learn to take a detour and avoid direct confrontation, figuratively speaking of course. Summing it up, the trick is to listen, agree, and then confront subtly. Besides, if you agree (or at least pretend to) it'll make you look like a cool mom or dad.

Humans are suckers for self expression. Whether its through writing, art, confessing to a priest and more recently social media, we all yearn for catharsis once in a while. We advertise to people who we are, simply because it is a good way to reach out and be a part of a group. We are after all, social animals. You will have to be there when your kid wants to talk and also when it seems that he does not want to talk. You will have to show them you are eager to listen to their accomplishments and willing as well to listen to their hurts and grievances. Most importantly, you will have to show them that you will not judge whatever it is that comes out of their mouths, no matter how horrifying those may be. Again, this is one good way of building rapport. When you have that intact, it'll only be a short time before you get to uncover your kids secret life. This method, I believe, is more effective than snooping for information on your kid's Facebook profile.

There is also a hidden advantage to this. Kids are surprisingly, well, full of surprises. I personally knew of one family who ran into some financial trouble. They had a young daughter, around 7 or 8. Despite of the money problems, the couple continued to send their child to school, giving her all the provisions she had before like lunch money and everything, so no one would know about their problem. The parents took every precaution to hide the situation from their daughter. After a few months or so, the family still had difficulty recovering from the slump and was unable to pay the rent. To compound the problem, they frequently found themselves missing some food items. Desperate and downtrodden, the mother often found herself crying at night, praying to God for a miracle. Weeks went by but still everything looked bleak and so finally on a late night before their eviction, the mother broke down crying to her husband in their dining room. Finding both parents with their faces in their hands, their daughter enters the room...

"Mommy, we have money, don't worry."

With a confused look on their faces, they look at their kid.

"What are you saying Honey?"

"We have money Mommy, here..."

Their daughter puts a small bag on the table full of loose bills and change. After they count it, they find out that it is just enough to pay for the rent.

"Where did you get this Honey???"

Apparently their daughter overheard her teachers gossiping about her family's situation and so after hearing it, decides to do something about it. She saves up the money that was given to her and buys some sandwich plastic bags. Taking some bread and some ingredients every night, she then makes some sandwiches to sell to people at school.

Amazing huh? When children shine, they really light up the night sky! I realize though, that not all kids are like this. Some are just unbelievably incorrigible that you'd just love to wring their necks just to teach them some manners. However, no matter how hard a rock is, water can always break it, as the legendary martial artist Bruce Lee beautifully put it. This means you have to be unyielding. You must under any and every circumstance be the bigger person because of two main reasons: You are certainly wiser one and you would do this out of love for him. Since you love your child, it would only be right that you have a little faith in him. Faith is holding on when there is nothing else to hold on to. No matter how desperate the situation may be, no matter what he or she has done, you should always be there for them. If they do something wrong, you need to show them you disapprove of it and that they will have to face the consequences of their actions but more importantly that they can still run to you whenever things go bad.

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