WHAT TEENS REALLY WANT TO SAY ... CAN YOU AT LEAST LISTEN?
Wonder what’s bugging your teen? It’s hard to be certain when all your son does is grunt and your daughter won’t stop rolling her eyes. So rather than pressing our own kids to talk—not going to happen!—we asked teenagers from around the country what messages they wish they could share with their moms and dads. Sure, every child is different, but it may do you and your teen some good if you took these truthful kids’ concerns to heart.
1. She needs privacy.
“I hate that my parents don’t give me any personal space,” says Eleanor, 14. “And I hate that they don’t think I need it.” Even if your children share a room, give each child an area that’s off-limits to everyone else in the family (including you), such as a desk or a spare closet. To show that you respect your teen’s privacy, don’t rummage through her personal space unless you have a concrete reason to believe that she’s lying to you or hiding something serious. And remember: “All kids today are doing drugs” isn’t a concrete reason.
2. Sometimes he just needs you to listen.
“I want to tell my mom and dad everything,” says Keegan, 13, “but I don’t want to listen to them nag.” Understand that sometimes your kids just want a sounding board—they’re not looking for you to solve all their problems. When your son complains that his science teacher is being unfair or his soccer coach has been extra-hard on him, encourage him to talk by asking open-ended questions. (“Well, how does that make you feel?”) Don’t jump in with advice or threaten to intervene.
3. She may be dating—even if you’ve explicitly said she can’t.
“I didn’t tell my parents about a guy I dated for a year, because they didn’t allow me to have boyfriends,” says Marla, 15. “They knew we hung out, but I’d say, ‘Oh, we’re just friends.’” Try to be relaxed when it comes to dating—even if it’s killing you. Instead of forcing your daughter to sneak around, let her start with group dates, where at least four other kids are with her and her date at all times.
4. He may not be getting great grades on every assignment.
“I don’t tell my parents when I get a bad grade because I don’t want to listen to them tell me how I’ve let them down,” says Sam, 16, who says he occasionally fails a quiz but usually makes up for it with better exam scores. “There are nights I just don’t feel like studying!” Sometimes one bad grade is just that: one bad grade. If your son feels like he can vent to you about bombing a quiz or a book report, you won’t have to wait until the end of a semester to find out he’s struggling in school.
5. She doesn’t want to talk to you about sex.
“My mom knows I’ve kissed a boy,” says Sonia, 15, “but I don’t want to tell her anything else. It’s my life, not hers.” The good news is, in a 2005 government survey, less than half of high school students (47 percent) said they’d had sex. Still, it’s safest to assume your teen is in that 47 percent and educate her about birth control or preventing STDs. Don’t press her for personal details, but do offer advice; use third-person examples if it helps.
6. He hates when you don’t hold his siblings accountable.
“I hate that my parents don’t care how my youngest brother acts,” says Henry, 13. “When he swears or picks a fight with me or my older brother, they say, ‘He’s 7. He doesn’t know any better.’ But when I was his age I would have been in big trouble for swearing.” While it’s natural to become more lax as you have more children, it’s important to consider each unique situation, not just your children's ages. Remember, all of your kids will respect you more if they think you’re a fair and reasonable parent.
7. She wishes you’d cut her some slack.
“It makes me sad when my mom screams at me when I’m already down,” says Erin, 17. Even if your daughter seems to screw up every time you turn around, it’s important that she doesn’t feel like you’re constantly coming down on her. When you’re upset, take some deep breaths; a few minutes might give you perspective (is it really worth it to lose your cool over dirty laundry?) and a chance to evaluate your daughter’s mood. Perhaps she’s ignored the laundry because she’s stressed about school or antsy about a boy who hasn’t called her back.
8. He lies to stay out of trouble.
“Sometimes I don’t come home because I’m too drunk to drive,” says Aaron, 19. “If I told my parents that, they’d flip out, so I lie.” While it would be irresponsible to give underage drinking the green light, you don’t want your child to be in an unsafe situation because he’s rushing to be home on time. If your son calls just before curfew and says he needs a ride, save your questions (and lectures) for the morning.
9. She gets frustrated when you use her age to your advantage.
“I can’t stand it when my parents say, ‘You’re 17. Act like a grownup,’ one day, and then turn around and say, ‘You’re not old enough to do that. You’re only 17,’ the next,” says Izzy. “Which is it? Make up your mind!” Since “age-appropriate” is subjective, try to give your child hard-and-fast rules that aren’t dependent on a number. (“Every member of this family attends church on Sunday,” or “Visiting friends at college isn’t allowed until you’re in college yourself.”)
10. He wishes you would trust him.
“My parents don’t trust that I don’t do drugs,” says Steven, 15. “And I really hate that they believe what other people tell them instead of what I tell them.” Constantly accusing your kids of this or that—especially if your accusations are unfounded—breeds mistrust. Eventually they’ll do something dishonest just because they’re sick of being wrongly accused. Trust your kids until they give you a real reason not to.
Kids these days are faced with so many choices.
They're exposed to a lot, much of which they are not equipped or mature enough to handle. Parenting is a tightrope act whose finale is the ultimate goal of churning out capable, responsible and independent adults.
In a few short years, our babies will be out in the world and out of our direct control. Instinctually, we want to protect them from hurt, danger and trouble. Realistically, we cannot be there all of the time, no matter how much we want to be or how many tools there are available for us momstalkers.
What's a parent to do? Let's have a look at our choices.
Plan A: We can bubble wrap our kids, protecting them, watching their every move and making sure that they don't make mistakes or get into trouble.
The downside? When do they have the chance to explore the world and gain some street smarts? What if they want to do something and Mom says no? Will they abstain? Or do it anyway and then be forced to lie?
Plan B: We can go hands-off and let our teenagers take the wheel, allowing them to run free and make their own choices with minimal supervision.
The downside? It's hard to be a successful driver without lessons, and even the most responsible, mature teens need guidance from those who have lived longer. Teens are still children, and children need a certain amount of structure and rules to thrive or there's a possiblity that all hell can break loose. And that can be very dangerous.
Plan C: We can find balance. We can have rules that act as a framework for living, bubble wrapping when it comes to real danger and placing our proverbial hands in our pockets when it's time to spread some wings.
The downside? Not sure I can find one.
Our job as parents is to keep our teenagers safe and out of trouble while giving them enough slack on their leashes so they can learn to make good choices. It's a difficult balance. We need to give them the information that they need to assess situations without giving the solutions; we need to teach them to function within rules without creating constricting ones.
We need to communicate insteading of dictating; support instead of controlling.
OK. So how?
Well, not to state the obvious, but... DO state the obvious. Don't assume that they have thought of everything. After all, they're rife with hormones and the impulsivity of youth. Ask specific questions. Don't think they'll tell you things just because you're standing there. Teens hate being asked questions, but just posing the query gets them thinking.Trust me. It's true.It's better to be embarrassed now than sorry later. There is nothing at all wrong with a little frank pre-work in the form of questions and reminders.
These are some that I have used. I'm serious. All of them. I don't beat around the bush.
- What are your plans? Who are you going with? How are you getting home?
- Will there be parents at this party?
- Is that what you want people to think of you?
- What are your dreams?
- Who are you talking to? How do you know him/her?
- Are you your best self when you're around those friends?
- What did you do last night? And after you left that place? And after you left that place?
- Have you ever looked at porn on the Internet? Do you know the consequences of looking at porn on the Internet?
- Have any of your friends had sex?
- What did you do in school today?
- Don't leave your drink unattended
- Don't talk to strangers online
- Do not send naked pictures of yourself to anyone
- You don't have to hook up just because everyone else is
- Drugs and alcohol are dangerous. Be careful.
- Act like a lady/gentleman. Treat others with respect.
- Look both ways before you cross the street
- What goes on the Internet stays on the Internet
- If you have had sex (and you don't have to tell me if you have), make an appointment at the doctor. Here's the number.
- If something bad happens to you, I can't undo it. Use caution.
- (I don't ask questions like "Do you have a boyfriend?" unless I'm teasing. Those are a waste of a good questioning opportunity, and exist merely to satisfy my own curiosity or demonstrate my ability to make my kids turn purple with embarrassment.)
These questions and statements are designed to open up communication. Sometimes they do and we have a great conversation. Sometimes, the kid just wanders off -- hopefully thinking about what I've said. If you want to have these talks with your teen in a scenario where they can't walk away, take your kid for a drive. They seem more communicative when they're trapped in your car.
Do you have any to add? Any that you would avoid? Why?