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The greatest challenge of all

Raising a teen as a good human being is the most important thing anyone can do, and it is also the hardest. Jitendra Nagpal shows the way

education Updated: Nov 25, 2009 09:24 IST
Jitendra Nagpal

Iwant to go for late-night parties”, “Will you stop telling me what to do?”, “I want to buy branded stuff”, “Leave me alone”, “I can study on my own”, “Give me space”, “You don’t understand me”… these are utterances that parents have to take as a part and parcel of a child’s growing up.

Each of us has been an adolescent and has gone through almost the same turmoil and excitement that our youth face today. Yet, we worry about them and are anxious about their behaviour, which can take the form of defiance, aggression, obstinacy, mood swings and so on.

It is worth recalling that this is a period of rapid growth in physical, cognitive, emotional and social areas. This is the stage where a teenager is expected to play a mature personal role and gender role, develop logical thinking and show respect to family and society.

At this point, a parent has to give a teenager a certain amount of freedom to decide.

This is a tightrope walk — one might end up giving the teen too much independence or may put too many curbs on him/her. In either situation, the adolescent clashes with the values of the parent and develops problems.

One major behavioural problem among teens today is juvenile delinquency. Daily, there are reports of young people accused of robbery, fraud, car theft, assault, and even rape and murder. Such behaviour is often a result of bad parenting or bad peer influence or both.

Also, running away from home represents a youngster’s way of dealing with parental pressure, fear or stressors that may include drugs and romantic involvement. Substance abuse, besides crime, is another bane of this age group. If they fall into bad company, children can get sucked into smoking, drinking and narcotics use, habits that push them into darkness.

A new difficulty for parents is the growing trend of teenage depression, which can happen for a number of reasons — academic setbacks, physical appearance, break-ups, lack of self-worth or peer rejection. The result can be terrible if the problem is not spotted in time — feelings of hopelessness and loneliness may push a teen to suicide. Some signs of depression are lowered immunity level, insomnia, loss of appetite, low energy level and lack of motivation to carry out even daily chores.

It is a parent’s task to provide the primary motivating force, helping an adolescent develop a sense of self and discover the inner light. For children of this age, spending a lot of time in classrooms means a teacher could be a role model and hero, whose behaviour and mannerisms students might emulate. Thus, along with parents, teachers also need to realign their skills to handle teens. Remembering the following points will help:‘I know you can do it’: Recognise a child’s strengths and boost his self-confidence by appreciating his good work and showing genuine interest. Never pass nasty comments like ‘fatty’, ‘clumsy’, which may hurt their self-esteem.

‘Let’s plan things out’: Bring structure at home to encourage your teen to similarly discipline his/her life. For example, maintain a particular time for meals and make sure at least one meal a day has the entire family sitting together.

‘Do you think it’s worth buying?’: Identify the basic needs of children and let them decide if the things they want are worth buying. Give them a budget so that they can themselves pick what they need.

‘I will help you, don’t worry’: Develop a problem-solving attitude; do not force decisions on them. Help them to analyse a situation and find solutions for themselves.

‘You can talk to me’: Maintain effective communication and avoid being judgemental.

To develop trust in your children, you need to accept them as they are. Be a friend to them by listening to what they have to say.

By giving quality time to teens and following the above points, you will be able to show them the right path. By providing the right morals, values and life skills, you can help a teenager avoid the danger zone of behavioural problems.

To understand them, we need to begin by understanding ourselves and developing tactful ways. There is no greater challenge than raising a good human being.

The author is a senior consultant psychiatrist with Moolchand Medcity and Vimhans, New Delhi. Send him an email at, marked ‘Dr Nagpal