Speaking Tree: Fear Factor

Deepak Chopra tells you how to tide over teen troubles

If you question adults about their adolescence days, most of them will come up with a “best of times, worst of times” reply. The transition out of childhood brings with it a confusing tangle of issues, and even in a close family structure, there is bound to be angst, confusion, and rebellion. That’s why, sadly, suicide rates are highest among adolescents and decline steadily into old age, by which time, most people feel — rightly or wrongly — say that they understand their own existence.

Today, because India is passing through such an intense transition itself, the pressure on teenagers is exaggerated. They are expected to take steps to insure their future, and sometimes the future of their parents, at a time when failure would be devastating for adults, much less for adolescents. The pressure to succeed isn’t just about success. It is also about not falling off the train. Left behind in the rush to build India into an economic powerhouse, students face despair. There is no safety net for them, and to find
yourself impoverished in India can be a lifelong fate.

Be Realistic
With all this in mind, can parents overlook the risks and dangers that may lie ahead for their children? Should they deal with their own angst rather than visiting it on their offspring? It’s easy enough to offer an ideal scenario, but in this case we have to be realistic. Parents live vicariously through their children, in every country and not just India. It’s also part of good parenting to paint a realistic picture of life ahead, so that adolescents, lost in their own confusion, are guided to the best educational and job opportunities. Parents who take a totally hands-off approach wouldn’t be doing their teenagers any favours and could well be cutting them adrift. So what is the right course?

Show Empathy
The answers are well-known, so I’ll put them in a checklist so that parents can take stock realistically. To handle adolescent angst:

1. Be the adult. Don’t become part of your child’s peer pressure. Be fair and reasonable in your demands.
2. Keep the lines of communication open. Teenagers push adults away, but at the same time, they really want to talk and be understood.
3. Be empathic. Teenagers are flooded with emotions, and the drama of their inner life is confusing. Instead of judging, show that you understand.
4. Look for danger signs. Teenagers want their own space, but they are moving into troubling territory psychologically if they become isolated, secretive, uncommunicative, and resentful. Look for these and address them early.
5. Remove excessive burdens from them. The kind of pressures that make standardised tests the end of the world is impossible to bear. No teenager should feel that he is responsible for the future of an entire family.
6. Seek emotional balance. Increase love and respect — that’s healthy family life. Reduce hysteria and unfair expectations.
7. Take the long view. Teenagers lack experience, which causes them to exaggerate the consequences of their decisions. Make clear that the future contains many opportunities, and that change is natural. Decisions made today are not earthshaking, and disappointments can be recovered from.

Boost Confidence
The single factor that creates success in life isn’t money, test scores, or the college you go to. It’s emotional resilience. Every life has its failures and setbacks. The people who can bounce back become not just survivors but thrivers. If you want your child to thrive in the years ahead, teach her that emotional flexibility, a search for inner balance, and turning uncertainty from an enemy to an ally are key ingredients. You can’t rid your child’s life of angst, but you can lay a foundation so that in 10 years that angst will be a thing of the past.

Published by Speaking Factor