In 2007, St. Paul University did a survey of 115 adolescents with age ranging from 16 to 21. The research was entitled “Perceived Family Functioning Among Adolescents” (Delariarte, 2007). The survey attempts to look into the family by assessing if the basic tasks of family in daily living are still in place. In other words, are families of today still able to function as a family?
Delariarte identified six domains of family functioning. These are: problem solving, communication, roles, affective responses, affective involvement, and behavior control.
The previous articles tackled problem solving and communication, roles, affective response and affective involvement. This article shall deal with the last dimension of family according to Delariarte- behavior control.
Delariarte describes behavior control as the standards and latitudes for behavior. It assesses the manner in which a family expresses and maintains standards for a family member’s behavior. The children claim that their families fail in this dimension and confused by the family’s standards of behavior.
Does this mean that our children are complaining of a lack of consistency in how our families behave? Has “discipline” in families degenerated to convenience rather than a tool for teaching?
Behavior control. How interesting. Why not behavior management or behavior learning/ teaching? Why this negative connotation regarding behavior? I have always believed that what one cannot manage, one tries to control. The previous articles that tackled the dimensions of family functioning such as problem solving, communication, roles, affective response and affective involvement all manifest themselves in one dimension- behavior. In other words, failure to exercise effectively the previous dimensions may lead to “inappropriate/ bad” behavior, whether as adults or as children. Society coined a label for this- delinquency.
Delinquency: The Family’s Scapegoat
In his preface of the book, The Family Roots of Adolescent Delinquency, counselor Joseph F. Perez (1978) writes, “a person termed ‘delinquent’ is one spawned by a ‘delinquent family’, that is, a family which has developed neurotic patterns of interaction.” And he goes on, “an adolescent delinquent is the product of interpersonal ways which are indigenous to a family. These ways are founded in the inherited familial values and attitudes and are interwoven with emotions. And emotions and their expression are at the hub of individual personality. They are the psychological life blood of a family. How love, anger, and joy are communicated is a critical determinant for how a family will get along or if, indeed, it will get along at all.”
I have conducted several seminars and workshops to adolescents and their families for over twelve years. A lot of issues were brought up over those years, but there is one that haunts me to this day and I pray that my children don’t have to go through its misery.
“Kayo po ba, alam niyo ba kung ano ang tama o mali?”
This question came from the desperate heart of a teenager trying to understand his parents. It seems that the parents would always castigate and “discipline” him most of the time-if not all the time. It also seems that the parents assumed that he already knew the difference between right and wrong. How could he, when there was no one to teach him? He was an only child and although I can imagine the frustration of the parents, I feel the anguish of the child. There are some factors that may have contributed to the adolescents’ situation:
Perfectionism. There was a mother of a teenager once that claimed she had a “perfect family”- she, a perfect wife and mother- until her son started to do things for himself. Up until the son started to decide for himself, she did everything for him including thinking and deciding for his future. Today, he is considered by the mother as “dirt.” He doesn’t know anything; everything he does turns out to be a disaster; he can’t measure up to me.” The son was always put down and as a result, he rebelled and started to fulfill his mother’s predictions: he started to fail in everything. From being jailed several times due to drunk driving to aggressive and arrogant behavior that attracted bad company.
Impatience. Impatience makes a poor teacher. We give our children tasks so that they can be useful in the house. But more than usefulness is accomplishing tasks hones their mental, physical, and emotional abilities. In Filipino we refer to this as “diskarte.” Impatience means doing things ourselves that our children ought to be doing as their contribution to living with others (family). “Ako na lang ang gagawa kaysa uminit pa ang ulo ko!” is a common expression—or perhaps, excuse—of parental impatience. The exercise of patience in Filipino families is the exercise of “kasama.” “Sinasamahan, ina-alalayan hanggang kaya na.” Do you remember how you learned? Which do you find more effective as a tool for learning: “ang sinasamahan o ang kinukutya?”
Presence. Presence of course pertains to more than “kasama.” It refers to “karamay” as I have discussed in the previous article.
Until we learn that being part of a family means to fully participate in its functioning, we will continue to experience the horrors of the violence we read daily in the newspapers; we shall continue to fear for the security of our children (“Is it safe?”); we shall continue to bear the pain of guilt for not having been able to pass on the legacy of who we are as a family.
Finally, if you’ve decided to fully function as a family, be prepared to “wrestle” with your children if they are to fully participate in family life; be prepared to suffer the necessary loses of how we imagined our lives to be that we may have a more fulfilled life in our family. Let me give you a tip. The tension may be exhausting and the wrestling may be draining, but no matter how things may seem, our children do appreciate our efforts. Only then will they know they matter. Only then will they know they are loved.
• Reference: Clarissa F. Delariarte, Ph.D. (2007), Perceived Family Functioning Among Adolescents, Saint Paul University Quezon City Faculty Research Journal, Volume 1, Number 1 SY: 2007 – 2008
• Roderick Marfil, RGC, is a registered guidance counselor and family therapist. You may reach him through the Ilaw Center of Miriam College in Quezon City on Thursdays (by appointment only). For queries, you may reach him through (0939) 2110403 or 520-5400 loc. 1134.