A reader asks: Why does my teenage son smile at me when I tell him off? The boy is Orthodox and he knows that he did something wrong and he is sorry for that but he still smiles involuntarily…
Svetlana from Tver
Answer by Alexander Tkachenko, a psychologist and a father of four:
When a teenager is scolded, his smile may hide resentment and anger.
It may seem that a smile doesn’t match a difficult situation like this but it happens quite often. People are capable of smiling in response to criticism but the meaning of their smiles can be different. For example, everyone knows what a guilty smile means. It may serve as an admission of guilt combined with the hope for forgiveness and willingness to be together again. There is another type of smile: a brazen smile, which means total denial of responsibility for the committed misdeed. There are more complex cases when a smile becomes a way to relieve overwhelming negative emotions, which is most typical of adolescents.
Laughter, like tears, is a natural way to discharge emotional distress. A teenager will smile in that situation simply because his fear, shame, and pain are unbearable. These feelings are so hard to cope with for a teenager that he supplants the traumatic experience with a silly smile on an embarrassed face.
A teenager cannot cope with most behavioral problems even though he acknowledges them and tries to do something about it.
Resentment is a complex emotion that consists of two simpler components: sympathy with oneself and anger towards the offender. It arises in cases when one had to stop one’s anger short of spilling out on the offender.
Each of us learns since the earliest days of our lives that anger directed at our parents is absolutely unacceptable. However, people are far from being innocent in their relationships with others, including their own children. When you are unjust towards your kid, he or she will invariably be angry, though he knows he can’t be angry with his parents. That’s when his psyche repackages the anger and turns it into resentment.
You can’t use the methods you use with small kids when the person you are dealing with is an adolescent.
Adolescence is a normative crisis in every person’s life. A crisis means a trial in Latin, that is, a time for revision and reassessment. For a teenager, it means drawing a line under his or her childhood. Only this kind of understanding of adolescence makes it possible for you to appreciate the “miraculous transformations” that obviously go on with your kid correctly. Essentially, we’re done with the process of upbringing, and now is the time to reap the fruit of our efforts. It is useless trying to teach the adolescent using the same methods as the ones you used when he was a little child. Good luck trying to influence an adult with harsh criticism.
Don’t use arguments that can drive your adolescent child away from the Church.
Christian parents must keep in mind that faith is a very delicate and intimate topic for a teenager. All talk about “you behave badly, God will punish you” or “shame on you, aren’t you a Christian?” will not yield the desired result. A teenager is predisposed to protest, resistance, and revision of the familiar values. That’s his or her fundamental characteristic. A teenager is in permanent conflict with adults and insists on his right to have his own opinion on all sorts of things. If parents “use” God to support their position, there is nothing the teenager can do other than resist God.
The commandment of honoring one’s parents does not justify those parents’ sins.
The New Testament openly specifies mutual duties between parents and children, leaving no space for ambiguity: Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:1–4). Parents are able to annoy their children, offend them and even cause them to be depressed, as Apostle Paul writes in another one of his Epistles, Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged. (Colossians 3:21).
A teenager implicitly waits for your support, not your attempts to change him.
The inescapable fact of the adolescence crisis is that a teenager has to leave us but he doesn’t want to. A teenager feels that he has to separate himself from his parents, teachers, and other important adults and begin to use his own brain instead of following prescribed social roles. How can you break away from those whom you continue to love? A teenager doesn’t know how to do so properly. In fact, he knows and realizes too little yet, although he has ceased to be a child. He expects us to provide support for him, rather than to lecture him on all kinds of issues. Instead of trying to do whatever it takes to change him, parents should consider changing something in their own character and attitudes so as to be able to correct the mistakes that have accumulated in the course of his childhood before he enters the adult life.
Translated by The Catalog of Good Deeds