(For other articles by Dr. Swatantra Jain, please check this webpage)     
A few months back in US, I had the amazing experience and unique honor of reading out a ‘Peace Prayer’ to the auspicious Congregation Bonai Shalom (sacred ceremony of Jews) which included Jewish priests, family, friends and other guests on the occasion of a very pious & sacred ceremony called, “Bar Mitzvah” (Son of the Commandment) of a twelve year old boy Ethans. “Bar Mitzwah” is a symbolic rite of passage when a 12+ boy begins to take on the responsibilities of an adult in the synagogue (Jews’ worship-place). Ethans was invited on the stage for the first time to recite and chant the special blessings from their highly sacred & religious Book ‘Torah’ (Just like our sacred Granths – Geeta, Ramayna or Guru Granth Sahib). A thrilling experience indeed to have witnessed the twelve year old boy (who is considered just a child in India) taking on the full-fledged responsibilities of an adult and his amazing confidence, passion and zeal to assume the adult’s  responsibilities. His words still echoing in my ears,

From today onwards I myself (not my parents) shall be responsible and accountable for my own good or bad deeds. I pray for your blessings so that I take on this pious & sacred duty towards me, my family, State and the Country sincerely.”

Dear parents, those forceful words from a twelve year old boy continuously echo in my ears and compel me to think, ‘Can we also make our youngsters so responsible and accountable at this young age?’

There is no doubt that our teenagers moving towards adulthood try to rely less & less on us parents and gain more & more autonomy in all the spheres of their lives. This process of seeking autonomy prepares them for the demands of adulthood. But In the last issue we had seen how their wish to attain autonomy is quite often thwarted by well-intentioned but misguided grand-parents and parents. I explained that in our efforts to make our adolescents grow-up into good, influential and successful adults, most of us end-up in proving rather very bad to them.

Friends, it’s our supreme duty to make our youngsters as independent and autonomous as possible from their early childhood itself. For this, you have to change your parenting style. Try to read your own style and change if it is authoritarian, rejecting or even protective one. Please try to be accepting, responsive and supportive parents but not unnecessarily controlling and demanding parents. Try create, explore and make them available such opportunities as may empower them to become autonomous in following ways.

  • Give acceptance and love: You would be able to impart autonomy and self-confidence to your teenagers only when you give love, respect and acceptance to your growing children and let them do their routine work themselves.
  • Believe in their capabilities: Give them the opportunities to do their tit-bits themselves and feel confident. May be they fail, fall, falter or even hurt; but, if you have to make them independent, you will have to take some risk. Rest assured, if you guide and keep an eye on your kids and let them do their jobs without panicking or prying, everything would go right.
  • Appreciate them when they do something independently: Praise is the best reinforcement and reward for anyone. Your appreciation of the child especially in front of others can do wonders. So never forget to praise your child especially when she does something on her own.
  • Don’t discourage by nagging them over their failures: Saying such words as, “I knew, you won’t be able to do it” is very killing for the kids. They’ll never dare to take any initiative on their own if you criticize and nag them. I still remember my dad’s encouraging words which he said to me after I damaged his car due to my folly, “Girte hain shah-sawaar hi maidane jang mei, vo tifl kyaa girenge jo ghutno ke bal chale”. I never looked back after that.
  • Teach them self-discipline: Instead of disciplining and controlling, teach them to have their own control on their lives according to their capabilities and age.
  • Let them take their own decisions: Don’t be panicky if at all they take wrong decision. Let them learn from their own failure. So, give them the liberty to take their own decisions and see the limit of their joy. However, you must help them in their state of indecision.
  • Don’t be over-protective: Sometimes, overprotection not only makes your child feel humiliated and anxiety ridden but also damage parent-child relationship. One of my clients told me that she hated her father just because he never allowed her to do her little tit-bits herself. Moreover, your over-protection might make her coward and self-doubting. Still, it never means that you ignore their security and don’t bother about them when they need you most.
  • Tell them about their responsibilities: Make your kids clear about their responsibilities towards themselves, towards family, surroundings, state and the country. You also need to tell them your own responsibilities towards them. If you & your kids both are clear about each other’s role and expectations, it would be much easier to maintain those limits.
  • Let them face the consequences of not fulfilling their responsibilities: Generally, we parents ignore our kid’s negligence or avoidance of their responsibilities. Or we punish them in such an improper way that it hardly conveys them the importance of fulfilling their responsibility. Hence, your action should make them feel the pinch, but in the right place only. For example, taking back any important thing dear to the kid’s heart can be the best consequence for the child, like reducing their TV viewing or playing time and undo that cut after they fulfill their responsibility, because it’s essential to let them feel and know that the remote-control & key of their TV or playing time is in their own hands only.
  • Fix Accountability: Accountability being a crucial part of making the teenagers independent and responsible, the parents must fix and demand accountability from their children and teach them to take the responsibility of their failure in any task. We shouldn’t encourage our kids to rationalize their bad behavior and look for the scapegoats.

But friends, responsibility is like a two sided coin. By attributing their own failures to others, by blaming outside factors, e.g. other people, bad luck or unfairness, they can only defend their egos from harm. They can’t boast of their accomplishments unless they learn to take responsibility for their mistakes and failures too. So, It’s our sacred duty to make our teenagers good citizens and make them accountable to any damage, loss and harm they cause to others.

  • Encourage the spirit of enquiry & exploration: We need to assure our teenagers of our support and security during their early childhood & adolescence stage so as to build a sense of autonomy, self-confidence & self-esteem. This we can do by assuring them that they do have a safe place to return to if they venture too far and that we are there to protect them when needed.

There is, however, a fine line between security and dependence. After they have established their sense of security, you must encourage them to explore the world beyond that safety-cover. Always remember, the real security lies in teaching them fight the hazards and challenges of real life. This ‘push out of the nest’ will allow them test their own competence in the ‘real world’ and to realize a sense of security, and independence within themselves.

Rest assured, a little awareness and wisdom coupled with your conscious efforts to make your teenagers self-dependent, will make them radiant, self-reliant, self-confident & responsible adults in future