“ Now I see,
That if I were truly to be myself
I would break my family's heart”
~ OST 'Mulan' ~
I join them at their adda. They are seated in the veranda, chatting over cups of tea and plates of shingara. A small bowl has been converted into a makeshift ashtray, piled high with soggy cigarette butts and ash. One of them raises a cigarette to his lips and takes a long drag. He takes his time, meeting my eyes, and his affected air of nonchalance does not fool me. "So you're not telling the folks, right?" The others around him giggle nervously. "Not that I'm afraid of them,' he hastily explains. Of course not. "It's just that we're sick and tired of all the nagging" a girl from the group pipes up.
Ah adolescence. The bittersweet years of raging hormones, confusion and self-discovery. The nightmare years, parents add, and their teenaged offspring silently concur. So what is it that makes these halcyon years more of an ordeal than an experience for the families? LS takes a closer look at life with teens.
Caught in the middle
"The moment you blow the thirteenth candle on your cake, life changes. You're suddenly 'too old' for some things and 'too young' for the others." That was part of a diary entry I made during a particularly profound moment I had in my fourteenth year. Apparently, things haven't changed for today's teens.
"My daughter suddenly wants to attend all these parties, and demands to be allowed to 'hang out' with her friends. Her friend circle seems to have expanded overnight, and she seems to want to spend all her time with them, and more of these kids are people I've never met before," complains Mrs. Khan.
Her daughter Neesha (14) retorts 'They're all people from school. As we get promoted to higher classes, we meet new people. We find things in common with them, become friends, and want to spend time together. My parents don't like me bringing them home, so we try finding neutral places, like ice cream parlours to hang out at and talk. Now they have a problem with that. Of course, I'm not surprised. Mom has a problem with everything I do. She even complains about the clothes I wear." To which, her mother complains 'We are a conservative society. Girls of her age aren't supposed to wear short skirts anymore." And the battle continues
The teen years are about self-discovery, experimentation. It's a time of growth and change, and this concerns more than the physical aspect. As the young bodies blossom, losing the fuzzy, chubby softness of childhood, there are more changes taking place inside their adolescent minds. It's more than just this discovery of the opposite sex, which remains the one thing that parents seem to zoom in on when we mention the word 'teenagers'. It's about creating a self-image, about shaping one's personality, and this is why this is a terribly important time for these people and their families.
If fitting in and making friends were important during childhood, it's more so when the children step into their teen years. They are trying to make sense of a world that is constantly bombarding them with mixed signals, and it is crucial for them to be accepted. It is also as important for them to stand out, to assert their individuality, and this they may express in a number of ways starting from the clothes they wear, to the music they listen to, or even the language they speak in.
"I don't understand half the things my son says when he is talking to his friends" complains one concerned mother. "It's supposed to be inspired by the American rap music he listens to, but it doesn't sound like English to me. And don't even get me started on the profanity!" Another mother complains about her daughter's obsession for concerts. "Why any decent girl would want to dress up in those awful clothes and go spend all that time in that smoke, crowd and loud noise is totally beyond me." One perplexed Pop says, "I keep seeing my son watch these cartoons he insists on calling it anime -- and he gets affronted when I tell him to grow up."
While parents are creating business for hair dye companies as they try to make sense of their young offspring, the teachers aren't nearly having such a bad time. "It's an exciting phase in their lives. They have so many innovative ideas, and they are always exploring and inventing, and we get to join them in this journey of discovery, says Sharifa Sultana, a teacher. "Every generation has something new to offer, and we get to be the lucky ones to learn from them as well as to teach them. I am particularly interested in the terminology they use, like 'joss'.
When will my reflection show who I am inside?
Even if the teens want their parents to 'let them be', it's not happening anytime soon. "It's so hard to do anything we want,' complains Saquib (17). "Firstly, getting out of the house is a big deal, and don't really believe it when they say it's easy for the guys; it's not. The moment you say you need to go out somewhere, be it to do a little shopping or to meet up with friends, you literally have to face an Inquisition. Then when you do manage to get out, they'll be keeping tabs on you by calling you on your cell phone and things like that. It's like they don't trust us at all, and this is what tempts many of us to lie and go sneaking around behind their backs, and this is how it all starts." Zara (19) complains, "It's more than just that. My parents want me to choose my friends according to their choice, go where they want me to, do what they want me to. It's like what I want doesn't matter at all!"
It's not hard to imagine how the parents responded to these complaints. "We are older and wiser than our children. We can see beyond the immediate, and can actually measure consequences. The decisions we make for our children are in their best interests," says Zara's father. "If the kids think they can just go around and play ball with their lives, they can think again. This is a very dangerous phase for them, where they are vulnerable to many dangerous temptations: sex, drugs, violence, you name it. The slightest mistake can lead to a lifetime of regret, and I, for one, am not going to just sit back and watch my son make them," says another father.
"This is a typical day in my life," says Rupa (17). "I wake up, go to school, come back, have lunch, go to coaching classes, come back, maybe watch a little television, or browse the Internet, then I am actually expected to study some more, and then it's time for dinner and bed. Notice something missing? I'll tell you what it is: FUN! I am so busy studying and trying to keep up, that my life has become mechanical. Whatever little pleasure I get is from watching television, listening to music, talking on the phone, or chatting. The rest of the time, I'm studying. Yet my parents are always complaining that I waste time!" Saquib agrees with this. "When we start school, our parents say, 'Study hard, and get into the top ten'. So let's say we study and reach the top ten. Then it's 'What's the use of being at the bottom of the ten? Try for the top fifth." So then we work a little harder and make it to the top five. Then it becomes 'If you can make it to the top five, you can easily reach the top.' So when you reach that goal, it's 'There wasn't much difference between your marks and the boy who came second. Stop lazing around and STUDY!' There is simply no pleasing them."
"What can I say?" says Mrs Choudhury, whose elder son got accepted at a university abroad, and the younger one just recently procured straight A's. "There is a lot of competition these days, and one must work hard and make sacrifices to stay in the game. I always tell my sons that there will be plenty of time to have fun later; first, they have to establish a firm footing for themselves." Zara's mother adds, 'And don't you believe it when the children say they study that hard. No school keeps their noses constantly stuck to the books; the teens get plenty of time to socialize, plenty of extra-curricular activities to keep them entertained. Moreover, I wouldn't mind seeing my daughter go straight off to bed after dinner. No, she stays up till way past midnight, either poking away at the computer, or talking on the phone. Am I supposed to just support this unhealthy behaviour?"
Do the parents have unrealistic expectations from their teenaged kids? It's a highly debatable issue, considering that both camps are resolute about their own stances. One of the teen complaints, however, does hold a lot of water their options for entertainment are sadly limited. "Other than a few fast food shops and pool joints, there's really not many places we can go to. And considering our limited budget, it's not a very feasible option. We don't have the parks and playgrounds our parents enjoyed in their time. So our amusement and entertainment are limited to television, Internet, and our stereos. Would our parents even deny us that little pressure?"
In the end, it all boils down to the importance of effective communication between the two parties. Parents should learn to respect the teens, to understand that in this phase of life, it is important for them to make their own mistakes and to learn from them. This is all part of a healthy growth process. Teens should try to understand the importance of temperance. Parents make the decisions they do because they care about what happens to their children, and yes, it might be frustrating to have to listen to all that nagging when your hormones are telling you something else altogether, but it's generally for your own good.
By Sabrina F Ahmad
Photo: Munem Wasif
PS: Names of teens and their parents have been changed to protect privacy