Fostering a mutual understanding

March 05, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

Parent and child. A basic human relationship. It's also one of the most intense. The love is strong, and conflicts can be strong.

Kids will try things - they need to in order to learn. The toddler takes his first steps, falls down and looks back at his parents. He wants to know his parents are behind him, that it's OK to try again, says Sybil Schiffman, a licensed professional counselor in Jefferson County, W.Va.

Older children and teenagers also need the security of knowing their parents' support is there - in case they need to come home after falling down, she says.


Most of Sybil Schiffman's counseling clients are children and teenagers. She talks to a lot of kids - and their parents - helping them to work out problems and conflicts. An understanding is a difficult thing to maintain through growing pains.

What do kids want from their parents?

They want their parents to really hear them, Schiffman says. Parents often are 20 steps ahead of the conversation.

In child-parent sessions, Schiffman requires an exercise in reflective listening. The child speaks, and the parent listens. Then the parent repeats what he or she heard - to make sure he heard what the child said.

Honesty is paramount to Schiffman.

"You can't fool kids. Kids know everything," she says.

Teens talk about parenting

For their part, some teens recently said they understand that their parents have a difficult job to raise them, even though some of their vigilance and rules are annoying.

A few Broadfording Christian Academy students from a home economics class taught by Carrie Bishop agreed to talk about parenting.

  • Sarah Wedl, 14, a ninth-grader, was having her nails polished bright green.

    She says she can talk to her parents pretty easily - about anything. When her parents won't grant permission for something - hanging out with friends at the mall, for example - they explain their reasons.

    "It's not my friends or myself," Sarah says. It's other people and situations they worry about.

  • Fifteen-year-old Kim Rose is allowed to go on dates, but not before her parents have met the guy.

    Kim says it's kind of annoying, but she can understand why.

  • Katie Poole, 17, an 11th-grader, isn't allowed to go out on school nights. Her weekend curfew is 11 p.m., and if her plans change in any way, "they make me call."

    "It's embarrassing," Katie says.

    Her parents were really upset when she was about 20 minutes late a while ago. They told her if it happens again, she won't be able to drive.

    She says she doesn't like it, but she understands.

    Teens at the Boys & Girls Club of Washington County in Hagerstown also talked about their perspective on parenting.

  • Being a parent seems like a hard job, says Raeya Disney, 13.

    Her mother died about a year ago, and the Western Heights Middle School eighth-grader says she talks to her dad a lot and lives with her aunt.

    "She tells us to tell her everything," Raeya says. Raeya says she understands the reasons. It's so "we stay good."

  • Michelle DeCatur, 14, a North Hagerstown High School freshman, says she can talk to her mother. "We have a good relationship," she says.

    Michelle feels free to keep explaining her position if she feels her mother isn't hearing her, but finally, she will do what her mom says.

    "I respect her authority," she says.

  • Jarell Rodriguez, 15, a North Hagerstown High School sophomore, is allowed to stay out until midnight on weekends as long as his parents know where he is. If plans change, he has to call them. He understands that parents want to protect their kids.

    Jarell says he'll probably have kids of his own some day, and thinks it's important to be honest with them.

  • De'Veon Baker, 15, North Hagerstown High School sophomore, has chores at home - cleaning the bathroom and taking out the trash. If he doesn't get the job done, he doesn't get his allowance.

    De'Veon says his parents trust him, and he believes they are honest with him.

    He says he has fun with his parents. Sometimes they bowl together on Sundays.

  • Bernard Harris, 17, a North Hagerstown High School senior, says he doesn't have a curfew because his parents trust him to be a good guy.

    He says being a parent is not an easy job. In particular, changing diapers is not easy, he says.

Parental guidance

One thing teens tend not to understand is a parent who operates on the basis of "Do as I say, not as I do." Those parents are making a mistake because they are their kids' role models and mentors, Schiffman says. Telling a child "It's OK for me but not for you" gives the child a mixed message. Parents need to set good examples.

Kids rail against rules, but Schiffman thinks they actually want rules, and she says they need them because kids without rules are kids without boundaries who grow up to be adults without boundaries.

Schiffman advises parents to build an imaginary box that's rather flexible. Kids are going to bang their heads against something, so it's better for them to hit something that won't seriously hurt them, she says.

There are all kinds of family tensions. Kids need to go through them, Schiffman says.

Choosing battles is critical in a parent-child relationship.

Which issues are really important? Which issues are worth a fight? Negotiation often is necessary, but some things are not negotiable - kids having alcohol at a party, for example - she says.

"We need to take control where we can take control," Schiffman says.

Kids want parents to have a sense of humor - to be able to chill out, Schiffman says. But a parent needs to be the parent - not a child's friend.

Relationship to relish

Schiffman agrees that being a parent is not easy, but neither is it all struggle.

She recommends that parents look for the positive in kids. Look at a group of kids at play, she suggests. They are themselves. They are good.

She advises parents to focus on at least one thing they like about the kid, and they can believe in the child.

That guideline would work well for kids looking at their parents, as well.

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