Our society rejects more and more the question of authority. The authority figure is seen today as being "oppressive" and therefore must be fought. "We are all equal" so no one has the "right to boss around" anyone. This distorted image of authority refers to parents, teachers, rulers, priests, policemen: in short, everyone who, by right, has some authority, but is practically prevented from exercising it.
The word authority derives from the Latin auctoritas, which in turn comes from auctor, the one who makes things grow. Whoever possesses authority has the mission to lead his or her subordinates so that they may grow, mature, become freer, and learn, if necessary, to exercise authority someday. The person in authority also has the mission to protect those under his care, both from possible external attacks and from the person's own conduct that may cause harm to himself or others.
It is not easy to exercise authority with this view, especially when you are a parent and your children are already grown up. Parents need to "train" their children from an early age to make good choices, suffering the consequences when they choose wrongly. When they are children, the exercise of this authority is a little easier, because, even if the children "fight" a little, in the end they have to obey what their parents decide; after all, they are the adults responsible for the family.
From adolescence on, the issue becomes a little more complicated, because it is not enough for the children to obey, they need to understand the reason for that particular order. If he doesn't understand the reason for acting this way or that way, as soon as he becomes an adult, or when he thinks that his parents won't find out, he may act totally differently from what his parents would like, or think is best.
Marge Steinhage Fenelon, in her book Strengthening your Family, explains that when grown children have some kind of moral dilemma and are tempted to make decisions that the parents do not agree with, parents tend to two extremes: either they simply ignore what the child wants to do, or they go off on the child, trying to force him to follow their line of thinking. Neither of these options is really effective. Ignoring can give the false impression that the choice he is making is permissible, and forcing will only make him run in the opposite direction. Both of these choices are an abdication of responsibility as parents; the parents' job is to raise their children to have a well-formed Christian conscience. This takes time, patience, diligence, and often some "butterflies in the stomach" and gnawed fingernails.
Consciences are developed and formed by authority. Good authority is very different from authoritarianism: it means leadership. As parents, we must lead our children by our own example and direction. It is necessary to talk a lot. Talk about all the controversial issues at home. Understand the vision of each child and show where they might be thinking wrong, where they are being manipulated by culture, by the media, by their friends. Always make them reflect about what they are saying, what they are believing and repeating.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church talks about the role of parents in the formation of conscience:
The education of the conscience is a lifelong task. From the earliest years, it awakens the child to the knowledge and practice of the interior law recognized by conscience. Prudent education teaches virtue; it prevents or cures fear, selfishness and pride, resentment arising from guilt, and feelings of complacency, born of human weakness and faults. The education of the conscience guarantees freedom and engenders peace of heart. (1784; emphasis mine)
It is important to emphasize that, as parents, we need to study and understand Catholic moral doctrine in order to live and transmit these values to our children. Nowadays we have the immense advantage of having all this knowledge at our fingertips, thanks to countless good books and internet technology. There are several Catholic blogs and websites that offer a huge range of options of courses, lectures, videos to deepen our knowledge of our doctrine, so we cannot waste these opportunities.
Finally, to be successful in this task of exercising authority well and forming the conscience of our children so that they can make choices consistent with their Christian condition and not simply decide based on fear, pressure from others or what is fashionable, we need to ask a lot for the light of the Holy Spirit and the maternal care of Mary Most Holy. Let us ask Our Lady, as Mother and Educator, to help us educate our children in the way that will lead them to Heaven.