I told my first-born 12+ something son to buy some bread, a chore he always did, and he turned around and asked, “What’s in it for me?”
I was shocked and stumped. But in hindsight I know that I should have rung in the cops, called the fire brigade and alerted all family and friends, and also the neighbours. My son had just stepped into one of the most taxing periods of our lives. He’d become a teenager.
Teenagers are something one would never wish we had; we wish our enemies had them, by the dozens.
But we have them, the ‘condition’ hits us when we are chugging along fine, our kids look up to us, obey us, and love us. We are in parental heaven, demigods, so to say. One day these darlings you love more than any other human being in the whole wide world morph into sulky creatures who won’t be caught dead sharing the same space as you and can’t think of anything but their own selves. Every one and every thing else “sucks”.
And to think sucking was the first activity they indulged in when they were born, apart from peeing and pooping. But let’s not get into that.
Teenagers are incredibly egocentric; they think that the entire world revolves around them and their desires. They also think that the whole world is watching them, judging them. This naturally leads to them wanting to escape notice and go with the herd, even if the herd, to the jaundiced parental eye looks like pigs wallowing in filth! But hey, it’s their herd, and that is where they fit in and feel happy. My sons started speaking Hindi and English in a marked Haryanvi accent, much to my horror (yes I am a snob like that!) but never mind.
And they believe in magic. It is not surprising to me that Harry Potter and Twilight did so well. Who but a teenager would think that if he hid his report card the parent would not find out? And who but a teenager would actually believe changing 30 into 80 on his class test paper (it’s just two deft strokes of the pen) would work?
And all the time their hormones are giving them a hard time, their self-confidence goes up and down and on the top of it, their heads are buzzing with questions,
a) Will people laugh at me?
b) What will the boys think?
c) What will the girls think?
d) Is this stupid?
e) Will this make me look stupid?
… and so on
I learnt dealing with my sons turned monsters the hard way, through trial and error. Funnily enough, the first sign of trouble gave me the clue. “What’s in it for me?”
A teenager in one of the movies I saw on Star Movies during that period asked, “Why should I study History. Why should I care about anything that happened before I was born?” Valuable input – it really helped.
When communicating with my sons, I stopped lecturing. I tried to convey how it would benefit them, benefit us as a team if we did so and so, if we attended such and such program, if we said Please and Thank you, if we changed our socks daily, if we paid attention in class.
Somehow it worked. Try it if you have a teen at home.
Ritu Lalit is the author of two novels, A Bowlful of Butterflies published by Rupa & Co., and Hilawi published by Popular Prakashan. She is a single parent and blogs at www.phoenixritu.com