Do Hormones really make Teenagers yell, scream and insult their Parents? – 18 Jul 11

I would like to continue the topic of the last week and keep on writing about teenagers, children and parents as well as their relation to each other.

A very big problem that I see especially in western culture is the lack of respect in this relation. In my opinion respect is very important and every child has to learn it. If they don’t know the meaning of respect, if they just never learned it, they don’t have respect for anybody or anything. They won’t respect their parents, they won’t respect their surroundings and they won’t respect themselves either! So many teenagers don’t respect themselves as they are and they don’t respect and value what they have got in life. They have security in a family, they have their parents and they are loved by them. This all cannot be respected if a child never learned respect in his or her home.

I have been travelling and working in the west for more than ten years now and I have met thousands of families. One thing that always surprises me and which often makes me sad and disappointed is how children and especially teenagers talk with their parents in the west, lacking every possible respect.

I come from a very different culture in which I have learned to give respect. I am very thankful and proud that I have learned it. I never spoke in the tone and language to my parents as I hear teenagers talk to their parents here. They use an abusive language that I could never imagine any child to use in front of their parents! Which words they use and in which tone they speak! They just abuse their parents with the worst words of their vocabulary, screaming and yelling at them! Before I saw this in the west, I could never have imagined that this is possible and I would never expect anybody to talk to me in this way.

Worse however and an even bigger surprise was the response of the parents. They seemed to accept it as normal! Many parents don’t even react. It seems that it has become a normal talking tone and normal vocabulary for them. They accept it. In my opinion this acceptance encourages the child to get wilder and talk to them in an even worse manner. It is not right to make them feel that it is okay what they are doing.

When this happens in front of me, parents sometimes feel ashamed that their child got so aggressive, loud and disrespectful. In those cases I have often heard a great excuse: ‘That is the hormones in this age’. They try to convince me but also themselves that their child’s behavior is fully normal. In puberty and teenage, it is normal to behave like this. Every child does this because of the change of hormones in that age. I really wondered a lot about this explanation. I have also passed my teenage and so have my siblings and friends but I never behaved like that and never saw any of my siblings or friends act in this way. We have had many children at the Ashram for whom we are the parents and I never heard any of them speak to us like that. If the reason really were the hormones, wouldn’t everybody have that, regardless his country of origin or culture?

In fact, this is the worst excuse I ever heard but I know where it comes from. Parents don’t want to admit their mistakes and don’t want to realize that it is also their fault. Their children lack respect and just didn’t learn how to talk properly to their parents. Their parents in turn try to justify this. Let me tell you however, if you do this, it is another mistake! If your children hear you justify their behavior and if you think it is normal, they will get more and more wild and will not stop insulting you in ever worse ways! They can also say ‘It is the hormones’. You showed them that you approve of this explanation, so it doesn’t matter if they are disrespectful, smoke, drink and do what they want, no matter what you think about it.

Those situations occur especially in developed countries where manners have a very big value. People often think of Indians as a rural population, like tribal people, wild and without proper manners but I don’t see this there, I see here, in the west, that children just get wild and parents accept it! Nobody makes an effort to change them! How come? What about their manners? You teach them how to use cutlery properly and when to say thank you and sorry but you are not able to teach them how to behave and talk to their parents? Why can’t you give a clear guideline on what you want to hear in your home?

Set limits! Be strict about them! Teach your child respect! You have to make clear that certain vocabulary, a certain tone and also a certain volume should not be used in any kind of discussion with you and in your home. If they are warned and know that there are consequences, they won’t do it. If you accept it and give excuses and justifications, they cannot learn it.

Of course you are not supposed to give them the wrong example by talking to or about your own parents in this way. If you do this, you are in no position to control your children because they learn it from you. If that is not the case however, and the child learned this language and behavior from friends or in school, you have the possibility to stop them. Give them a clear and strict limit and don’t make exceptions.

If you have difficulties being strict in this point, realize the consequences of this behavior. Maybe you can bear it because they are your children but what about the people around you? Your children do not learn to have respect. They don’t respect the love you give them and what you provide them and they will not respect anybody else either. They take things for granted. Whatever you have provided them, whatever they get from anybody else, their own comfort, their own security, love, happiness and more. Children without respect are not thankful, also not as adults. Additionally they don’t even respect themselves. They start having psychic problems, don’t love themselves and don’t respect their body and feelings. Sometimes they even start hurting themselves. And there is nobody to stop them and set them limits. If they are not nice to you, why would they be nice to themselves?

See these consequences and realize that you set those limits and are strict so that your child has a good future. Children need to learn respect.

Impressions of the West – First Visit to Germany – 30 Jan 11

I had taken flights frequently from one place to another in India, too, but this was the longest flight that I had taken until then. I went from Delhi via London to Hamburg and already the hour that I spent at the airport in London was full of amazing new things for me. Arriving in Hamburg, again, I was taking in my surrounding with interest and sometimes astonishment.

My friend came to pick me up, as he had promised, and as he had no car, we went by bus, train and taxi until we finally arrived in his apartment.

I spent one week there in Itzehoe and although I have surely forgotten thousands of things that were new and interesting in that time, I want to tell you some of those things that remained in my mind. Of course simply the fact of being surrounded by German people all the time and wherever you go was something new and exciting. My friend himself had been in Germany only for a few months and so he was the perfect person to take me around and show me all the wonders that amazed him in this new country.

He took me to go shopping at the supermarket and we filled the shopping cart with vegetables and things to cook with. When we left, he told me how nice it was, you could take the cart with you up to your house and bring it back later! I found this a very nice idea and we really rolled the cart down the street and across it to the apartment house, through the entry doors and into the elevator until just in front of his door. There we emptied it and he brought it back to get the coin out of the cart which was stuck in there as a token.

Somehow my friend had reached to the conclusion that one of his neighbours, a woman living alone in her flat, was doing prostitution in her flat. He told me you could see customers coming and going but apart from that she was just a normal person! Just like you and me, you see her in the morning in the elevator, you say good morning and good evening, she is just like a normal person!

One day we went on a street festival which they called wine festival. This, too, was an experience I remember well. It was the first time that I saw people drinking alcohol just so close by me. In India, it was a matter of respect for people not to drink anywhere close to me, as alcohol is socially still inacceptable and drinking is considered bad manners. Here however I saw how people went from one little tent to the other and tried wine here, there, another glass over there and really, some people got drunk from this. They started dancing to the music, singing and talking loudly and in my eyes some were definitely misbehaving.

So these all were new impressions to me but there were elements in my time in Europe which were also just as they used to be in India.

Breaking Children or Letting them Run Wild – 14 Jan 11

I get a lot of different reactions on my diary entries. That is obvious, as every person is different and thus will have another opinion. Many people appreciated also yesterday’s diary and what I was writing about. They said it was even an understatement to say it is not easy to deal with teenagers, on the contrary it can be really difficult. Another person however said he or she thinks you should not break a child but you cannot let them do whatever they want without any discipline.

I really agree on both of these points, even if the author might be surprised about this. You should never break a young spirit. In older times and in many countries in this world, including India, parents still beat their children and this of course serves one purpose: breaking their will! Domestic violence is unfortunately still very frequent in India.

The opposite effect can be seen in many countries, also like Germany, where I have seen children without any respect, discipline, manners or however you would like to call it. They smoke, drink and take drugs although their parents tell them not to. Sometimes even in front of their noses, just where their parents can clearly see them. They talk to their parents in a language that you cannot imagine, full of insults. This, too, is not the right way.

What we want are strong children with a strong will but with knowledge of what is right or wrong. I have written several times about problems with alcohol, cigarettes and even drugs. I always encourage parents to see why their child is doing this. A 12-year-old boy who smokes feels adult because he has the cigarette in his hand. A 14-year-old girl who gets drunk on a party and wildly kisses several of the boys around, does that because she feels adult through this. Think of your own youth. You may have done something similar, maybe in another way because it was another time, but something to show your parents that you are adult.

You should not let your child run wild without any rules or discipline. No, you need to set rules and teach discipline, already a few years before. But when you are at such a point, you need to look out if, in some way, you can reach the core of this young boy’s or girl’s heart. If he or she can feel comfortable to talk with you and tell you what is going on within them, you have a possibility to reach and softly prevent them to get seriously harmed. To lock them in their room on the weekends so that they cannot go to any party is not the right way. And they would not care too much, they would simply have their own party any day of the week after school. You cannot stop them from getting older and making their own experiences. All you can do is to help them and that is what is your role, once your little child becomes a teenager or young adult.

Curiosity towards Westerners expressed in India – 17 Jul 10

When we thought and talked about yesterday’s diary topic, Ramona, Yashendu and I had to laugh because we automatically compared those situations in the west with similar situations in India. Always, when we have western visitors at the Ashram who are for the first time in India, they experience this curiosity and interest very much. I believe for them this is part of the cultural shock that they describe.

In India it is not really part of good manners to hide your interest or to pretend not to be curious while you are actually nearly dying to know just where the other person is from. So you are a westerner or a group of westerners – easily recognized of course by your skin colour – and you talk a walk around town. You notice that heads turn to look at you. People out of cars smile and wave. Kids start running after you, laugh and try to speak with you: “Hello, hello! What is your name?” Shopkeepers who spot you shout to get your attention for their merchandise and Riksha drivers who would prefer driving for seemingly wealthy foreigners keep on asking if they should take you for a ride. Suddenly there is a crowd, a kind of parade, and you join to watch. But what is that? Slowly a group of people forms around you who have the back towards the colourful festive wagons and the music because they want to look at you. They stand there and look, maybe smile, nothing else.

Well, I agree that it can sometimes be a little bit exhausting being an obvious foreigner in India because nobody will hide his interest. I feel however that it is more honest. After all this friendly interest in other people is one of the reasons why western tourists like to come to India. They feel welcomed there even though sometimes even a little bit too much but in general they enjoy it. And who would not love to answer a lovely question ‘Where are you from’ when the asker has a smile on the face and curiosity in the eyes?

Hidden Curiosity and Interest leads to Embarrassing Situations – 16 Jul 10

As I said, make-up is for me another way of hiding your natural beauty and your identity. When we were in America, a woman said to me ‘Oh yes, we Americans are really good in hiding!’ I had to laugh about it in that time because I also know many people in Europe and also in India who are good in hiding different things. In the west however it is more common to hide emotions and also to hide interest than in India.

I talked with a friend about how funny it is when I walk in the street and people are curious. They want to know who I am, they wonder why I am walking around in these clothes. Some might know that I am from India, some might even have seen my face on a picture sometime, on the internet, in a magazine, wherever. But there are always many people who are just curious. And I absolutely do not mind that.

It is however really always funny how people are so obviously curious and then try to look indifferent. They look at the side and watch me or us from the corner of their eye. It even happened that someone pretended to be writing a text message on his phone but actually took a picture of us. The sound was not muted however and so it made the typical ‘click’ of the camera noise and the boy’s head turned red. He was obviously very embarrassed that he took that picture.

When we are walking Ramona sometimes has fun to see when there are men or women who look interested but are shy to look at us openly, if they gaze at us from the back. So they pass by and then Ramona turns around to see them staring at us. She always smiles at them but they quickly turn their heads back.

So I really wonder, why do you need to hide your interest like this? Wouldn’t it be much nicer if you just looked and if you wanted to know more, you could come over and ask? This also happened quite often already and we have made many nice acquaintances like this. It is a kind of manner here that you should not stare at others. I believe if you stare and try to do it secretly, it is even worse! Just be open, approach us, that would be nice!

To Knock or not to Knock – That is the Question – 10 Nov 09

I was writing about differences in culture and about things that people notice when they come to another country like India. Often it is things that are considered as good or bad manners for example at the table and while meals. Another thing that I noticed in the west which doesn’t really work here is the knocking at the door before entering.

Again and again I notice in the Ashram that the boys of the Ashram and also people who work here come into the office without knocking whereas our visitors knock and wait outside. And we also again and again tell the boys that they need to knock when they go and tell one of our guests that dinner is ready. They just don’t learn it in their growing-up and they don’t always remember.

This can sometimes lead to funny situations and we always try to let our guests know that people here don’t usually knock. And then on the other hand I see that my mother would be constantly saying ‘yes, come in’, ‘yes?’, ‘Please come in’ when she is in her room and she would soon get very tired of everybody knocking on her door. My parents’ room has many more functions, the main refrigerator is there, the vegetables for dinner are there and many small things that are daily needed have their place in there where everybody knows where to find them. So everybody is walking in and out and as I said, it would be really too much for them if everybody knocked.

That is how I always see that there are differences in culture, in the manners that people grow up with and what they do in their everyday’s life. And when someone comes here or if we go there, everybody needs to be open to see and accept what the lifestyle is like for the other person.

Silence Therapy and why People Like to Talk in the West – 6 Nov 09

In the last days we were talking about silence. Especially in western countries I have seen that people get afraid of silence. They need to talk. Talking is necessary and silence can sometimes even be impolite, not good manners.

The main thing is that people grow up like this. They don’t learn to be silent, never make the experience how nice it can be to be in silence. And talking is for them a way of healing. Many therapists earn money by talking. One of my very close friends is also a talking therapist. For his profession he has to talk. But when I am there, he loves to sit with me in silence together with his patients. And without my talking, saying anything or doing anything his patients also feel good and they start feeling better.

You can communicate in silence, looking into each other’s eyes and just feeling the energy. This also works as healing, it is silence therapy. Silence can also cure and if you don’t believe me, just try it. Let your thoughts flow through your head, come and go. Don’t keep them and just be in the moment. No noise, no talk, no unnecessary thoughts, it is fine just to be.

Serving and Wasting Food in two Cultures – 20 Jan 09

Today at the dinner table we had a small conversation about manners. It started with Roger saying that it is not nice in this culture and not good manners if you leave food on your plate. You should clear your plate. It doesn’t matter how full you are. Then Ramona added that children are often told that they only get ice-cream if they clear their plates. But when they are already full they first need to finish their food and then eat more with the ice-cream. It seems a bit crazy.

I told that in Indian culture it is also not nice to leave food on your plate. We offer food to God and there is a Goddess of food called Annapoorna. So there is much respect for food and we don’t want to throw it away. In a practical way it also feels very nice to use and eat the food which gives energy for life. There are many hungry people who do not have the possibility to eat much, who do not have any food and knowing this it actually feels nice not to throw food away. I feel sad about it when I see here how much food is wasted and we have so many people in this world who sleep hungry, without having filled their stomach.

Mady said that there are really some differences in culture which are good to know when you go to India. Here I hear it is normal to ask before serving food in a plate how much you would like to eat. In India however this will be considered as bad manners. You are not asked how much you want, they will serve it to you and if you do not want more, you can say it.

Ramona asked: What happens if they put too much onto your plate from the beginning? When I was travelling in India and was invited for food somewhere and I got a big plate filled with so many different dishes and a lot of food, I asked the host for an empty plate before starting to eat. Then I put that food onto the empty plate which I knew would be too much. I kept a little bit from everything so that I did not seem disrespectful. I showed that I wanted to eat their food but before eating I took that much off my plate which otherwise would have been wasted. So everybody could take from that and if I wanted more I would also still ask for some more.

I do not like to leave food in the plate but sometimes it also happens because in India those who are serving want you to eat a lot and sometimes they put it into my plate without asking of even after me saying no. Then I never force myself to eat and finish the plate because I am not in favour of violating my body. Someone forced the food onto my plate but I will not force it into my body. My stomach says I am full. Of course I would always prefer not to throw the food away. But not because of my manners but because of my respect for this food.