Often there is a conflict of values between parents and adolescent. The teen-ager rejects the values of his parents just as he rejects the values of the larger society, and adopts the values of his peer group instead. Youth is generally a time of great idealism, and it is important to the maturing boy or girl to have a personal value system and live by it rigorously. When this value system is in conflict with that of the parents, the teen-ager must demonstrate his commitment to it by upholding it against the parents’ opposition.
This can be a source of serious stress within the family. Sometimes parents will attempt to relieve the situation by pretending to adopt temporarily the values of the child; but this is almost never successful. For while the teen-ager wants to be allowed to hace his own values, he also wants his parents to retain their own values as a sign of their own
idealistic commitment. A teen-ager will generally have more respect for a parent who lives up to his own value system, no matter how different it may be, than for one who seems to give up his values when they are questioned even by the teen-ager himself. Often value conflicts can be eased by serious discussion in which parents and child attempt to explain their ideals, and look for areas of agreement rather than discord. There may be more areas in which the value systems of the parents and the teen-ager coincide than either would have thought.
Coping with one’s peer group is an intricate necessity for growing up. Information is exchanged, myths are scrutinized, hopes and fears explored, love and hate delineated. Hopefully, the young learn to relate to non-family members in this apprenticeship to independent adult life.
In some instances, the teen- agers rejection of society’s ideals and values may provoke serious confrontations with social or legal rules. Social or political protest activities, or experimentation with drugs, may bring the adolescent into conflict with school authorities or with the law. It is important for the parents in such cases to differentiate among forbidden activities if they are to understand the actions of their children. If a teen-ager gets into trouble for participating in a nonviolent protest action, for example, he will consider that he had a moral justification for violating the law or the rules of the school, and that he did no harm. The parents, while they may not agree, can nevertheless let the child know that they do not regard his actions in the same way as they would stealing, for example, and that they respect him for standing up for his ideals. A teen-ager can easily accept the fact that his parents do not condone his actions in such circumstances, but at least he will expect his parents to refrain from labeling him a criminal when he feels that he has acted out of a sense of high moral purpose.
Drugs present a different sort of problem. Drug use is illegal, and the fact that drug violations are criminal offenses should be made very clear to youngsters. Often a teen-ager may only experiment briefly with a mild drug such as marijuana; in other cases his drug use may become a serious problem both for himself and for his family. It is diffcult for parents and children to communicate on this subject, because many young people think of marijuana as their parents’ generation did of alcohol, while for the parents marijuana is a dread and dangerous substance. In the case of more potent drugs, such as mescaline and LSD, the generation gap is still wider.
Unable to return to childhood, yet unable to test oneself–Will they like me? Can I make it?—the young sometimes retreat toward that loneliness where no questions are asked.
While controversy rages over the effects and dangers of various drugs, it is fair to say that taking unnecessary drugs has never done anyone any real good. There is still much to be learned about marijuana narcotics, and psychedelic
drugs, but in the meantime parents are justified in concluding that their use is unwise, and in communicating this feeling to their children.
Unfortunately, parental advice may not be enough to deter some young people from experimentation. While parents should not overreact to the use of drugs by their children, they should recognize drug use for the potentially serious problem that it is. In most cases the parents alone will be unable to cope effectively with drug usage, and will require the assistance of a doctor or other professional person familiar with the problem, its consequences, and its solution.
Often, where drugs are a problem, there is some situation in the home that has led to the drug use, and in these cases both parents and child may benefit from joint psychological counseling.
Fortunately, most teen-agers brushes with authority do not take extreme forms such as active law- breaking and drug abuse, but are more along the lines of “passive resistance.” All through childhood, the teen-ager has been told what to do by adults; now he wants to decide for himself. He may not wish to engage in any violent clashes with anyone, but may simply resist obeying rules that seem arbitrary and unimportant to him.
This is especially true when the teen-ager feels that he is harming no one by following his own desires. If a boy or girl clashes with school authorities over hair length or dress, for example, he or she may feel that the issue involved is
none of the school’s business. Peer-group pressures and the desire to be accepted by fellow students will intensify this feeling and stiffen the adolescent’s resistance to being ordered around arbitrarily,
Parents reactions in such instances will vary according to their own beliefs and to the specific rules involved; but just as they will let the teen-ager know when they disagree with him, they should also let him know that they support him
when they do happen to be on his side. And teen-agers, supported by understanding parents, have secured changes in school regulations that did prove to be unnecessarily restrictive upon examination.