Bridging the Generation Gap

We’ve all heard about it and many of us have experienced it first hand. It’s probably been around for a while but earlier, the emphasis on filial devotion and the patriarchal structure tended to lessen its impact. Then too, age was respected for its wisdom. But today as the successful get younger and younger and the new makes the old obsolete in record time, the generation gap is much more evident and clearly here to stay.

The generation gap affects not just grandparents but increasingly parents as well. Rapid technological changes have made it almost impossible for any but the very young to adapt fast enough. With age, response time goes up as inertia of rest sets in and before you know it, technology has overtaken you and you’re left floundering! Also changing social values and economic conditions have combined to produce what some call the superbrat. He’s confident beyond his years, has more opportunities for making money, is in the prime of life and focused only on money, glamour and fame. So what if he’s only a teenager? In today’s world if you’re over thirty you’re probably over the hill. Unfortunately however, as far as legal and social definitions go, he’s still a child and subject to your discipline. And so the stage is all set for conflict.
In the last few years dating, drugs and discos have come up in a big way. So has consumerism and materialism. Your teenager is no longer content with living life with a modest budget, he wants to enjoy life’s luxuries to the hilt. On the positive side, he is willing to work hard to achieve his aims but on the negative side, the single-minded pursuit of success doesn’t leave much time for family especially grandparents. Overall, the world is graying fast but the respect and dignity traditionally accorded old age is disappearing just as fast. And old age also means you – after all what can you possibly know about his brave new world?

The generation gap is of course not a given for all families. There are many households where it doesn’t occur at all. There are fights and arguments and children defying their parents but these are occasional and minor. What then are these families doing right? Here are a few of their secrets: –

  • Lots of communication and involvement – this one’s obvious but not always easy to follow. It just means that if you’re not talking to the children because you’re too busy or too mad at them or because you disagree with whatever they say then you’ve cut off your channel of communication. So what you need to remember when dealing with teenagers is that they may be insufferable know alls a lot of the time but they’ll learn that there are gray shades between the blacks and the whites soon enough. Also that intolerance or a judgemental attitude will hurt you more than your child.
  • Lots of time spent together in play and fun- its harder to think you hate your mom or dad when you spend a large part of your week having fun with them. It’s even harder when in many ways they are your best friends.
  • Clear boundaries – thus far and no further or they will face clearly defined consequences. As long as children know this, you and they both can be much freer with each other without you worrying about being taken advantage of.
  • Clear values – make it clear that everything has to be earned. If they want respect for their opinions they have to learn to respect the opinions of others. Similarly other values to stress are honesty, compassion and tolerance.
  • Foster self-dependence – essentially this means teach them to know their own minds and make their own decisions. This will help them to keep their balance in the face of peer pressure. Self-dependence starts early – let your child have a say in family affairs as well as in matters personally affecting him from the time that he is a toddler. Let him help with family chores and earn a part of his own money. Make it clear that even when he makes mistakes, it’s not the end of the world – it’s an essential part of the learning process.
  • Don’t forbid anything in absolute terms because the forbidden is always very attractive!
    Lots has been written about the generation gap but each family has its own unique ways of expressing this gap. In joint families where there are grandparents, the conflict is often more apparent. Whatever the situation however, remember this story – Long ago there was a devastating war in a country. One of the defeated soldiers dragged himself off the battlefield to the sanctuary of a wise sage and asked him ” Is there anything that will take away the sting of our defeat and the glory of the victors?” The sage smiled and said softly ” This too shall pass!”

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