A child's likes and dislikes tend to dramatically change when he or she enters the teen years -- and a few years later, they're likely to change again. This is true today, it was true when you were a kid and it was true before Samuel Clemens became known as Mark Twain. Twain, in fact, wrote, "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years [source: Quote DB]."
But just because a teenager's views may be, shall we say, a little skewed doesn't mean you should ignore them. If you discount your teen's feelings, you do so at your own peril. Having an awareness of some of the traits they tend to despise may help you reduce conflicts. The key word here is "reduce" not "eliminate." Besides, knowing what they feel and why they feel it might just provide you with some peace and comfort during these challenging years.
Yes, your teen will change as time goes on, but you don't have to just wait for them on the other side. You can work with them if you're willing to tweak and adapt some of your approaches and personal characteristics. Consider this your map of the teenage minefield. We'll examine where to step and where not to step during these transitional years. It might be tricky at times, but you can guide that youngster into adulthood while keeping your relationship intact.
The All-knowing Attitude
Maybe it doesn't seem like it was that long ago that you were a teenager. Perhaps you can relate to many of the things that adolescent of yours is going through. And it's good for them to know that they're not alone. But be very careful here. If you tell your child, "I know exactly what you're going through," you could lose your credibility with the teen and completely turn them off. Why?
The truth is, you don't know exactly what he or she's going through because the world is not the same as it was when you were a teen. Research shows that sex happens younger and drinking, drugs and even gambling are more pervasive than ever [source: Vivo]. So don't nod your head in an all-knowing manner before they've finished their story. Don't wax nostalgic about what happened back in your day at school if it's not nearly as severe as what's going on now. You may be able to relate to the challenges, but despite popular belief, your adolescent struggles of yesteryear aren't a mirror image of today's dilemmas.
One thing your teenager wants is respect. And while it's true that respect has to be earned, it's also true that a person will try harder to earn it you give him a little in the first place. The way you talk to your teen is key. Telling him that he's just a kid will only make him mad, and it'll make him feel like he's stuck in a time warp of your design, too.
In the same way, saying things like "you've got it easy" also minimizes who he is and what he's going through. Sure, your teen may not have a full-time job, a mortgage and several mouths to feed, but being a teenager isn't easy either. It's a challenging process that deserves to be recognized as such. So when the trash doesn't get dumped or the dog doesn't get fed, be careful about lashing out with a "you don't do anything around here" tirade. A better approach might be to acknowledge that it might've been a tough day at school, but let's get a couple things taken care of around here before we kick back and relax.
If you want the teen to feel and act like an adult, avoid language which can even unintentionally be demeaning. Nobody wants to be treated like that.
A Controlling Demeanor
As much as it may seem like it, a teenager is not a wild horse that needs to be broken. He resents it when the tiniest things he does are scrutinized and acted upon. Did he walk in the door at 12:10 a.m. when his curfew was 12? Odds are that many of his buddies are still out there, so he's going to feel like a child that you got mad at him for the minor violation. Did she scratch the car? Whether she admits it or not, she already feels stupid about it. No need to ground her. Is it driving you nuts that his bed is unmade? Close the door to his room so you don't have to look at it.
Teens have a hard enough time understanding themselves and the world around them -- and if they have to watch their every step, it's going to get ugly in your house. Allow a little leeway to learn and make mistakes. It's counterintuitive, but you're more likely to get good behavior if you remove a few pages from that household rule book.
He dresses different than you, he listens to different music and his opinions on a variety of subjects are completely the opposite of what you hold to be true. Even so, he cares what you think ... about him. Whether your teenager says it or not, he wants you to think highly of him. If you comment on the fact that one of his friends is getting a better grade in Algebra class or that his older sibling never had trouble keeping his room clean, you're whittling away at his confidence and making him resent you.
If you can focus your unqualified remarks on the things your teen is good at and the things he or she does right, you'll have a better chance of maintaining a good relationship. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. Highlight the strengths from time to time. As crazy as it sounds, teens wish their parents were proud of them.
Tardiness is something that kids hate. We're not talking about being late to school, church or basketball practice. Your teen may be consistently late to all of those functions without batting an eye. We're talking about appearing late in their lives.
The teenage years are when some parents decide it's time to finally show up and teach their kids a thing or two about life. But the truth is, your child has been learning from you from the very beginning. If you wait until adolescence to talk to your child about serious matters, or if you delay spending significant time with your kid until things start to go awry, he or she will resist your tardy appearance. This, of course, doesn't mean that you should remain absent; but it does mean that you'll have a tougher time getting your teenager to listen to you if the relationship hasn't already been established. If you can avoid showing up late in your child's life, take the opportunity to do so.
There's no perfect science to raising a teenager. Some days just don't make sense. But if you know the traits teens dislike, you can at least brace yourself for what's ahead.
As The Who would have said, the kids are all right. See the results of a survey on teen behavior at HowStuffWorks.
- Brondino, Jeanne. "Raising Each Other." Hunter House Inc., Publishers. 1998. (Dec. 17, 2011)
- Dunn, Hannah. "5 Things Parents Do That Drive Teens Crazy." Mother Inferior. June 21, 2011. (Dec. 17, 2011) http://denadyer.typepad.com/my_weblog/2011/06/5-things-parents-do-that-drive-teens-crazy-guest-post-by-hannah-dunn-16.html
- Fusaro, Kimberly. "10 Things Your Teenager Won't Tell You." Shine. Nov. 23, 2010. (Dec. 17, 2011) http://shine.yahoo.com/parenting/10-things-your-teenager-wont-tell-you-2413662.html
- Nelson, Jane and Lynn Lott. "Positive Discipline for Teenagers." Random House. April 6, 2000. (Dec. 17, 2011)
- Ninan, Jacob. "The Parent Teenager Divide." Comfort and Counsel. (Dec. 18, 2011) http://www.c-n-c.org/tips/teenage.htm
- Quote DB. (Dec. 18, 2011) http://www.quotedb.com/quotes/1343
- Vivo, Meghan. "Ten Things Teens Wish Their Parents Knew." (Dec. 17, 2011) http://www.aspeneducation.com/articles/10-things-teens-wish-their-parents-knew.htm