Answers to Your Questions: Bridging the Generation Gap
Q: Things have changed so much since I was growing up that I don’t even know where to start in relating to and helping my teenage daughter. How can I bridge the generation gap?
A: The world has changed a lot in the last generation. On the surface, the generation gap appears to be widening, but appearances can be deceiving. Intergenerational differences are manifested differently from generation to generation, but the core issue remains the same: teenagers’ God-given need to find their place in life.
To better relate to your daughter, try to remember how you felt at her age. If you were a typical teen, you felt awkward and unattractive in your constantly changing body. Every pimple or bad hair day was a life-altering crisis. You worried about how you fit in with your friends. You compared yourself negatively with others in your class who were more beautiful, smarter, more popular, or seemingly more self-confident. You faced bigger decisions than you had ever faced before, and knew that even bigger decisions loomed ahead: How far would you go in school? What would you do when you grew up? Who would you marry? How could anyone ever want to marry you?
You probably didn’t understand what was happening at the time, and your daughter probably doesn’t understand it now, but it’s the process of discovering yourself and establishing your own identity.
At this stage in their lives, teens look to their peers and parents for clues. They constantly compare themselves with their peers to determine where they fit in, and they scrutinize their parents’ attitudes, lifestyle, and values to determine whether they want to be like their parents when they become adults.
The teen years are when most children become at least a little rebellious. After all, how can they establish their own identities without cutting loose from their parents? Many parents make a difficult situation harder by overreacting to their teens’ rebelliousness, which nearly always leads to greater rebellion and a deeper rift between the generations.
The wise parent will accept that a certain amount of rebelliousness is natural, and will understand that many of the outward changes they don’t like in their teen—the outlandish clothes or hairstyle, the dreadful music, etc.—are all part of the separation process.
The wise parent also understands that experimentation is a necessary part of growing up, and that not every experiment is going to be a success. On his way to inventing the light bulb, Thomas Edison tried hundreds of combinations of materials that didn’t work before he struck on one that did. Like Edison, most teens will recognize what isn’t working and move on to something else. Allow your teen latitude to experiment, within bounds. “Nothing harmful to yourself or others, and nothing illegal” makes a good starting point.
Closely related to experimentation is the issue of self-control. Many teens lack self-control, mainly because they don’t see any reason for it. They like to have fun, they enjoy their greater independence, and they’re learning by trial and error. It’s often not until they experience the consequences of poor decisions that they learn self-control—but wasn’t it that way for you?
While teens want to be their own person, they’re generally insecure in that new role. It’s a bit like standing at the top of a high diving board for the first time: They’re about to take the plunge into adulthood and wonder if they’ll survive the impact.
Nothing counters that insecurity like unconditional love. Teens often act like they don’t want or need their parents’ love and support, and they can sometimes be downright ornery and unlovable to underscore the point. But more often than not, whether the teens realize it or not, what they’re really doing is testing their parents’ love. They seek affirmations of their parents’ love, because love is an indication of value, and teens need to feel they have value. Parents who demonstrate unswerving love for their teens through thick and thin give their teens the validation they so desperately want and need.
It takes great love, patience, and self-control on the part of the parents to loosen their grip and let their teens go through the growing up process. It also takes faith—faith in their teens; faith that the values they tried to instill in their children when they were younger will now guide them to make the right choices; and faith in God, who created the process. This last point is where parents who believe in the power of prayer and have a personal connection with God through Jesus are at a great advantage; they know where to turn when they and their teens need help.
Another thing that works to believing parents’ advantage is the fact that more people accept Jesus during their teen years than at any other time. Teens, in general, are seekers—pilgrims in search of truth and the meaning of life. If you or someone else can lead your daughter to Jesus—“the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6)—He can put things in perspective for her like no one else. He can give her unconditional love and acceptance. He can give her peace in her heart. He can give her answers as she learns to take her problems to Him in prayer.
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