I gently opened the door to check on my daughter and found her sprawled on the bed. I knew she had been studying for her Psychology exam and was a little rankled about the huge syllabus she had to cover. But I was taken by surprise when she suddenly rolled on her side to announce she had decided to skip her exam the next day as she was just not prepared.
Exhorting every nerve to remain unrattled by the unforeseen behaviour of my hitherto conscientious girl, I sat down beside her even as she asked me to leave her alone. It took a while to engage her in a conversation wherein I sought to put things, including exams, in perspective. We spent the rest of the day applying my student-day emergency strategy of merely solving previous years' question papers when faced with a mental block.
In the course of parenting, we are often faced with challenging situations wherein children find themselves in a dock as a result of their immaturity, impulsiveness or wrongful decisions. It is how we conduct ourselves at this crucial juncture that, I think, holds the key to not one but two important developments in the kid's life. For one, it not just helps him/her tide over the current crisis but also teaches an important coping skill in handling a predicament. It's surprising how the influence of parents run far deeper than we may think.
Buckling down under the pressure of exams, I presume, would be only a minor crisis as compared to far more unsettling situations that parents of teens often come across. For instance, a discreet birthday party with booze, thrown by a bunch of Class XII students in the car park of an upscale locality in my neighbourhood, recently turned into a terrible tragedy as one of them lost his life.
What obviously followed were arduous inquiries and media scrutiny but I couldn't help wonder how each of the parents was handling this life-scarring experience of their wards.
No matter how much the troubles of our kids take a toll on our own mental state, it is worthwhile to maintain our composure, at least visibly. This alone can save them from falling over the brink. For our teens may be taller than us, but they can't think like an adult. Nevertheless, we needn't absolve them from the accountability of their actions. But that can be addressed after tiding over the present quandary.
Getting them to talk about their trouble is crucial. Listening to their account without judging, interrupting, criticizing or offering advice is another vital tool in handling a teen crisis. It helps to maintain an eye contact in order to make them feel understood and valued.
Speaking from experience, expect rejection as attempts to connect with them may often be met with anger, irritation or other negative reactions. But no matter how much they withdraw, slam the door or roll their eyes, they need our love and attention. One is likely to need all the patience and positive energy one can muster. But persistence pays and a breakthrough will come when s/he will let you in.
That's when one can emphasise that problems of adolescence are transient and they would soon mature into happy and successful young adults.