Liguori Publications, Liguori, Mo., 2012; $12.99.
An important part of the growing-up process involves learning about relationships – why some friendships, romances or marriages fare quite well, while others do not.
It is well known that this part of growing up can be difficult. At times children and teenagers strongly resist accepting what their elders, with equal strength, believe they must grasp about relationships.
A multitude of parents could testify that communicating with teenagers about relationships and love may prove to be anything but easy.
The purpose of “Help Your Child Make Friends and Be a Friend,” Richard Brown’s new book, is to “help parents teach their children to deal with all aspects of the relationships they’ll form throughout their lives.” Brown’s background is in the fields of counseling, education and theology.
Parents, he believes, play an important role in helping their children learn to recognize the workings of successful relationships. One way children learn this is through the behaviors modeled by their parents’ marriages.
For Brown, compatibility fulfills a crucial role in positive relationships by harmonizing the unique personality skills of separate individuals. He suggests that parents can help children learn from an early age how to “make wise decisions when they confront compatibility conflicts” in a relationship.
Moreover, he indicates that the likelihood of forming compatible relationships increases when individuals recognize their own interests and skills – in other words, when they know themselves as persons. Parents play a role here by fostering and supporting their children’s budding self-awareness.
Two Main Tasks for Children and Teens
Brown explains that the “two main tasks” of children and teens addressed by his book involve:
– “Learning who they and others are,” and thereby
– “Choosing compatible friends and, eventually, compatible marriage partners.”
The importance of these two tasks often comes into plain view for parents when teenagers report they have fallen in love.
Parents wanting and needing to talk with a teenager about the experience of falling in love will be interested in Brown’s Chapter 5, titled “Falling in Love: Helping Teens Make Smart Decisions.”
Brown points to neurobiological brain research into “what happens when two people experience a falling-in-love connection.” In effect, according to this research, certain brain functions cloud a person’s thinking by blocking negative feelings about the relationship, for example, and dulling the cognitive capacity to assess the relationship objectively.
Parents are advised by Brown that “young people need to understand the major characteristics of falling in love” and the feelings that accompany this. Teens also need to “understand why it makes sense to delay sexual involvement until marriage.”
Moreover, teens need to put their minds to work, using “questions to get at the truth regarding the sexual inclinations connected with falling in love,” Brown says. He writes:
“We need God’s graced help. We need the help of the intellect God gave us. With God’s grace and our own reasoning power, we can determine what to do in the face of such powerful emotions and inclinations.”
In his discussion of falling in love, Brown once more drives home his key point that “young people with knowledge of their own skills and needs” are more likely to make decisions that lead to healthy relationships.
Handling Personality Differences
Without denying the importance of the compatibility in positive relationships, Brown’s book also explores “ways to handle the personality differences” found in all relationships, “even when many other factors are compatible.”
The author acknowledges that “achieving and maintaining healthy relationships on earth is a never-ending challenge.” All married couples know “that hurts arising from differences in personality skills and needs can occur on an almost daily basis,” Brown writes.
However, spouses can attempt to meet “each other’s differing needs” through “a loving, sacrificial servanthood” that reflects one dimension of Jesus’ behavior in relationships. The importance of the forgiveness modeled by Jesus is underscored as well.
How might this kind of servanthood function within a marriage? Brown writes that “stress-causing incompatibility becomes compatibility” when spouses are alert to each other’s differing needs and try to figure out how to respond in appropriate, effective ways, thus meeting those needs.
Children and teens benefit from learning this same type of behavior, Brown says. He accents the parental role of teaching and modeling “behaviors that directly deal with relationship stress and conflict.”
An understanding of “the dynamics of positive and negative relationships makes possible an emotionally healthy, peaceful and fruitful life,” Brown’s book concludes. He wonders what greater gift parents and grandparents can bring to children.