Remember when we were teenagers in the 70s?
There is a big difference between being a teenager today and being a teenager then. Gasoline cost 0.50 cents a gallon, there were no cell phones, no television, no YouTube, and no Internet. We would go outside to meet our friends at night and spend summers on our grandparents’ farm. The families of the neighborhood got together to celebrate the 4th of July and visited each other at Christmas. Life was easier for both our parents and us.
Today, today everything is different, children are killed by madmen inside their schools, half the world is at war with its neighbors and we are all at war with drugs, child trafficking and pornography stalk every moment and the life of our teenagers. The Internet and social networks have opened their eyes and hearts to the reality of the world in which they live. We were happy children, our concerns were getting good grades and getting a date for the party on Saturday.
All adolescents today are informed every minute through their telephones, television and the Internet about the violence carried out against other children, about death, hunger and the diseases that surround them. They lost their innocence long ago by watching a child soldier murder people in a war somewhere in Africa, they have seen teenagers like them get shot and needled in their own schools or near their homes.
What is the point of all this, why talk about it? I think it is something that we should keep in mind and keep close to our hearts when we talk to our children about their problems. I think it’s something we should think about when one of our own, or their friends, falls into the clutches of cocaine or any other drug. It is something to keep in mind when your son or daughter does not want to go to school because they are being bullied. These are different times than the ones we live in, it is necessary that we arm ourselves with patience and relearn to face all these issues that are present in our children’s day-to-day lives.
Today teenagers live in an extremely competitive world, it is true, competition is about stupid and hectic things, but it is there and they have to live with it. Who has the best cell phone, or the newest car, the pressure to take drugs or drink, have sex, the need to defend and protect themselves, their life is real. Yes, it is very real and it is something we did not learn to deal with, we lived in peace when life was beautiful and friendships were built forever.
Every time a teenager falls into drugs, alcohol, suicide, violence, it is not only their fault, it is not only the fault of their friends. It’s everyone’s fault because we, their parents, don’t have time to talk to them, to try to understand what’s going on in their head, in their heart. As parents of today, it is our duty not only to listen to them, watch over them closely, but also inform ourselves about their realities and the people and things they are faced with every day.
Many times when they have done something wrong and we have caught them, the first thing we say is: “Yes, I was also a teenager, I know how you feel.” This is not true, we do not know how it feels to carry the weight of peer pressure like them, we do not know how it feels to be exposed and tempted by drugs and alcohol every day at all times. We don’t know what it feels like to know that your classmates have guns and sell drugs and that the girl sitting next to you was raped and beaten by a group of students you knew. None of my high school friends, not yours, is serving twenty or thirty years in prison for murder, drug dealing or rape at seventeen.
It is time for us to stop and smell the flowers, the world today is not what it was forty years ago, but we are still trying to educate and care for our children as it was. They know more about the world than we will ever know. There is no place for lies or excuses, they have seen it all, and they have lived it many times. This is the time when we must desperately try to reach out to them, talk to them, reach out to them, and go to great lengths to understand what they are going through every day. We must be patient, we must be willing to listen to everything without judging ourselves, give them love and not punishment, they are already being punished by society itself.
It is our duty to make their homes a place of peace, a place where they can open up and talk about their pain, their problems, their doubts and fears. You and I have sat before our children and heard stories of things that happened at school or elsewhere and they seem so wild and crazy that they don’t register in our minds. We think they lie and anger flares up and we call them liars and many other things, well a lot of these stories and excuses are true and they live them every day. The time has come to arm ourselves with patience and tons and tons of love. It is time for us to serve our teenage children as anchors, as forts where they feel safe away from all the pain and suffering that their world is made of.
Take the time to talk to them for a few minutes every day, ask them about their day, how they feel, did something happen at school today, anything is fine, the point is to work on opening communication channels that hopefully are not necessary, but if they are, they can save your child’s life. Watch television, learn about social networks, get involved with them, ten and fifteen minutes that you spend every day with your child simply talking about what is the best investment you can be making to give him a better and safer way of life. They are the most precious parts of our lives, learn about them, look at them, share with them, they will soon be adults themselves and go their own way. Now is the time to establish a true relationship with them, later the opportunity will have passed and it is impossible to reverse the time and consequences of not paying attention when attention was needed.