Teenagers – don’t we sometimes wish we understood them a little better, or knew what they were thinking? Why are they always staring at their screens? Why do they keep talking about finding meaning in life? Today’s teenagers are growing up in a generation different from ours, facing more societal pressures and challenges than we ever did. We may not fully comprehend or agree with their thoughts or views, but knowing the differences between our generation’s thinking and theirs might help us understand them a little better.
Do you find that our young ones have shorter attention spans? Technology likely has a part to play in this. Being digital natives, they are adept at quickly and easily sourcing for new information at any place and point in time. Indeed, a webpage that took two minutes to load in the past now can load in two seconds! However, though they may find difficulty in focusing on something for extended periods of time, they are often better at multitasking and managing several activities at the same time.
Also, gone are the days when face-to-face interaction was the only way to communicate with someone at length. Our teens have communication at their fingertips, keeping in touch with their friends through various forms of instant messaging and social media. Due to this, they may be more comfortable communicating virtually as opposed to meeting face-to-face or making phone calls.
It is still good to make—and guard—face-to-face interaction with them as a family. For example, you can agree as a family to ensure that there's no digital devices at the dinner table, so that everyone can focus on quality conversations. We should also model such behaviour for our teens by being intentional in not checking our phones or laptops constantly when spending time with them.
Engaging on Values
What was considered taboo in the past is now more widely accepted. Youth’s attitudes toward things like media consumption, dressing, and sex, among many other areas, have become more liberal. One of the reasons for this is that our culture has changed. For instance, today’s culture is markedly more accepting of sexually explicit content, where it can be found from product advertisements to music videos.
Someone once observed that the older generation seems to be the “What” generation: They know what is right and wrong, and they will do as they have been taught. But the younger generation seems to be the “Why” generation: They want to know why something is right or wrong, before they do it.
This mindset can be a productive one to engage with. The benefit is that youths want to know for themselves the compelling reasons behind something, rather than accept it blindly. And once they have thought or wrestled through it, they will likely have ownership over their own convictions.
Engaging with our youths in terms of values can also take the form of inviting them into a conversation about why they think the way they think. How did they come to such a view? Whom or what do they consider major influences in their lives? What do they cherish and what do they dislike? This also helps us to understand them as a person, and what their inner world is like.
The Bottom Line
Your teen may hold vastly different views from you – some may make you squirm or even recoil in horror. Before you start on a “You know in my time, this would never be allowed…” lecture, take some time to truly listen and evaluate your teen’s views. Opening up safe spaces for dialogue lets them feel valued because they are being heard, which allows them to express their views more openly. This then creates opportunities for you to learn from them, and also to help them to clarify—and when the need arises, to gently correct—their beliefs and attitudes. Ultimately, our aim in parenting is to teach them how to think, not what to think, and empowering them to make healthy decisions themselves.
In all honesty, youths today share many similarities with you when you were teenagers – they are still finding their way around the confusing world they are in, still desire to be accepted, heard and loved. You may not completely understand (or appreciate) their psyche, but you can be the present and loving parent to them, guiding them as they grow into adulthood. Dads and Mums, may you be your teen’s coach and cheerleader so that they can run the race of life well.
Focus on the Family Singapore Limited is a local charity with Institution of a Public Character (IPC) status dedicated to helping families thrive by being a voice for Family. We partner individuals and organizations to nurture families at different life stages through transformational family life education, trusted resources, content placements and counseling.