Between Parent and Teenager
By Dr. Haim G. Ginott
May be copied for noncommercial, educational purposes
Chapter 10 – To learn, to grow, to change
This chapter consists of vignettes about parents and teenagers and their ways of coping with each other. It presents a series of short stories of their efforts to coexist and relate. It tells of their separate struggles for self-respect and of their mutual trials to live in less discord. It demonstrates the ability of both teenagers and parents, to grow, to change.
A Loud Lesson in Hate
Nana, age seventeen, was window shopping. Her eyes were glued to an expensive coat. A harsh voice was heard: “You have enough clothes to open your own store. Money doesn't grow on trees, you know. Your father works hard for a living. We can't make ends meet as it is.”
The atmosphere chilled instantly. Nana's face fell. She gave her mother a cold look, and said defiantly, “You wouldn't buy me expensive clothes even if you were a millionaire.” Mother said, “Enough of this nonsense. Let's have lunch.” Feet dragging and full of resentment, Nana followed mother into a restaurant. The mood between mother and daughter was spoiled beyond repair. Even if they had ordered filet mignon, it would have tasted like poison.
This incident deserved a different ending. Even with a limited budget, a parent could afford to be cordial and sympathetic. Nana's mother could have said, “I wish our budget allowed me to buy you this coat. Your heart seems so set on it.” Mother could have granted in fantasy what she could not give in reality.
A Conversation about Homework
RONALD ( age twelve ): Oh, Mom, I have a note for you to sign. It's from my teacher.
MOTHER: I see two notes.
RONALD: Oh, yeah, I forgot to show it to you.
MOTHER: ( Reads the first note. ) Dear Mrs. A. I thought you should know that Ronald hasn't been doing his social studies homework, all term. ( Reads second note. ) Dear Mrs. A. Ronald has not been doing the work assigned to him in English literature. He must do his reading as well as his social studies. I would appreciate hearing form you.
MOTHER: ( after a long pause ): This is a very serious matter!
RONALD: I know. But I can't help it. It's no use, Mom. You see, I just don't have a habit of doing homework. I never did have it, not since first grade. And, I can't change now.
MOTHER: Um, hmmm ( picks up note and stares at it again ). This is a very serious matter!
RONALD: Well, maybe I could put a sign on my desk: “Don't forget the homework books.”
MOTHER: You think a sign might help your remember?
RONALD: Maybe. But it isn't just that. I don't know what's the matter with me. Everybody does his homework except me.
MOTHER: ( Sits quietly, looking concerned. The silence is heavy .)
RONALD: So what will you do?
MOTHER: The question, Ronald is: What will you do? I know that when you want to do something, even if it's hard, you do it. Like with your guitar. Nobody believed you could play that big instrument. But you decided that you could. You worked at it every night, and you learned to play.
RONALD: But that's the thing! I wanted to play the guitar, but I don't want to do homework!
MOTHER: I see. It's getting yourself to want to do it, that's the problem.
RONALD: Yes. And there's another thing with me. I don't use time wisely. Like when we're finished with one page we are supposed to go on to another one. I don't I just chew on my pencil and stare into space – like this.
MOTHER: Oh, so you also need to learn to use time wisely.
RONALD: Yes. ( Long silence. ) So what'll you write?
MOTHER: Well, I know how to start the letter. You dictate to me how you plant to take care of the problem. I'll read aloud as I write. You tell me if it meets with your approval: Dear Teacher. Ronald showed me your two notes. This is a very serious matter. I appreciate your bringing it to our attention. I have discussed the problem with Ronald. He says…
RONALD: Tell her that from now on I'll bring my social studies book home.
MOTHER: Ronald says he plans to bring home his social studies workbook. Anything else?
RONALD: Tell her I'll have the assignment ready by Monday.
MOTHER: Ronald also says he plans to do his reading and bring in the assignment on Monday.
RONALD: Right. And tell her that I'm going to stop wasting time.
MOTHER: He says that he plans to use his time more wisely. All right?
RONALD: ( sounding relieved ): Gee, Mom. You didn't yell or make a big thing of it.
MOTHER: It is a very big thing . I didn't yell because I feel confident that once you take charge of the problem it will be solved. But make no mistake, it is an extremely important matter.
Cars and Finances
This incidence was told by a mother of an eighteen-year-old boy; “My son came home with great ideas about buying a new car for himself. He had already checked the facts and figures with a car dealer. All he needed was his father's signature for a bank loan.
“I made the mistake of immediately telling him that he could not afford a car. I also told him that his father would not sign a loan for him. Richard got angry and accused me of not understanding his needs.
“When his father came home Richard spoke to him about the car. His dad agreed to go to the car dealer, and discuss the purchase. He admired Richard's selection and taste. They sat down together and figured the finances. They concluded that even with Richard's summer earnings he could not manage to pay for a new car. Father suggested that after Richard had banked a set amount of money, a loan could be taken out.
“This solution satisfied Richard. The matter was set amicably.”
A Job Offer: Who Decides?
This story was told by a mother who had struggled hard with herself to allow her son autonomy: “My son, age seventeen, was offered the position of art director in a camp. The invitation was most flattering to him. But he was not overjoyed. In fact, he seemed disturbed. The praise made him uneasy.
“I had to control myself from insisting that he accept the offer immediately. But I kept on thinking: ‘He is no puppet.' I allowed him to make up his own mind. I said, ‘It's a tough decision. You'll have to give it much thought.' Norman answered, ‘I'm not certain that this is what I really want to do this summer. I need time to decide.'
“Two weeks later Norman accepted the invitation and signed a contract. It was a long two weeks for me. But I kept my faith. I kept on saying to myself: ‘He must direct his own drama. It is his time and age to be on stage. My part is to stay in the audience, sympathetic, prayerful and proud.'”
Teenage Sports and Parents' Fears
The speaker in this episode is a mother of a sixteen-year-old girl: “My daughter wanted to go for a two-day ski trip arranged by her school. I have always been fearful of skiing. I have the usual anxieties about dangerous sports. In the past, I would have said, ‘It's too dangerous. You'll break a leg. You can't go.' This time I said, ‘I wish I took advantage of such opportunities when I went to school. I admire your courage. I hope you enjoy yourself.'
“When my daughter returned with no broken bones, only with red cheeks, she said to me, ‘You know, Mom, I was pretty scared at first. Skiing is very hard. I had trouble keeping my balance. But I am sure that next time it will be easier.'
“My restraint enabled her to give vent to her fears and share her experience with me, Because of my calm attitude she was able to encourage herself.”
An Almost Lost Weekend
In this story a mother tells how her skill saved a family holiday: “Our family spent the weekend at rustic old inn. Lana, age fourteen, was terribly disappointed with its appearance. She had visualized a much more lavish place. When we were shown into our rooms (without TV or videogames), Lana said she hated this old age place and refused to join us for dinner. I said, ‘You are disappointed. You wish we were in a more elegant hotel.' ‘Yes,' she said bitterly. I asked her to come down for dinner despite her ‘aggravated condition.' Putting my arm around her shoulder, I said, ‘Lana, I feel you'll be more comfortable joining us than staying in the room all alone.'
“In the past I would have attacked her. I would have told her how ungrateful she was, or ridiculed her expectations, or tried to point out how lovely everything was, or criticized her taste. This time I echoed her feelings, understood her disappointment, and stated my wishes.
“Not only did she join us for dinner but she had a fabulous time. Upon her return home, she rhapsodized to her friends about the ‘quaint' inn she had been to.
Parenthood is an endless series of small events, periodic conflicts, and sudden crises which call for a response. The response is not without consequence: it affects peace and personality for better or for worse.
Our teenager's character is shaped by experience with people and situations. No one can teach loyalty by lectures, courage by correspondence or manhood by mail. Character education requires presence that demonstrates and contact that communicates. Teenager learn what they live, and becomes what they experiences. To them, our mood is the message, the style is the substance, the process is the product.We want our teenagers to be human beings with compassion, commitment, and courage, people whose lives are guided by a core of strength and a code of fairness. To achieve these humane goals, we need humane methods. Love is not enough. Insight is insufficient. Good parents need skill. How to attain and use such skill is the main theme of Between Parent and Teenager . I hope that this book will help parents and teenagers translate desired ideals into daily practices.