Cutting the strings

Ian Munro
Ian Munro
There comes a point along the path to adulthood when our teenager begins to prefer his friends' company to ours.

She's no longer interested in family outings; he'd rather go to the game with his mates, while visiting Grandma ceases to be high on the list of preferred activities.

They'd not be seen dead with us in town.

Being seen with their friends, of course, is a different story.

These sorts of scenarios happen in most families and can come as quite a shock at first.

We can sometimes feel quite indignant as, until now, we've been our youngster's whole world.

"You always looked forward to going to the game with Dad.''

"You know Grandma loves to see you.''

They'll begin to take delight in knocking us off our pedestals and pointing out inconsistencies in what we say and what we do.

It's all part of reducing our importance in their lives and beginning to take charge for themselves.

We have to get used to the idea that cutting the connections and establishing new ones is necessary.

The peer group provides the pathway.

"At least my friends understand me.''

And they do.

They all share that insecurity and uneasiness of adolescence.

They can wallow together in their moans about family, school and life in general.

Along the way they're developing the skills of relating and finding their place in a world that will soon be theirs.

The petty quarrels and conflicts, the gossiping and dramas, the endless hours on the phone are all about establishing healthy and functional adult relationships.

Social rules and roles are developing but, often as not, they will first push against existing rules and roles.

We did it and we adapted those rules and roles to suit our generation.

Our youngsters are doing the same.

However, society and family also need to stand firm against the pushing and shoving so that the rules and roles that eventually develop are functional and in the best interests of society as a whole.

There will be change.

There must be change.

It could even be quite radical, but it must also begin within the constraints that we, as parents, set if society is not to break down altogether.

If we abdicate our responsibilities and the constraints of our "conservatism'' aren't there (reluctant though we may be to acknowledge this conservatism), then testing society's limits by the peer group just keeps right on going in a pointless, aimless and damaging fashion.

Adult gangs are good examples of what happens when this developmental task has not been completed.

The "adolescent'' adult and his friends continue to seek the security of the group and know little of boundaries, self-control and self-respect.

- Ian Munro 

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