Parenting a teen: When self-awareness gets you nowhere much, you need a new toolbox

A parent never does really know right from wrong. We think we do, but in my experience a lot of it is guesswork. There appear to be some broad rules and the rest is a matter of instinct. Most times, we draw from our own memories of what we remember from our childhoods. But neither does memory always serve us well, nor are circumstances always comparable.

What we do remember though, is a code of ethics, the rights and wrongs, the general patterns of our childhoods. Who set these patterns? Our parents, other elders in the family, our peers, our living environment- many elements went into that mix. For some of us, these rules were clear despite their complexities. For others, they changed with frightening regularity, which meant we never really knew whether we were breaking them, we never really knew when we might be in trouble.

Sometimes, when we exhibited acts of astounding creativity and demonstrated initiative, an elder in the home would be hurt or would reprimand us for breaking the norm. Natasha Badhwar’s latest column strikes a chord here; she talks about losing her writing ‘voice’ when she was young because her mother did not understand the fiction she wrote, and the pain those words expressed. At other times, we could get away with mischief and even outrageous behaviour simply because nobody had noticed.

As my son enters his teens, I am struck by how little I understand about how he feels and thinks. By how ill equipped I am to interact with a generation that has information at its fingertips but perhaps inadequate means to process it. By how the old rules simply do not work because it is literally a new world.

I am making up new rules, new methods as I go along. I am learning to set aside the ‘I’ in this new relationship we are forging (or trying to forge), my son and I. Learning to recognize new talents and see the merit in his acts of rebellion, some of which demonstrate extraordinary creativity and spunk. Learning to pacify myself and have faith in the future. I am telling myself that my job as a parent is primarily to be there for him, to be his safety net as he begins to explore new territories and flirt with new forms of danger.

It is not easy. There is a lot of fear, anger and frustration, much of it coming from the loss of control that comes with growing disobedience and rebellion. He is probably feeling the same emotions, but triggered by the need to carve an independent space for himself. How do I enforce some broad rules without dampening his explorations of himself, without negating his assertiveness?

I do realize it is not possible to do everything right. Making mistakes is part of the game, but how do I know if I am doing something that damages his self-esteem? On the positive side, how do I encourage him to find an activity, a hobby, or a relationship that keeps him centered through the storms he is weathering.

I could go on, but you get the gist of this. I know I am not alone in this. I’d love to hear from parents more experienced than me. Do write in if you have faced something similar, have some advise or simply want to rant (just like I have done today!). If commenting on this post is too public, do send me an email at


3 responses

    • Great parenting questions/ dilemmas. Read this column by Sheryl Sandberg today. Coming from a different place, but has some good pointers. Also, not as a seasoned parent- since mine are a ways from teenage (although I see a fair bit of rebellion at age 7 too) but if I had to give one suggestion, it may be to direct any available free time towards volunteering – has the potential to be both eye opening and empowering. Also, need to constantly find things- books/ music/ interests one can genuinely share with them–their growth spurts and changing times notwithstanding. It’s a hard and challenging task. Our parents, it seems (mine at any rate) had their rules largely grounded in a conventional/ traditional value system. Right or wrong (I’d argue wrong more often 😉 there they were– the rules of going about, growing up etc. Us, with our liberal, questioning attitudes, I guess, find it difficult to ground rules in traditional norms we often ourselves struggled (or are struggling) with. Quite the conundrum. Good to share notes this way…. 🙂

      • Absolutely! Thanks for your suggestions. The sharing is super important and I learn a lot from him on music and even books! On the trials and challenges of moving away from traditional parenting norms, much of our conflict at home is about varying styles of parenting even among the adults in our own family. We agree on the big ethical frame, but the details differ hugely!! Making it hard for kids to negotiate

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