The burden of the problems of young people is often placed squarely in the laps of the parents. However, in the language of today, to place the blame on parents for the failures of the children may be a cop-out.
Certainly there are parents whose lives are so involved with other things that they do not spend time with their children. But the opposite is also true. There are many children, particularly teenagers, who are so busy, so involved in the demands of their world, that they do not have time for their parents. In these cases it is the child—not the parent—who is too busy to spend time building the family.
It is not uncommon for the modern LDS youth to have a daily schedule that looks something like this:
5:30 A.M. Arise, get ready for the day, eat breakfast
6:30 A.M. Early morning seminary
8:00 A.M.–3:00 P.M. School
3:00–6:00 P.M. Athletics, drama, music, debate, drill teams, part-time work, or get-togethers with friends
6:00–7:00 P.M. Dinner. Maybe help with the dishes
7:30–9:30 P.M. Church assignment or activity; study or talk on the phone to friends; get together with friends to plan an activity; goof off
10:00–11:00 P.M. Get things finished and flop into bed
With young people keeping this hectic pace, their parents frequently find themselves trying to catch their sons or daughters for a few minutes of visiting. The dinner table is often the only time when most of the family is together during the day, and a common scene at the table is to watch mother or dad attempt to pump out a little information from their frantically scheduled offspring. Mother: How did things go at school today, Jan?
Dad: Anything interesting happen?
Mother: How did your math class go? I know you’ve been worried about it.
Jan: It’s going all right.
Dad: How is your play practice coming?
Dad: Any problems coming up that we can help with?
Jan: Not really, but can I have the car tonight? I need to get together with some of the other kids.
Dad: I guess so.
In fairness to Jan, it is not just from her that her parents try to pump information. If you were to listen to the conversation between her mother and dad when he comes home from work, you would probably hear a conversation like this:
Mother: How did things go at work today, dear?
Mother: Anything interesting happen?
Mother: How did that new project go that you’ve been worried about?
Dad: It’s going all right.
Family members often don’t spend enough time talking, sharing, discussing. They don’t often find a time when everyone is together, and the climate for discussion is not created since everyone is rushing through dinner to get to the next activity.
The lack of scheduling in family time is just as much a problem for the children as the parents. Younger children often are the ones who suffer. They would like to get together with the whole family more often to play games and do other things together. Many teenagers don’t really know anything about younger brothers or sisters. The little one goes on in a world of his own, and the teenager only occasionally dips into that world. It is often a surprise to the teenager to find that a younger brother or sister has grown up or has developed habits or attitudes he doesn’t understand. Older brothers and sisters are important role models and sources of influence on younger children.
Scott was caught up in the excitement of his mission call. In two months he would be leaving for Australia. Following the first flush of excitement came a flood of nostalgia for his home and family, which was surprising since he had not yet left home. He began to look around and see things he had been aware of yet not really seen. There was his sister, four years younger, who was beginning to blossom into a young lady. He saw her trying to cope with the sudden attention boys were paying her, wanting to be popular but not knowing how. Scott wanted to tell her things he thought might help, but he didn’t know how. He suddenly realized that he had never once had a serious, sensitive, personal conversation with his own sister. All of their interaction was in bits and pieces of teasing, complaining, or routine daily matters. Here he was about to try to teach the gospel to people thousands of miles away but had disregarded the opportunity to render a similar service at home.
Lip Service Priorities
If you were to ask most young people in the Church what things are most important to them, they would probably answer, “My church and my family.” If you were to examine where they actually spend their time, their actions would often belie their words. People of all ages have lip-service priorities—they say some things are important but spend their time on activities that really have much lower priorities. It is a real dilemma for the young person because a lower priority activity, like participating in athletics or doing things with friends, has a great deal of immediate reward and satisfaction. One receives more fun, acceptance, status, and excitement right now from the lower priority situations, and it is hard to withdraw from them.
One family was faced with a continual problem. Almost every Monday evening when it was time for family night, one or more of the teenagers would make a request such as, “Can I miss family night tonight? We’ve scheduled a play practice (or an intramural ball game, or a special study class, etc.),” or “Let’s hurry and get family night over between 6:30 and 7:00 because I have a book report due tomorrow.”
It is possible that the fault belongs with the parents for not preparing a more exciting family night activity. But it is also possible that the children are letting their priorities slip and that family time comes fourth or fifth in how one chooses to spend one’s time.
Perhaps with better planning and some willingness to sacrifice immediate pleasures, it might be possible to meet more of our top priority goals.
Start with Positive Assumptions
Much of the action you take begins with the assumptions you make. If you assume that Aaronic Priesthood activity night is going to be boring you probably won’t go; or if you do go, you act in a lackadaisical fashion so you make your assumptions come true—you don’t have a good time because you behave in a way that makes it impossible for you to have a good time.
The same thing is true at home. If you assume that Mother or Dad is too busy, or they don’t understand, or they aren’t interested, then you don’t talk with them about anything of importance.
But try another set of assumptions:
Assume that your parents love you, are vitally concerned about your happiness, and would prefer to relate with you in a meaningful way above anything else they could do.
Also assume that your parents are a little timid about trying to get into your life and probably have limited skills in how to open up a real discussion with you.
John was in a dilemma. He wanted a new drum set so he could join a group that was planning to play for school and ward dances. His old drum set was outdated, but the new set he wanted cost nearly $500. How would he ever get the money? Should he ask to borrow the money from his dad? “Nah,” he thought, “Dad thinks modern music is too wild; he would never understand why I want to join a group. I’ll be glad when I’m old enough to get away from home so I can earn my own money and do what I want.”
John’s father also faced a dilemma. He knew his son was brooding and unhappy, and he suspected it had to do with John wanting to play in a group. “I wish he would talk to me,” he thought, “but everytime I ask him about anything in his life he seems to shut me out.”
In this situation both the father and son are making false assumptions about the other. If they could assume that each really has concern for the other and would welcome a chance to talk about matters of real importance, perhaps they could close the gap between them before it is too late.
If you can make positive assumptions, then perhaps you can take the next step.
Take a Risk
Young people today are often pictured as high risk takers. They are seen as wanting new adventures, new excitements. This may be true in some areas, but in the human relations area, particularly in the family, there are too many non-riskers—people who prefer to play it safe.
The risk in a relationship is to initiate—get something started. I would be willing to make a promise to any youth who reads this article: If you really want to have a significant discussion with your mother or dad, and if you will go and say the following to them, you will get positive results:
“Mother (or Dad), I really would like to sit down and talk with you. I would like your advice. I need some help with something that concerns me.”
The promise is that if you do this sincerely, your parent will make arrangements to talk with you and will be glad for the chance. What will you talk about? If you have a real problem, deal with that.
Examples: “I’m worried about what I’m going to do after I graduate.” “I wish I had more friends. How can I deal with this?” “How do I do a better job in my church (or school) position?”
If no problem comes immediately to mind, then deal with your relationship with that parent.
Examples: “Dad, I wish we were closer. What can I do to make it so we have more fun together?” “Mom, I know sometimes you get upset with me. How can we work it out so we make each other happier?”
It is a risk to start talking. We risk the possibility of being misunderstood or rejected or laughed at, but by not taking the risk, we may give up the chance for warmth and closeness and satisfaction with a family that hopefully we can be with through eternity.
Starting to talk takes time. Someone has to start calling time out from the hectic schedules we have today. Parents would like to but often find their teenage children are too busy. Perhaps youth need to examine themselves to see if the “too busy” sign is a problem they have—and need to solve.