Be a role model at all times?
Parents are often told to set a good example for their children. It is a tall order to be a role model at all times. Most parents do their best in the presence of their children, but they inevitably fall short sometimes. Children see through their parents’ acts easily.
A friend told me impishly how astonished he was as a teenager to uncover the porn magazines that his supposedly impeccable dad had secretly stashed away. Another friend’s adolescent son complained of his mother’s double standards when he found out that his mom watched Korean drama up till the wee hours after making him stop watching YouTube at bedtime.
I had to tell them with wry humour, “Well, be thankful that your parents aren’t saints. If not, you would have a harder time to live up to very high standards.”
Cut yourself and your kids some slack
Parents must learn to be honest with their own failings. It is beneficial for adolescents to learn firsthand how parents deal with their inner struggles.
A friend HP shared moments of vulnerability that he experienced with his adolescent son. HP spoke about the embarrassment he had to deal with daily because his mom patched his torn dark-coloured school pants with white thread. HP also told his son how the birthmark on his face affected his confidence as a teenager. Stories like that helped his son to accept inadequacies as part and parcel of growing up. HP said to me, ” Accepting one’s vulnerabilities is healing. ”
HP’s words is food for thoughts. I have seen parents who are overly-hard on themselves and their children. Perhaps they have forgotten how they were like when they were kids themselves. Cut yourself and your children some slack if your demanding methods are straining your precious relationship.
Open conversations about problems
I open conversations with my son about problems I observe. One day, I told Conan,
“Do you notice that many teenagers go through a phase of wearing black all the time?
Many teenagers are not confident about their looks. They keep away from attention by wearing black. And they are often left alone to deal with their insecurities over appearance during this period.”
Conan showed interest in the topic. So, I peppered the conversation with my personal anecdotes,
“But I think it is a bad idea to wish that the problem will just go away. Look at my acne-scarred face. It wouldn’t be this bad if I had gotten help at that time.
Physical appearance affects people. I remember being mocked for an uncanny resemblance to an actor who convincingly portrayed the role of a moron in a popular TV drama. And all that was simply because I had a bad hair-cut and an obese physique at that time.
I think lessons on personal grooming are often neglected in schools and at home. More can be done.”
Such conversations made it easy for my son to tell me how he felt. Conan candidly revealed,
“Between close friends, we got into this bad habit of calling each other names and trading insults at each other’s looks in the last two years. Come to think of it, it did affect how I think about my looks too.”
Then he added with laughter,
“But no worries. I have gone the opposite path. I am now pretending to be narcissistic. Self-adoration is an antidote.”
I am not sure if self-adoration is a good thing. But talking about problems openly with personal anecdotes is surely a good way to communicate values with your children. Hopefully, if children face moral conundrums one day, they will find it more comfortable to speak to you.
William W K Tan