Is your teenager driving you crazy?

2013-07-12 11:46

Mom of five Dr Linda Friedland knows all about the questions that plague parents. Here are two short extracts from her new book on teens

Q: Why are our teens so self-entitled?

Have we created a ‘me monster’?

Son: I don’t think that was my best soccer game. I didn’t manage to play so well.

Mom: What are you talking about? You were superb, as always! You are the champion in that team.

What’s happened in the last 20 years that has led us to a state of such an overinflated and inappropriate sense of entitlement, particularly among our children? According to Dr Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University in the US, ‘an extremely inflated view of self and an overblown sense of entitlement’ nowadays seem to define a whole generation of so-called normal individuals, rather than a medical or psychiatric state, to which it refers.

We are now more obsessed with ourselves and our children than ever. We cultivate and hero-worship the celebrity culture that screams ‘Look at me, me, me!’ Some will argue that this generational spike in narcissism is due to social networking, particularly Facebook. But Shawn Bergman, a professor of organisational psychology in North Carolina, believes that it has more to do with parenting. ‘Parents have overprotected their children and have taught them to expect special treatment just for being them.’

Dr Twenge reveals in her book The Epidemic of Narcissism that self-esteem itself does not breed success. Parents repeatedly informing kids how good they are, doling out undeserved praise, instils very little value and in fact may set up a false self. Children need to feel supported through life’s challenges, but telling them they are the best in the world is not true, and does not build their character.

Nowadays everyone wants to be exceptional. This outrageous epidemic is cultured in the petri dish of infancy by parents who are dosing their children with a cocktail of obscene materialism and the message that they’re more special than anybody else.

What you can do:

• Avoid lavishing praise for every small gesture. Ensure your praise is appropriate.

• Instead of trying to solve and eliminate your teens’ struggles, allow them to figure things out, take criticism and accept the consequences of poor decisions.

• Back off and give your teens some space to express themselves. Show love, but there is no need to overinflate their sense of self.

Q: How do I encourage my teenager to engage in some face-to-face time?

Mom: Come for dinner.

Son: I can’t, I’m busy.

Mom: What are you busy with?

Son: Stuff. I’ll eat something later.

What we gain through face-to-face interaction is profound and cannot be replaced by any other form of communication. Reading each other’s expressions, we gain valuable clues about how others are feeling. We learn to understand non-verbal cues, like body language, which express meaning. We share humour. We sense whether a person seems to be trusting, open and honest, or reserved and cautious. We also develop a mutual respect for one another. We gain all this through communicating face to face.

In business, politics and sport, successful leaders understand the importance of face-to-face contact.

Our teens have been born into a world where this ‘face time’ experience is fading. Teens mainly connect with each other rapidly and frequently via texting and instant messaging. For many teens who are immature and possibly awkward, chatting like this can be more comfortable.

The high-speed of internet technology also means teenagers often become extremely intolerant of the slower pace of time spent in the presence of ‘real’ people.

Dr Daniel Goleman, psychologist and an emotional intelligence expert, emphasises that social development occurs in the physical presence of other people, and our brains process interactions among one another. If teens spend most of their social time behind a screen or on

a smartphone, they can become emotionally stunted without enough face time to learn the subtle yet vital aspects of empathy, caring and interactive skills. With face time they learn to integrate and truly listen to another person.

What you can do:

• Encourage periods of family time with your children – set aside time at least once or twice a week for a family meal together.

• It is common now for families to sit together with everyone texting. Be firm that when you’re all together, you should not be focused on your phones.

• Turn off the TV at dinnertime.

Whatever, Mom: Body Piercings and Other Power Strategies by Dr Linda Friedland (Tafelberg, R195) is out now.

A chat with the author 

What career did you consider as a teenager?

I was keen on medicine [she is a medical doctor], but I was always more interested in people, the human side, than the science and medical conditions.

How have you managed to balance career and family?

I don’t believe the balance we all seek is possible, but when we adjust our expectations and strategies it is possible to manage a demanding career and a meaningful family life [the subject of her previous book, Having It All]. The most important skill for me is carving out some quiet time for myself.

What is the biggest difference between teens today and when you were one?

Their self-entitlement.

Is there a common mistake that parents of teens make?

We all make mistakes and at times they are unavoidable. But I believe that a common mistake that is avoidable is trying to be ‘popular’ with your kids or wanting to be their ‘best friend’. Of course it’s nice when things are congenial, but I think as parents it is most important to remain steadfast and consistent.

What has been the biggest challenge raising teenagers?

It’s hard to choose only one because there are several! But I’d say that for my husband and I, being an upright, moral, decent human being is the most important thing we have expected from our children. It is the only expectation for which we hold extremely high standards.

What have your own children taught you?

To be flexible in my approach – each one of my five children is different in temperament and personality.

How would you like to be remembered by your kids?

All parents want to be remembered as loving and caring. I’d also like to be remembered as encouraging each of my children to develop their full potential as compassionate human beings. And I’d like them to remember me as contributing to the world around us while raising them.

Life lessons

Three things I learned as a teenager that are still invaluable to me:

• Life isn’t fair so just get on with it. There’s no point moaning about it.

• Good girlfriends help you through even the toughest times.

• Don’t ever give up on your dreams.

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