A still from the movie The Hunger Games

Take the time to listen to your teenagers

  • May 5, 2012

As a young mother I was warned about the “terrible twos.” When my children got older, I was cautioned about the challenging teen years.

But I found raising a two year old exhilarating, not terrible, and the same goes for raising two teenagers. But that’s not to suggest we don’t have our moments.

Recently the conversation got interesting when the kids announced they were going to see the hit movie The Hunger Games. My first thought was, “It’s Holy Week, and you want to see what?” I had to remind myself, as I often do, that they are teenagers. They think differently, have different needs and are developing a sense of independence. So I stopped to reflect.

“What do I think about the movie The Hunger Games?” 

The movie, based on a best-selling novel, is set in a future world in which every year a totalitarian government holds a competition for teenagers. Twenty-four names are randomly selected and the young people must try to kill each other. The competition ends when there is only one person left alive.

Despite the gruesome plot, the movie is not restricted. I found myself reading reviews and watching YouTube videos about the film, while my husband dashed out to watch it for himself. Why? So, we could discuss the movie at the kitchen table.

I shuddered to think of my kids seeing a film with such an appalling plot. But after a long conversation with my husband, we decided it was best to not hold the reins too tightly. True, that can backfire for parents. But we left the kids to make the decision while we kept the dialogue open. Turned out that one of them lost interest in the movie.  

One of our goals as parents is to stay informed and to maintain a lively dialogue with our kids. Finding out what’s on the minds and in the hearts of our teenagers really does take a creative, persistent effort. But the results are incredibly rewarding.

Recently, I asked my teenage daughter to speak at my Dynamic Women of Faith conference. I hoped she would provide delegates with some insights about the pressures facing teenage girls. She gave a compelling talk that had me on the edge of my seat. She opened my eyes. The pressure on our teens is different from anything experienced by previous generations: social media, instant messaging, a highly sexualized culture, immoral lifestyles glamorized by Hollywood, marketing strategies targetting girls, the secularization of society —  all of these conflict with the values Catholic parents try to instill at home. As parents, we must listen up.

I remember when my kids were in elementary school and coming home upset after classroom discussions about various depressing and sometimes controversial topics, such as world overpopulation, drugs, alcohol, hunger, sexuality, bullying, cancer in children, divorce, global warming, drunk driving, pollution and how our generation is destroying the planet. I can’t begin to count the conversations we had with our children, the reassuring, clarifying, hugging and, of course, the follow-up calls to schools and letters to educators.

Is it really necessary to scare the daylights out of children in elementary school? What happened to innocence? We paint such a grim picture of life, the world and the future. No wonder teenage depression is rising.

As Catholics, we need to reassure our teenagers that life is beautiful, a precious gift from  God, and that Jesus Christ came to save us. I do my best to remind my teenagers that God has put them here for a reason. That God loves them and has bestowed them with many talents and gifts. Communication has never been more important.

Recently, I’ve been receiving requests to give presentations on raising teenagers. I’m no expert, far from it, but there are two great books all parents of teenagers should read: How to Really Love Your Teen, by D. Ross Campbell, and Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers, by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate. Both offer tons of straightforward, practical advice.

Here’s what I’d add to that. Something important has become clear to me from the dozens of presentations I’ve given to school and church groups. As a society we have become too busy to give our children what they really need. We have bombarded them with material comforts but too often fail to make time to just hang out with them, to just be together, talking, reflecting and enjoying each other’s company.

Of all things we can give our children, nothing is more important than our time and our love.

(Writer, speaker and consultant, Pilarski’s book, Motherhood Matters: Inspirational Stories, Letters, Quotes & Prayers for Catholic Moms, is available by calling 416-934-3410 or visiting www.catholicregister.org/motherhoodmatters.)

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