I am sure, like me, a lot of people followed the story of the 16-year-old who recorded and posted a video of her parents scolding her for having the temerity to ask for an iPhone 8 for her birthday when she had not passed her exams or even considered how her parents were going to pay for her education.
It took me back some years when my son was in his teens and requested a specific smartphone, saying, “Please get it for me now, not when it is No. 100 on the list of phones to have.” When my daughter wanted a BlackBerry phone in 2008 so she could join the midnight chat session with her classmates.
At that time, my phone was being held together by rubber bands because it was old and failing, but did they see that? No! They were consumed by the fact that some of their friends had the phones they wanted, and it was our duty to provide for them. After all, they didn’t beg to come into the world. My answer then was, “When you start working, buy yourself the kind of phone you want. Until then, you have to make do with what I can provide.” There were no recriminations, no comparisons, and certainly no TikTok where they could post our conversation.
I don’t know about you, but I heard weariness and frustration in the voices of that girl’s parents. No, I don’t think it was solely because of the girl’s request, which, by the way, is no big deal. After all, we all have the God-given right to ask for anything as a birthday gift because miracles do happen. I think, like all parents in today’s world, the economic realities have gotten to them, and they just weren’t in the mood for any shenanigans. Also, I heard despair in their voices over their daughter’s inability or unwillingness to acknowledge and adjust to their economic realities, and I, like many others, felt their pain.
But I found myself wondering:
A. Whether it was worth their tirade? As far as I am concerned, not at all. As parents of children, especially teens, we must choose our battles. They will sulk and murmur, but we must stand our ground without letting what they say get to us.
B. If they were even talking to her? My thoughts: Yes and no. I think they were expressing their frustrations both to her and to themselves. As parents, we all talk (gossip) about our children and the things that they do, which amaze us and cause us to wonder aloud as to whether we birthed them, where they got the behaviour from, the reasons why they do those things, and what we would have done if we were in their shoes. Often, we romanticise what we would have done when, in fact, we most probably would have acted like or worse than them.
C. If they really said anything bad? Nope! I have heard harsher reactions to requests made that made me wonder what the hullabaloo was from the younger generation about her mental health solely as a result of that conversation.
Having been a teen myself and having had two adult children who passed through the teenage years, I am convinced that there are two immutable facts common to teenagers worldwide.
A. Peer pressure is a real thing. When you are a teenager, you want to belong and would do anything to be noticed, celebrated, and hailed by your mates. I remember a boy in my child’s school, a gentle and well-mannered child being raised by a single mother, who was expelled from the school because he slapped a teacher’s head because of a dare. There are lots of kids who do unthinkable things they end up regretting for hailing by their mates and likes on social media.
B. Teenagers are basically selfish, consumed by themselves and the friends they have. Recent research shows that hormonal changes are generally the culprit that changes a caring child to a self-absorbed person as they learn to become independent individuals.
I was once a teenager, and I can say for a fact that I could have done the same thing she did. How many times have we rolled our eyes at our parents (of course not in their sight) when we were being scolded by them? How many times have we told our friends about the encounters we had with our parents, even mimicking their voices? The only difference here is that she wasn’t acting out her parents’ part because she recorded them, and her friends are the whole world.
Do I approve of her actions or behaviour? Not at all! As a parent who is doing all to make their child’s life better, it is depressing when your child treats your efforts with levity and nonchalance. Do I approve of her recording the conversation and putting it online? Of course not! Not everything is content material. But tell that to this new generation who feels they must show and tell.
So what exactly am I saying?
Parents and children should learn to communicate in a wholesome way. Our world is much different from our children’s; they are more open about their thoughts and express themselves in ways we wouldn’t dare to at their ages. I tell my children often, “You are free to express yourselves, but do it in a respectful manner.” If there is anything that has helped me in my parenting journey, it has to be the fact that I always go back to the age of my children and think about how I felt about the issue I am addressing. When I do so, I find out that I am more understanding of them and the issues, better able to address the root causes of the issues, and know if that particular battle is worth fighting and the best way to address it.
Thinking of the whole scene and putting myself in that girl’s shoes, I see a girl who is frustrated that her failure at making her final papers is being brought up at every instance and who is in the process of becoming hardened by the lack of understanding by her parents.
Putting myself in the parents’ place, I see parents who are frustrated and bewildered as to what has become of their daughter, who seems to be a stranger to their predicament.
In all, I see a family that is not used to communicating their fears, expectations, and love in a healthy manner. It is a common mistake we make to assume that because we are in the same family, we all see things from the same perspective or at the same level. The truth is that, in family dynamics, both the parents and children see things from different perspectives. If circumstances are not explained by both parties to each other, they may end up having a wrong impression about the issues at stake.
I am convinced that the issues at stake in that conversation were more than that of an iPhone 8; it was at best just the trigger. Both parties should be willing and helped to examine the root causes and deal with them. So today, in your dealings with people, look beneath their actions; you just may understand what they are trying to say.”