How do we live in peace with our children who are at the start of adolescence without ceasing to be – and this is the most difficult part – being what we are, constantly faithful to ourselves: spouses, parents and children. This is the essence of a pleasant article which I have read recently in a French magazine, Parenthèse magazine (n. 32, April-May 2013).
The first feeling you have when you have a growing child in front of you is: this is life. Yes, because life is in each and everyone of us, human beings. At a certain point we discover that what was a human puppy yesterday – and certainly there is something miraculous in it – has suddenly “grown up” ( the inverted commas are necessary here … and we shall see why later...) The question that each of these beings will ask themselves is inexorable: why-was-I-born.
I know. The question has been posed by millions of people since the beginning of time: but this time it is different, it is like entering a world which is so near but so far, so mysterious and yet so familiar, that we call Life.
And all this journey starts when our son or daughter crosses the threshold of our home one day in a state of uncommon joy, something which you hadn’t seen since the times you cradled and amused them in your arms as babies. He embraces you (something which immediately rouses your suspicions ) and tells you: Mum, Dad I want to introduce you to a friend. And behind them lurks what you would never ever imagine having in your home.
Total bewilderment is the only thing you feel when you greet what is now the most important person in your son’s or daughter’s lives.
It is a friend light years away from you, from your ideas of values. Your son, you sadly conclude is infatuated by this insolent classmate, who exercises so much influence on him. The day after you look at him and you say: I don’t recognise him anymore.. Why? Why does he not take any notice of me anymore? Why does he dress exactly like their new friend. You try to make him reason, but he walks away irritated and slips back into his world. And while he does this a film rolls in front of your eyes: after a week with this new friend your son will be smoking cannabis! After a month, he will fail his high school diploma exams! And after a year, he will be on anti- depressants!
But why does you son go out with such bad company? You have given him only the best; the best schools, the best sport clubs, you have organised his evenings and outings. Where have you gone wrong, then? Has your educative plan been (suddenly) annihilated by an adolescent, your son’s friend?
The French magazine states that this is all quite normal. That is, one does not need a manual to be a mother or a father: “Nothing is new under the sun”, as Qoelet wisely says. To back up this statement renowned psychologists have been interviewed and say that the “brutal change in attitudes can simply correspond to a natural evolution which typically takes place at the beginning of puberty. The adolescent “swings from insolence to kindness, from total silence to confidential, from opposing to breaking rules”.
The reply of the psychologists is prompt but reassuring: it is typical behaviour in adolescents and the friends in question have a fundamental role in this: bad company have broad shoulders and the parents - stresses Sophie Marinopoulos, author of Le corps bavard – say that their son is solely influenced by their friend. Marinopoulos continues by saying in some cases this allows the parents to dismiss free themselves from everything. At times, it is better to look closely and see what or why one’s son is so fascinated by this friend; and accept that you are no longer the only person your son refers to.
According to a survey from the magazine, 7 parents out of 10 (76% interviewed, of which 81% of mothers against 71% fathers ) confessed that they were afraid of their son falling into bad company. The parents should ask themselves what is the cause of such antipathy for their son’s friend. Maybe they feel a rival has put them now in second place?
Therefore, it is much better to re-establish and create a new relationship when our children become adolescents. For example, by learning how to share more in the family. If it is true that in “adolescence the child gains his own freedom from his parents in order to build his own personality”, the new social ties which he will start to weave will help in the construction of his being and promote independence. And it is in this human growth that friendship is indispensable, “ the least naturally endearing, the least instinctive, organic, biological, gregarious and indispensable ”, wrote C.S. Lewis, in his essay The Four Loves: “In this type of love – Emerson said – “Do you love me? Means: “Can you see the truth?” or at least, do you take truth itself at heart?” Whoever agrees with us on a certain issue but is dismissed by others, may be in actual fact of great importance and this might well be our friend. It is not necessary, however, for him to agree on the solution to the question”.
In this age of superficiality or, to quote Bauman, fluid society the vocation of parents is to care and accompany them using courage and decision. And much love. To be, or to return to being loving models of good life. Pope Francis said a few weeks ago: “this reminds me of something that Saint Ignatius of Loyola often said to Jesuits when he was discussing the qualities of a superior. You must have this, this, this… the list of qualities was long. But at the end of this he added: And if you do not have any of these virtues, you should at least have much goodheartedness”. That is essential.
I would like to conclude on a humorous note, by What’s wrong with the world, by Gilbert Keith Chesterton:
“I am often solemnly asked what I think of the new ideas about female education. But there are no new ideas about female education. There is not, there never has been, even the vestige of a new idea. All the educational reformers did was to ask what was being done to boys and then go and do it to girls; just as they asked what was being taught to young squires and then taught it to young chimney sweeps. What they call new ideas are very old ideas in the wrong place. Boys play football, why shouldn't girls play football; boys have school colors, why shouldn't girls have school-colors; boys go in hundreds to day-schools, why shouldn't girls go in hundreds to day-schools; boys go to Oxford, why shouldn't girls go to Oxford—in short, boys grow mustaches, why shouldn't girls grow mustaches—that is about their notion of a new idea”.