Q: I read in the Hagerstown paper about a 16-year-old boy who killed his parents and two brothers "because they were too strict on him."
It seems to me that extremely few teen-agers have anything positive to say about their parents and in fact either hate them or feel indifferent to them.
I don't believe parents are totally at fault if their children hate them, since most parents try to teach their children good moral values and don't give in to them.
But what should parents do once they learn that one or more of their children hate them? Is there anything anyone can do to prevent this?
A: Although you don't say if you're an adult or a teen-ager, there seems to be a lot of freight in these few paragraphs, and a lot of despair. There also seems to be some confusion about words.
Anger isn't the same as hate. It's a terrible emotion, but in a family relationship, it's usually born of love, not hate.
When one person has sad, mad feelings and someone he loves refuses to hear them, the pain of being hushed is deep indeed. Parents are responsible for their children, but no one should--or can--deny another person's feelings. If nothing else, it doesn't work. Words that are bottled up turn into fury, which sooner or later explodes.
A child should have the right to speak out on almost anything, so long as he does it with good manners and good intentions. This does not mean that he has the right to shoot off his mouth, to make accusatory statements or try to embarrass or humiliate his parents. No matter how his parents behave, he is responsible for his own actions. A child--especially by adolescence--must try to empathize with others as much as he expects them to empathize with him.
When this doesn't work, a teen-ager should be old enough to see trouble coming and do something about it. As upset as he is, he can reach out--to call the county mental health clinic for emergency counseling or to confide in an understanding teacher, neighbor, priest, minister or rabbi. The more volatile his emotions, the more he must defuse them--not because he owes this to his parents, but because he owes it to himself. Otherwise he loses his sense of control, just when he needs it most. If a teen-ager doesn't learn how to negotiate his way out of problems now, he will use the same poor techniques to solve future difficulties--and with the same poor results.
A teen-ager may think he'll never have the same problems once he's on his own, but there always will be a teacher, boss, partner or a spouse who will squelch his ideas sometimes. He can practice for the future at home, where he learns to present and defend his ideas in such a non-accusatory way that he can convince his parents he's right or can negotiate a compromise. Or, if he's quite mature, he can accept the rules they make because he accepts their emotions, if not their reasons.
Some parents are afraid to let go because they're anxious; anxious people need to control. Their anxiety springs from an overgrown sense of responsibility, and of love, however poorly expressed.
Parents with low self-esteem also have trouble trusting their children, for a simple reason: They have trouble trusting themselves. These parents also should talk with someone, preferably a family therapist so they can moderate their own behavior.
Basically there are three kinds of parents: dogmatic parents, who define all the rules and enforce them unbendingly; authoritative parents, who are in charge, but feel secure enough to let their children have almost as much freedom as responsibility; and permissive parents, who are so confused about rights that they give only freedom--and reap only pain.
When parents think power is the key to parenthood, they either use too much of it or too little and the results can be dismal. Permissive parents are apt to get so outraged they become authoritarian with excessive demands and overblown anger. Dogmatic parents finally give their teen-ager major--and unwise--concessions in some areas with the hope of holding the line somewhere else.
As usual, it's the authoritative approach--the middle course--that works best.
Parents, however, cannot be sensible all the time and they inevitably find some stages harder to manage than others. Most teen-agers are adult enough to accept these lapses, although there may be a few years when the going gets tough. This may give them a "so-what" attitude or make them angry day after day, but this isn't hate. In fact, if a child didn't love, he wouldn't care enough to be so angry.
Love, unfortunately, is seldom well-expressed. Somehow many parents find it easier to show their anger than their love, and in time, so do their children.
No one these days seems to be listening enough or respecting enough--or saying "I love you" enough--to get the real message across. It's love, freely given, and appreciation, fully shared, that takes anger out of a family. Worth Noting
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