As a parent I can put my hand on my heart and say I have at times said the wrong things to my teenagers; I have shouted at them, I have got angry with them when they didn’t deserve the brunt of my emotions, I have walked away when I should’t have, and I have not been there at times when they needed me most.
There is nothing perfect about parenting and there has never been. No parent has ever got it right. We expect our children and teenagers to make allowances for the fact that we have never parented before and often have no idea what we are doing other than taking one day at a time. We are ultimately seeing by trial and error what might work for a particular teen because we have tried all avenues and nothing seems to have worked thus far, or what did work with one teen isn't working for another. Through the ups and downs of parenting and the ins and outs of what we try and do, the only thing that encourages us on is the fact that our children repeatedly forgive and love us. They still place their trust in us and they still come home.
The question I ask today therefore on DAY 6 is, ‘Are we as forgiving of our teens as they are of us?’ and “What role does forgiveness have in building trust between the parent and the teen?
The answer is that forgiveness is a vital tool in breaking bitterness and resentment that can build up when we hang on to resentment and un-forgiveness. Not forgiving leads to inner pain and trauma which will later manifest in an unhealthy manner, either physically or emotionally. Forgiving by contrast sets us free from the anguish that we can hold onto: It is not saying that what was done to us was ok, but it is letting go of it dominating our thoughts and actions. Furthermore it is stopping us responding in revenge.
When I worked in prisons in the UK teaching Restorative Justice we would often bring in a victim of crime. On a 6 session course we would invite a guest to come and tell their story to the prisoners, so that they could learn the ‘ripple effect’ theory ie that the consequence of a crime continues to ripple without ever stopping. Often quite horrific and tragic testimonies would be told of how their child was killed or murdered (I was working with mainly murderers). The stories were humbling, disturbing, chilling and moving all rolled into one, but crunch time would come when they spoke of their forgiveness for those who had murdered their son or daughter and the impact that had on not only their own lives but the lives of the families of the accused. Towards the end of each session they would always extend their words to say that they also forgave those in the room for the crime they had committed and for the consequence of their crime. At that point most of those in the group would break down. Men and women who were some of the toughest I have ever met literally broke and sobbed like children. As the room was swamped with emotion they would then ask “How many of you in the room have ever been forgiven for your crime?” No hands would go up. What was more startling however was what followed the next question, “How many of you have ever been forgiven in your life time? Forgiven as a child? Forgiven by a parent? Forgiven by a friend? - NO hands would go up. What transpired was these ‘criminals’ had never in their life known forgiveness. They had never known that they were loved regardless of what they did and that it was their behaviour RATHER THAN them that was at fault. None in the room had a solid secure foundation of trust, respect, honour, mercy and grace from which to operate and the reason was because they hadn't been shown forgiveness. Real breakthrough in the course could only happen after FORGIVENESS had been taught and given: Slowly they would forgive themselves enough that we could have valuable input with Restorative Justice and cut the rates of reoffending and crime.
It is a story that says it all. Likewise, when forgive our teenagers we are teaching them not only the boundaries of right and wrong, but giving them an insight that when something does go wrong, there is a way that it can be dealt with and a way to carry on.
Forgiveness if we hand it to our teens again and again lets them know that they are loved and valued. It speaks to them of self worth when they hate themselves -“I am forgiven so I must be valued”. It teaches them that no matter what situation they find themselves in there is someone they can turn to and speak with, who will not judge who they are, but help them through the difficulty.
Some tools to help:
Speak about the action NOT the person when you point the finger and accuse .
Reinforce that forgiveness comes following an apology but explain what both mean.
Teach acts of restitution ie “You have smashed the vase and so I would like you to think of a way to make amends for what you have done (empower the teen through giving them choice. If you tell them to pay for the vase they are disempowered through lack of choice and therefore less likely to take responsibility for what they have done).
Give an example of how you make mistakes and say you are thankful that you are forgiven.
Discuss the consequence of not forgiving a friend etc. ie What does it mean to carry bitterness and un-forgiveness? Who do they know that carries bitterness? What effect does it have on their life?
Describe a situation that changed your life because you were forgiven. How did it impact you?
Most of all be encouraged. It is not always easy to forgive, especially when we have been wronged, hurt, insulted or betrayed - but the consequence of such an act also has a ripple effect which carries on at infinitum. However hard to forgive, know that the act of doing so is not only releasing your teen from guilt and shame, but setting them up to forgive themselves, build up their self-esteem, sense of self-worth and value, and remove off them the possible effects of depression or addictive behaviours which can often be the result of unresolved anger.
Forgiveness is a gift to your teen. Practise it, teach it and endorse it until it becomes a way of life. It will be one of the greatest gifts you can give!