FROM TODDLER TO TEENAGER
The fascinating phenomenon of a child as he grows from an infant to a teenager, with the consequent change in the parent-child relationship is a study which involves numerous factors such as physical, psychological, environmental and emotional.
The most effective means of defense in marriage – outside the sexual sphere – is always and undoubtedly a strong mutual interest in some subject that appeals to both with approximately equal force. This subject may vary, from the cultivation of flowers to the collection of postage stamps, from music to sport! A common hobby keeps mutual sympathy fresh and active. But what mutual interest could unite a married pair more closely than the love and care for the children they have themselves produced? Children are the strongest mental link in normal married life, and those who ignore this ancient truth will often have occasion to repent.
The birth of a baby is an occasion of profound joy and ecstasy to the parents, especially the birth of a male baby in our society! In its infancy, a baby clings more to his mother for love and tenderness; the father grudgingly tolerating the change in wifely indifference and neglect towards him! However, both have to face the ‘teething troubles’- the sleepless nights, the constant changing of nappies, and the regular interruption in the peaceful atmosphere caused by the cacophony of the baby’s yelling, combined with the ‘baby sister’ problem if the couple is not living in a joint family! The period from early infancy to childhood is a time when the child is very much dependent and attached to the parents, particularly the mother. During this period, the parents have to be particularly careful not to let their other children, if they have any, feel that there has been any decrease in love and affection towards them, as children at this stage become very resentful and sensitive with the arrival of an additional ‘guest’ in the family. One of my friends with two young children told me after the arrival of their third baby, that it was such a difficult and irritating period in their married life that they feel it would have been better if they had no children at all!
The parent’s real worry initially starts when the child at about the age of three, is ready for the nursery school. I remember the ear-splitting crying, yelling and protestations I had to patiently hear when dropping my daughter at the nursery during the first few days:
According to the great educationist, Madam Montessori, the first four years are the most formative in a child’s life. The teachers and parents have to be particularly careful in inculcating the right ‘values’ in a child’s mind during this early period. When discussing this subject with a psychologist, she opined that parent-child relationship changes with time basically because of the fact that the attitude of the parents towards them as they grow from infants to teenagers changes a lot. From the carefree happy-go-lucky life of a child to restrictions and responsibilities imposed on him as he grows by his parents, changes his basic outlook.
A psychiatrist opined that the ‘teenage’ stage is the most crucial, delicate and difficult period as far as both teenagers and parents are concerned. I confirm this observation from my personal experience. It is at this stage that the correct guidance and advice from parents is vital because a teenager for the first time really comes into contact with the environment – college, friends and society in general. Juvenile delinquency and drug addiction start at this stage due to wrong guidance or lack of parental love and affection at home. The ‘generation-gap’ develops and misunderstanding takes place. As a teenager grows and starts school and college, he comes into contact with lots of people-he builds up friendly ties and gets involved emotionally. The friends’ feelings and opinions matter a lot to him. There are times when one gets so attached emotionally to someone outside the house (could be a member of the opposite sex) that his feelings for his parents lessen a lot; here I do not mean that he loses respect for them.
I am just trying to illustrate that the same emotional ties he had as a child loosen up considerably. This has happened to one of my friend’s daughter. External influence affected her so much that she broke up her engagement and almost ruined her life. and with it her parents’ hopes and aspirations.
The impact of the ‘generation-gap’ is being felt more with the impact of Western influence. Many parents who have settled in England and America temporarily, and whose children were born there, particularly face a perplexing problem when they finally return home, because the children, particularly daughters in their teens, cannot adjust in our society here. Having grown up in a permissive society, they find the concept of ‘chaddar and char diwari’ very strange and unacceptable, one of my friends left England where he was well settled and returned home just because of his daughters, who he felt would face numerous adjustment and psychological problem if he prolonged his stay there and returned home when his daughters have reached the ‘explosive teenage ‘stage. I personally know of conflicts which have taken place between the parents and their teenagers because of consequent ‘generation-gap’, which widens in cases where children have been brought up in a different alien society and then forced to live in a conservative society like ours.
Another factor which I have noticed is the difference in the attitude of parents towards their sons and daughters. More attention is paid to the sons and discriminatory attitude adopted towards the daughters, particularly in the educational sphere. Recently, when a boy and girl were born to two friends of mine, ‘mithai’ was distributed in the former case, while subtle ‘condolences’ were extended to my other ‘unfortunate’ friend as if a tragedy had taken place in his life! This sort of attitude has a very adverse psychological effect on the minds of daughters in our society as they constantly suffer from the complex of being ‘unwanted’.
The joys of parents are secret, and so are their griefs and fears; they cannot utter the one. now will they not utter the other. Children sweeten labours, but they create misfortunes also; they increase the joys of life but sometimes also add to its miseries. The difference in the affection of parents towards their several children is many a time unequal, and sometimes unworthy, especially in the mother; as Solomon said, “A wise son rejoices the father, but an ungracious son shames the mother.” Parents often see, where there is a house full of children, one or two of the eldest respected, and the younger made wantons; but in the midst, some that are as it was forgotten. who may times, nevertheless, prove the best.
The time when children reach adolescence and get married is another momentous and perhaps painful final chapter in their entire book of life. When boys get married, especially in joint families, the joy of parents knows no bounds. But the marriage of daughters creates a different atmosphere. I vividly remember when my daughter got married and was about to leave Karachi, the entire spectrum of her eventful life flashed suddenly across my mind during her ‘rukhsati.’ How I cuddled her as a baby, played with her as a child and enjoyed her jovial and extrovert company as a teenager, would now soon pale away and become painful nostalgic memories: One who had always been a part and parcel of my very being would be ‘snatched away’ from me forever! I just frankly could not control my emotions, locked myself up in my room, and gave full vent to my feelings by allowing my tears to flow down my checks in torrents. But, that I suppose is the destiny of daughters!
Khalil Gibran has beautifully summed up the parent-child relationship in his inimitable style: –
“Your children are not your children.
They are sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you,
Yet they belong not to you,
You may give them your love.
But not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.”
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