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Attention! This is what we wish our parents knew about us

By KAREN MBUYA MURIUKI
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Just what does your child wish you knew but he or she is afraid of saying it? Lifestyle reached out to six teenagers who opened up about the problems they have with their parents.

We shared their complaints with Ms Florence Mueni, a child and youth counsellor, who stressed on the importance of open communication between parents and their children.

“Communication between a parent and a child is usually good until a certain age, after which things begin to change for worse,” said Ms Mueni.

She explained that from a psychological point of view, a child is able to know that they will be judged for doing something or asking for something as their brain grows.

“Most of the time, it leads to the child’s mentality of “mum or dad will refuse if I ask them”. As the child grows into adolescence, they find communicating with their peers more preferable than communicating with their parents. They tend to withhold some information from them for different reasons,” Ms Mueni said.

Below are some of the concerns by the teens, whose names we changed to protect their identities.

MERCY, 17, IS A FORM THREE STUDENT

She says that she has always been afraid of her parents. They are, according to her, completely unapproachable and she wishes that she could open a channel of communication with them.

“I would rather sneak out, or lie that I am going to sleep over at a friend’s place than ask my parents if I need to go out with my friends. I know I am not yet a legal adult, and that means that their answer would definitely be no, followed by a serious scolding.

“Most of my friends go out for overnight parties. Even though I know that lying to my parents is morally wrong, I get Fomo (fear of missing out), whenever I am not part of the party,” says Mercy.

Ms Mueni says:

“I have experienced this a lot in my years as a child psychologist. There is the need and the willingness to communicate about some issues from the adolescent. There just seems to be a barrier that stops it from happening.

“As much as your young adult’s brains are still developing in terms of making decisions, parents being able to give them the reassurance that they are willing to listen to their problems goes a long way. We understand that most of the time, they are busy trying to cater for their children’s needs, but this should not be a reason for them to shut out their children from their lives.

“And to adolescents, I would say that communication is a two-way process. You can also find a way of initiating it. Be strategic in the way you choose to talk to your parents as well. First, find the time and ask your parents to set it – or any other time of their convenience – aside for you to speak with them. It will also be good if you can suggest the place that will be comfortable enough for you. State the issue of discussion in a way that the parent can understand.

“Face to face is the first and best method you can try because you and your parent will be able to see and respond to each other for things to be handled. Even though this may be difficult for some of you, it is good to gather up the courage to approach them, even if it means practising.

“If this fails, you can send a text message or leave a note. Note that it is best for you to do this only to initiate the meeting.

“For the most unapproachable parent, use a medium to intervene. This should be a trusted person who will not betray the confidentiality.”

GREG IS 16 YEARS OLD AND IN FORM TWO

He says that his father never takes anything he says into consideration. He barely asks for his side of the story whenever an argument arises.

“Before I came home for the holidays, my father had already decided that I would have a teacher over every day of the week, for the three-week holiday. This is beside the fact that I am a bright A student.

“What really made me upset is the fact that he did not sit down with me to ask if there were any learning challenges I have in school. Personally, I am able to grasp more knowledge when I revise by myself, as compared to having a teacher with me. I wish he would have just asked me about it first,” confesses Greg.

Ms Mueni says:

“Children’s opinion really matters. The mistakes most parents make is to assume that their children’s opinion does not matter simply because they are not of age, or that they are still their “babies”. This is especially in decisions that directly affect the adolescent. There is a famous Nigerian quote that says ‘you cannot cut my hair in my absence’. This really applies to the adolescents, because their views really matter in some decision making processes.

“Parents, once you seek your child’s opinion in matters that affects him/her, it not only creates an environment for communication to thrive positively, but also teaches them to start making decisions at an early age. You do not want to have an adult in the near future who will not be able to make even the smallest decisions for themselves simply because you did so for them at an earlier stage.

“It is one thing to seek their opinion, and another to put these opinions into consideration. The adolescent will need feedback as to why their opinions were not taken into consideration, if that happens. It is only fair to do so. Seeking their opinion is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of wisdom.”

MAYA, 17, IS A FORM FOUR STUDENT

Her main issue is that her parents compare her to her older siblings, especially academically, being that she is in her final year of high school. She says that they tell her that she never performs as well as they did, yet she is a bright student. This brutally hurts her.

“For the past four years, everything I have done has been set for comparison to my elder sister who is in university. She scored an A- and is on her way to her dream career of being a lawyer.

“I have never been as bright as her, and the fact that my parents expect me to level up to her grades really hurts me. I also do not want to pursue the mainstream courses like medicine, law or engineering. I want a future in music because I am really talented. I just wish they would understand this,” says Maya.

Ms Mueni says:

“Every parent knows that their children have different capabilities, personalities, strengths and weaknesses. Comparing children creates tension in the sibling relationship. It also brings down the esteem of the adolescent who is being compared in the negative. Comparison does not make them improve, rather makes them feel worse. It lowers their esteem, and may also lead to rebellious behaviour because they feel like they have nothing to lose.

“It is never a strategy meant to encourage the child to do better, or to adopt behaviour that you as a parent want. You should look at the child as an individual, and address the issues differently from how you would with another child.

“For the adolescent, look within yourself and keep encouraging yourself that you are different and unique and that there is no one else like you, because that is just the plain truth. You may not change your parent’s views, but you can change your mentality.”

ESTHER IS 15 YEARS OLD AND IN GRADE 10

Her mother goes through her personal journal, and this hurts her a lot because it is invasion of her privacy. She does not know how to approach her mother to tell her how she feels.

She says: “I have always loved journaling. It is my way of really letting out my true feelings without being judged by anyone. I have been doing so since I was 13 years old.

“Two months ago, my mother quarrelled me about not focusing on my education enough. I wondered where she got that thought from, only for her to produce evidences of my previous journals; saying that writing on them is what is distracting me.

“I am a smart worker, and I only write on my journal before going to bed, but that is beside the point. I do not understand why she had to go through them, knowing how personal they are to me.”

Ms Mueni says:

“Parents have a right to know what is going on in their child’s life. As a psychologist, one of the main issues from the parents I interact with is that they do not know what goes on in their child’s lives. This gets them frustrated and may lead them to finding out for themselves. They may go through their child’s phones, journals or rooms.

“They are all signs of lack of communication. Adolescents have the responsibility to be people who can be trusted if they do not want this to happen. For example, they should be honest about where they are going.

“To the parents, the more children grow older; the more you should give them a degree of privacy. Wanting to know everything in your child’s life will just lead to frustration. It is good to assure your child that you are there for them and that you can talk to them about anything going on in their lives.

“This opens up channels of communication, and in turn, they will not have anything to hide from you. You should also not be too nosy to a point that your child feels overwhelmed. In the case of having suspicions, approach your child first, and if he/she does not convince you otherwise, then you have the right to check whatever you have to check.”

MOSES IS A FORM TWO STUDENT

“Whenever an issue arises, all my father does is shout at me. He does not give me a chance to explain my side of the story,” he says.

“About a year ago, I asked my father to replace a school book that I had lost. It cost Sh3,000. Oh, was he mad at me. He scolded me for about 20 minutes, telling me of how careless I am, and how inconsiderate I am, seeing how much he struggles to raise money for my school fees.

“The truth of the matter, however, is that the book was stolen by an older student. It did not happen to me only, but to many of my classmates as well. All of us were asked to replace the books.

“I understand that I was careless to lose the book, but I just wish that my father could listen to my side of the story. I vowed to never tell him anything after this,” adds Moses.

Ms Mueni says:

“It is normal for parents to feel that they have an automatic position of authority because of their age, experience and power; being the children’s providers. This makes them feel like they can talk at their children.

“That’s not the way to do it because it will only be a one-way form of communication. The parent has a responsibility to guide the conversation in a way that as much as they want to talk, they also give the adolescent an opportunity to do so.

“This does not have to necessarily be when talking about a serious issue. It applies to normal conversations too. Building that communication in everyday conversations creates a foundation to be able to get into more sensitive issues. Giving the adolescent time to talk, as well as listening to what they have to say is key. It is good to listen to each other and taking turns while speaking.

“For the adolescents, it is wrong to speak to your parent like he/she is your peer. It is important for you to establish that difference, otherwise your intentions will get lost and you will fail to talk about the issue at hand.”

ALEX, 18, IS IN FORM FOUR

He says he is trying his absolute best in his final year of school, yet he still gets grade C- or below.

His parents do not seem to understand his situation, and are always giving him “lectures” whenever his results are out. He feels hopeless.

“This happens every time I come home for the holidays. My parents scold me when they see that the grades on my result slip are not what they expected. I work really hard, both in school and during the holidays, but they do not seem to acknowledge that. I get really demoralised,” he says.

Ms Mueni says:

“Parents always feel that there is always room for improvement. They also fear that their children will relax if they are not pushed to do better, yet it’s the adolescent who has to grapple with the magnitude of school work against their abilities. Some are academically endowed, while others are not. Our system does not take that into consideration, sadly. It assumes that children learn at the same speed.

“A reasonable parent will be able to see a child that is making an effort in their academic work, and will not blame them for their poor grades.

“Parents have the ability to push their child to depression by seeing the child through their academic performance and not as a whole. Social pressures may cause this, but it is up to the parent to know their child. Setting unrealistic expectations is not only unrealistic to the child, but to them as well.

“As psychologists, we say that it is better to have a child as a whole; with their healthy and functioning selves. After all, the child is more than an academic being. They have other capabilities. When they feel they are heard, they will have the confidence to reach their potential.”