Pope Shares a Little Wisdom with Teenagers in Manila

Author: M. B. Bonacci


Parents and older people sometimes feel that they have lost contact with you and they are upset... Sometimes you are very critical of the world of adults and sometimes they are very critical of you. This is not something new and it is not always without a basis in life... I am asking you to build bridges of dialogue and communication with your parents." -- Pope John Paul II in Manila, 1995

By Mary Beth Bonacci

Notice something different about this quote? (Or did you ignore the quote?) The quote isn't from Denver. It's from Manila.

If you've been reading the rest of this paper and not just my column, you figured out that while we've been talking about Denver, the pope went and had another World Youth Day -- this time in Manila, in the Philippines.

We won't talk about Manila as long as we talked about Denver, I promise. A lot of what he said at the two places was somewhat similar. But he said some great things there and I want to spend some time looking at them.

This statement about parents, for instance. It was highlighted in a lot of the press coverage of Manila. The pope gave it particular emphasis. He has a real insight into something going on between generations; something that's been going on forever, but something he felt he needed to address to teens.

It's not always easy to have parents, especially when you're a teenager. Basically, the problem boils down to this: you see yourself as a totally self-sufficient, independent entity who doesn't really need anything from them except perhaps meals and health insurance and unlimited use of their car and bail money when you get in trouble. They, on the other hand, see you as a 5-year-old with a driver's license.

There's bound to be trouble. You're becoming gradually more independent and you think you can do it all; they see you stepping out into a world they've seen a lot of, a world you may not be quite mature enough to handle. You want to let go, they want to hold on. The truth, of course, is somewhere in the middle. You really do need them -- probably more than you realize but less than they think.

Every era has tension between generations. They criticize each other and these criticisms are sometimes justified. Neither teenagers nor adults are perfect and each is really good at spotting the flaws in the other.

But beyond all this lies the most important fact: they love you. A vast majority of parents love their children more than anything and want more than anything what is best for them. And most teenagers love their parents even though they may not want to admit it.

In a world where not nearly enough people love you, wouldn't it be nice to actually get along with the ones who love you the most? Not just "do whatever they say without asking questions," but to really like them, to enjoy being around them and to work with them instead of against them?

This is what the Holy Father is talking about. He didn't say, "Just shut up and listen to your parents." Instead he asked you to "build bridges of communication." That's different.

Communication is a two-way street. It doesn't mean that they lecture you and you just sit there and nod. Neither does it mean that you tell them off and get your own way. It means each one understanding where the other is coming from and working toward a common ground.

Communication doesn't start with telling your parents where you're coming from, or how you feel. It starts with finding out how they feel. "But I already know how they feel. They won't let me do what I want to do. They want to lock me up. They worry too much." But what exactly are they worried about? Better yet, ask them. Not rudely, not confrontationally, but nicely. Just tell them that you want to understand what their concerns are so that together you can work out solutions that you're both comfortable with.

Once they've regained consciousness and recovered from the shock of your new cooperative attitude, it's time to pick them up off the floor and get to work. As they give their reasons, really listen to what they're saying. Ask questions - not to argue, but to get to the deeper reasons. Try to understand. Put yourself in their shoes.

Try to look objectively at what they're saying instead of just reacting defensively. If they say they don't want you to date yet because they're afraid you're not strong enough to say "no" and that you could be manipulated, think about it. Are you really strong enough to look someone you're absolutely crazy about right in the eye and say "no, I won't do that," even if it means losing them? If you're not sure, then your parents may have a point.

Once you've heard everything they have to say, it's time to help them understand how you feel and to directly address some of their concerns. If they don't like you dating someone because they're worried you may have sex, I'm sure it would be a huge relief to hear from you that you've decided to save sex for marriage (a good decision to make, as we've discussed extensively) and to tell them the steps you've taken to make sure that doesn't happen. Once they've heard that, they may be willing to soften their stand a little bit. And together you may be able to work out some even better ways of making sure it doesn't happen. Believe it or not, they were teenagers once upon a time. They really do understand at least a little of what you're going through. But they're at the other end of it and they have a different perspective.

Of course, none of this means you won't still have disagreements. But if you really make an effort to listen to them, you can make life a whole lot easier for everyone.

Bonacci is a frequent lecturer on chastity.

This article appeared in the March 9, 1995 issue of "The Arlington Catholic Herald."

Courtesy of the "Arlington Catholic Herald" diocesan newspaper of the Arlington (VA) diocese. For subscription information, call 1-800-377-0511 or write 200 North Glebe Road, Suite 607 Arlington, VA 22203.