Bernardo M. Villegas
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Learning to Lead Teenage Children

           Among business executives, there is much talk about the importance of leadership in developing people, setting strategic directions and building institutions in one’s organization.  Indeed, leadership is a quality that should be developed by those who are running organizations, going beyond mere ownership, entrepreneurship and management of a business enterprise.  It is ironical, however, that a good number of these top executives who are keen in honing leadership skills are at a loss in leading their teenage children towards what is known as integral human development.  It is not uncommon to find parents—of both sexes—who are effective business leaders but who fail in their task of helping their teenage children survive the turbulent years of adolescence. 

          In article on “Understanding the Adolescent” by a leading European educator, Fernando Alberca who wrote a book entitled “Guide to Being Good Parents of Adolescent Children,” there are some very important insights that can help parents address this most important obligation they have, more important to society than managing a business firm.  The article made clear that it is important to lay the foundation for the formation of adolescents from the ages of 3 to 7 years, when children experience the first leap of power and freedom.  In these “first steps” of life, these little creatures have to made to understand that certain norms of behaviour, discipline and affection are not only compatible with one another but completely necessary.  They have to learn how to accept not always getting what they want, to overcome their own obstacles and to assume the consequences of their free acts even as little children.  In this way, they will attain happiness and avoid the frustration and impotence that come with not always getting what they want.  If this foundation is laid early on, then the period of adolescence can be smoother and enriching.

          As an educator, I have witnessed over the last forty years among parents of the middle class a greater awareness of the need to form themselves in a more scientific way in the upbringing of their children.  Among other initiatives, I have been closely associated with organizers of the Parents for Education Foundation (PAREF) and EDUCHILD Foundation who have done much to prepare thousands of young couples in the science and art of child rearing.  Using the pedagogical methods culled in business schools (the case method and magisterial lectures), much has been accomplished in helping parents cope with the “first steps” their children take in exercising their newly found freedom.  Working closely with schools run by pedagogues steep in early childhood education, much has been done to lay the necessary foundation for the more challenging task of forming the adolescent children.

          Many parents, however, have realized that a good foundation in the early childhood years is no guarantee to success in helping their children survive the stormy years of adolescence.  Among the important skills parents have to develop is to know what an adolescent child feels and thinks.  Professor Alberca gives the following advice:  get to listen to the songs and see the films that your children like.  The lyrics of their preferred songs, as a survey of 1,000 adolescents concluded in 2012, speak very often about:  being left alone, surging, shining, being valued, being understood, and loving and being loved.  Adolescents express their innermost feelings through their favorite songs without having to expose themselves unnecessarily.  The same can be said about their favorite films which offer valuable clues to the emotions they feel every moment.  In their preferred songs and films, the adolescents learn how to pretend, to flirt, to excuse oneself,  to strengthen oneself, to hope, to love,

          In some instances, one form of aggressiveness or another surfaces among adolescents.  They protest, disobey and attack on matters which inflict the most pain and act in those moments as if they really had  no love for their parents.    In these occasions, it is more important than ever to act as a father or mother who is demanding but respectful and affectionate.  Aggressiveness— and to a greater degree violence—is a symptom of psychopathological sickness or a defensive response, intolerable but defensive.  The human being in this case acts in a bad way not because of power but because of weakness.  The best response here is silence on the part of the parents who have to realize that the unseemly behaviour of the adolescent child is a sign of his impotence, of his not being able to explain himself with the appropriate language.

          Much can also be learned from the writings of St. Josemaria Escriva, Founder of Opus Dei, about the upbringing of children, especially during their adolescent years.  I summarize below some of his most relevant advice:

          a)   Know how to put yourselves at their level and become truly their friends:  “I always advise parents that they become good friends of their children.  It is possible to harmonize perfectly the paternal authority, which every educational endeavour requires, with the feeling of friendship which demands putting oneself at the same level as the children.”

          b) Discover for your children new horizons:  “Even in the midst of difficulties (nowadays frequently aggravated) of the educational effort, parents have to form their children with confidence and courage in the  essential values of human life.  The children have to grow in the appropriate freedom in the use of material things, adopting a lifestyle that is simple and austere, convinced that a human being is valued more for what  he is than for what he possesses.”

          c)  Concretely, it is advisable that  the parents themselves are the ones who instruct their children with regard to the origin of lie:   “This friendship of which I speak, this ability to put oneself at the same level as the children, making it easy for them to talk about their little problems, will make possible something which to me is of great importance:  that the parents themselves make known to their children the origin of life (human sexuality), in a gradual way, accommodating themselves to their mentality and to their ability to understand, anticipating in a clever way their natural curiosity.”

          d)  Know how to orient the friendships of their children so that they can grow in morally sound environments.

            Those who are interested in courses for married couples on topics related to the upbringing of children can google Parents for Education Foundation and EDUCHILD Foundation for more information.  They may also get in touch with some of the resource persons of EDUCHILD:  Mr. Eric Canoy (es_canoy@yahoo.com) and Mr. Manny Ayala (mannyayala@me.com).  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia