9. Make them feel less important than your phone/car/friends/golf clubs etc. My teenagers hate, hate, HATE when I talk on the phone while driving with them. Even if they aren’t in the mood to chat, they don’t like to be treated like a bag of groceries on the seat next to me. Sometimes, I need to take the call, but I find my kids are happier if I keep it short and offer an apology. I don’t spend nearly as many hours with my teenagers as I did when they were little and I need to have a listening ear when we are together. It’s not that teens need to be treated like they are the center of the universe– they just need to know they matter to you. And if they do accidentally scratch the paint on your car or dent a golf club they need to know they are more important than any object. When kids feel valued, they value their relationship with you.
10. Micromanage their lives or ignore them. Parenting teenagers resembles a long walk across a balance beam, trying to remain invisible yet constantly available. Kids don’t want every moment of their life dictated, but they also don’t want to be ignored. Every family finds their own balance
11. Nit pick their appearance. We all know teenagers are sensitive about their appearance, but somehow we can’t help pouring our advice, critiques and opinions. At 11 or 12, boys really do need reminders to shower, comb their hair and wear deodorant, but by thirteen or so, both boys and girls know most basic grooming. Anything from here on out should be gentle reminders, not nagging. It helps to set a family standard– everyone showers, does their laundry, brushes their teeth, eats their vegetables, gets some form of exercise each day etc. rather than making it personal. Parents should help– provide acne medicine, healthy food, opportunities to exercise, help with buying clothing, etc, but persistent fault finding only hurts relationships.
12. Compare kids with each other. Ugh. Another behavior we know we should avoid, but somehow almost every parent at some point falls to the temptation of comparing a child to their siblings, the neighbors, a cousin or acquaintance. For me, the best way to avoid this behavior is thinking of how I’d feel if my husband compared me to my sister, my neighbors, an acquaintance…
13. Expect prowess at sports, dance, music, etc. I’ll never forget sitting at one of Stefan’s baseball games and watching a father scream and yell at his son for striking out. Over the years, at various sports games, music recitals, dance tryouts I’ve seen dozens of parents who scold and belittle their child for not performing up to standard.
I’ll also never forget my friend Judy Wolfe addressing the children in the audience at her son’s funeral, “I’m going to tell you one of your parents’ great secrets. You know all the fuss they make about your grades and making the team and getting awards?” Her eyes swept through the room as she noted the many children and teenagers filling the chapel.
“This competition, this drive to measure up: It’s all a show. Your parent’s are in love with you anyway. From the moment you were born they adored you — all you had to do was show up.”
If you’ve read this far, you’re a parent who loves their children and works hard to create a joyful family. I believe every one of us possesses more good sense and intuition about our children than a dozen parenting books. More than anything else, we just have to remember teenagers are still learning. We are all still learning. And we need to offer each other patience, forgiveness and the ability to laugh it off.
Even as I write this I can see holes in the list, hear arguments from detractors. Just because I try hard not to expect too much, doesn’t mean I don’t expect a lot from my kids. I expect good grades, washed dishes, clean language; I expect my kids to hike six miles without complaining, to practice instruments, weed the flower beds, read books, help the neighbors, befriend the lonely, to BE KIND. There’s an old, but persistent fallacy about parents always maintaining the upper hand, but creating happy, loving, open relationships with our children holds far more power than any form of discipline. Teenagers who are armed with solid values and loved as individuals will thrive even in the harshest climates.
Ah, this has all become too serious. The best reason to cultivate happy relationships?– teenagers are so much fun. They fill the house with music and laughter, interesting conversations, pranks, and spontaneous activities. And if you’re lucky, they’ll invite over more teenagers to share stories and food and dreams and more laughter. I have no fear for the future. The teenagers I know are bright and spunky, full of ideas and unexpected kindnesses. I’m just glad they’ll talk to me; I’m always happy to listen.