By Mila Bernadkin
Raising children has never been easy. Every parent knows that. But guiding them through adolescence in our unsteady and chaotic modern world, especially given the challenges of the current US economy, is the most difficult task that life could throw at us. Young adults are a force to be reckoned with!
I often hear from parents, “Today’s teens aren’t very smart. They don’t read; they can’t even speak properly!” Some parents are even more graphic and say that all teenagers are “mentally ill” and “seriously disturbed.” Well, I absolutely refuse to believe that! As an ex-teacher and the mother of an ex-teenager, I had to deal with some really difficult teens and had numerous opportunities to observe young adults. Believe me: there are quite a few who are extremely intelligent and well-rounded.
However, there is one thing they all have in common: an attitude problem. It’s gigantic! It’s scary! And no matter what we try to do, we can’t fight it.
Have you ever noticed how miserable all young adults look? They’re never happy; they’re never pleased. Some of them are depressed, and some are just plain angry. They’re angry at their parents, they’re angry at life, they’re angry at the whole wide world! And what about how rude they are? How often do we hear, “Have you heard of knocking? Did I tell you to come in?” And every time we try to talk to our teens we hear, “Get a life! Leave me alone! I hate you!” And the way they say it, the way they look at us, the way they act – everything spells A-T-T-I-T-U-D-E, with capital letters. Their attitude is all over the place! So how do we fight this beast? And whose fault is it anyway that it even exists?
Let’s go back in time… Remember when our teens were little and cute? We loved them to pieces! We gave them everything they ever asked for. We could never say “no” to them. (How do you say “no” to those adorable faces?) That word was not in our vocabulary when it came to our little darlings. And that’s when and how that whole attitude thing started. We just didn’t know it then because we were covered with little hugs and kisses from our kids, swimming in a pool of their love, adoration and worship.
And now we’re leaping back to the present time. Our little darlings are all grown-up. They’re accustomed to that good lifestyle. But life happens, and suddenly we can’t afford to buy them everything they want, and we absolutely have to say “no” (oops!), and we start feeling guilty about it because we’ve never said “no” to our offspring (we still love them to pieces, and in our eyes, those faces are still adorable). Do they understand? Of course, not! Sadly, teenagers are selfish, self-centered and materialistic, especially young girls. They want everything, and they want it all at once! How can we not understand how important a new dress and a new car are? If they don’t get it, they start blaming us for everything, including bad weather. The next thing we know, our teens look at us as if we’re the enemies of the State! Love and worship are being replaced by resentment and hate. And that wild animal, called attitude, emerges full force at its worst, showing its true colors.
I’m sure you know how much it hurts when your friend tells you, “This is all your fault. You’ve spoiled her rotten. I told you so.” And you think, Wait a moment! My daughter should be grateful to me instead of hating me. So how is it my fault? You can’t help but think how unfair it is that you’re paying for being generous to your kid. Trust me: I know what I’m talking about.
My award-winning YA novel, The Attitude Girl, an inspirational coming-of-age story, follows outspoken seventeen-year-old Vicky Benson on her road to adulthood as she struggles with financial setbacks, idealism, loss, forgiveness, and most of all, her attitude along the way. Vicky is a typical teenage girl who wants it all and doesn’t want to accept the fact that she can’t have it. Vicky blames her mother for giving her everything and then taking everything away. Through a mother-daughter dialogue, I make the point that it’s not enough to give your children things. You have to teach them to appreciate those things and to make sure they don’t take what they get for granted.
When people ask me who my protagonist’s based on or who inspired the book, I explain that my main character is a composite, based on many teenagers. My life experience as a mother and a teacher inspired The Attitude Girl. I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot when I hear from parents that after reading my book, they start to understand their teens better, and it means even more when I hear young adults say, “Finally, there’s someone who gets me!” (Visit www.AttitudeGirlBook.com for more information.)
So here’s the point: being a parent is extremely hard, but it’s not that easy to be a teenager, either. Try talking to your kids as much as possible. I know, it’s a long shot, but keep trying. And try to put yourself in their shoes so you can better understand them. Be patient with your teenagers and consider their feelings. Even though they say they hate you, they don’t mean it; they’re just angry at the moment. Love is a given. Respect is a must! But remember that respect, just like love, is a two-way street. So respect your teens just as much as you want them to respect you. Help each other to earn that respect from one another.
If all of us remember these four words—respect, communication, patience and consideration―, perhaps then we won’t have to ask that burning question: Whose Fault Is It Anyway?
Purchase The Attitude Girl here
In her award-winning debut novel, The Attitude Girl, Mila Bernadkin draws on her experience as a teacher, mother and advanced graduate of the Institute of Children’s Literature to identify with the tremulous world of confusing emotions and mixed messages of “maturity” today’s teens live in as they feel their way through the process of becoming young adults.
Bernadkin resides in Brooklyn, New York, with her daughter, a graduate student at NYU, who is working on her Master’s degree. Bernadkin loves to travel, listen to music and read.