It is so easy to get things wrong when we are basing our own parenting skills on the efforts of our own parents, be they good or bad.
The one thing we cannot blame them for is the fact that they too learned how to parent through trial and error, just like us.
Absentee parents aside, the people who choose every day to be the kind of parents our kids need in a world that is scary and completely out of our control are who this article is aimed at.
So what do we get wrong about parenting teens? Here are some don’ts I have discovered:
Don’t be a friend
One of the biggest things that we get totally wrong is trying to be friends with our kids. Friends come and go, parenting is for life.
Friends are people we can speak to on an equal footing who share common fears and goals. The typical parent/child dynamic is not conducive to being friends.
As parents, we hold all the cards, from finance to experience, and our children hold nothing. It’s not fair to them to expect their friendship, they need pals among their peer groups, as do we.
We hang out and gossip with our friends and share the kinds of things we wouldn’t dare tell our children, so why do we expect them to treat us as their buddies and tell us everything?
Kids already have plenty of friends with similar interests but they need responsible parents who love them unconditionally and who they can turn to in times of joy and fear, not another pal.
Don’t speak for them
Whether it is introducing them or answering questions on their behalf, this should end after the toddler stages, and we get this wrong a lot!
If interactions in public or within social groups often have you responding to a question before your child even has the chance of formulating an answer, stop.
We know you know your child better than anyone, but you really don’t know if he wants another candy cane or if he is feeling warm in that jacket or if he loves his school this week.
Unless your child is incapable of talking, let them speak for themselves. This gift will instill confidence and build character – two very useful traits to have in adulthood.
Don’t stalk them online
In this age of cyber-bullying, it is understandable to be worried about your children’s online presence. So speak to them about how to be safe online.
If you followed the obvious rules and only gave access to devices at the correct age, just speaking to them about cyber-safety and how the internet works should be enough.
Short of eliciting fear in a child, explaining to them the logistics of sending dubious pictures and messages to online friends and the fact that nothing out there is private should do the trick.
If your child adds you on Instagram or Snapchat, accept the gift for what it is, but don’t suffocate them. Your wariness may lead to their weariness, so maintain a respectable distance.
Don’t intrude in their personal lives
This is the hardest one of all. We want to know everything to prove we are caring parents and our children trust us enough to tell us all their secrets.
They will IF we create an environment where they feel like they can. Rummaging through their bags or rooms and sneaking onto their phones or computers does not scream “Trust!”
It will be very hard to redeem yourself and regain their trust if you expose their secrets and they know that you discovered it by having scant respect for their personal space.
Just as your home is your safe space, they need to know that their rooms are safe spaces too. Even if they share it with a sibling, there will be room rules that are none of your business.
Don’t shut them out
Sensitivity and understanding about the hardships that come with being a teen, even if it appears that their lives are much easier than yours was at the same age, will go far.
You don’t need an opportunity to knock if you keep all the doors open. Trying to force a conversation is unnecessary in a home where a child is used to offloading on you and feeling supported.
If a kid feels like you are listening, they will speak. When your teen wanders into your room, close your laptop, put down your phone, turn down the TV, and just plug into them.
Make eye contact, smile, nod, repeat what they said out loud so they are aware that you are listening to understand. Not every interaction requires you to impart your great wisdom.
What have we learned?
At the end of the day, everyone wants to feel loved, respected, trusted, and know that other people care and want what’s best for them. This does not refer to teens only.
Be someone your children trust enough to spill their guts to while knowing that you will not judge them nor go into immediate parent lecture mode.
And just like you have never been the parent of a teen before and are still learning the ropes, they have also never been teens before and they, too, are terrified they might be doing it wrong.
In these uncertain times of COVID-19 where we have sequestered ourselves and spend 24/7 with our children, let’s improve our relationships by bringing them calm and dousing their fears.
There will not be another time in our history where we are given so much time to listen and show ourselves worthy instead of commanding and demanding respect. Let’s use it.
In doubt, let love lead.