This series is meant to help parents of teens and parents of kids who are turning into teens understand what teenagers think and what they go through as part of this tough period of their life. Each "twisted" thought is followed by something parents can do to help their teenagers and everyone else involved.
As in previous chapters, here are 5 things teens think and feel that scare them and make them act weird, and what you can do about them. I hope it will help you find alternative ways to address the issues and prevent them from keeping those thoughts any longer.
My parents are cruel and weak
"I think my parents are cruel. They hate me. They scream, shout and always tell me I'm wrong. They brought me into the world to torture me. They are weak. How can I trust them when I need help if they are so weak?"
What parents can do
When children are upset, they may think that you are behaving the way you do with the ultimate purpose of hurting them. Many parents mistake discipline for power when in fact, abusing your power and yelling, shouting or telling kids they are wrong are signs of weakness and may cause your children, especially teenagers, not to trust you to support them when they need help. This is because using pressure and force is all about you, not them.
The best way to prevent this is to start very early and examine the use of your power. If you control the family's money and use it to threaten your children or bribe them, you are likely to be perceived as cruel. If you control many aspects of your kids' life and use that control to force them to do things they do not want do, your actions, although you may have all the justification for them, will not translate into motivation but into resentment and anger.
Having clear rules and having responsibility as a parent does not give you the right to force your kids. When a teacher shouts and yells in class, the kids are convinced the teacher is weak and easy to set off. The smart kids will trigger this in an instant by "stepping" on the teacher's emotional "toes". Teenagers are the smartest kids in the house, so when they find out their parents are not all that powerful, they trigger your fear and frustration in no time.
Confident parents do not fall into this trap. They are artists of motivation and do everything to trigger internal motivation in their kids. When they become teenagers, they will have the good sense to do the right things for themselves. It does not mean these parents have no conflicts with their teens, but they treat their kids with respect during conflicts and everybody wins.
Do not threat, do not bribe, do not set conditions, like "I will give you this if you succeed at school". Do not shout and yell. Find your core of strength, stay calm and show respect to keep your teens free from anxiety and confident they can trust you.
Leave me alone!
"I need privacy. I don't want anyone getting into my room. I need a locker on my things. I hate the idea of my brother or my parents searching my things. I wish I had a place of my own."
What parents can do
During the teen years, when the body changes so much, children require more privacy not only to explore their sexuality but also to have the time to think without disruption and to separate themselves from their family. This separation is very healthy and important. It does not mean they will leave home tomorrow, but they are practicing being on their own, while the family is still around.
For teens never to think like that, their family must have some privacy rules and they must be taught very early, so that by the time children reach adolescence, they can be certain no one will look at their personal things or enter their room when it is inappropriate.
If a child expresses a need for a private room, try to arrange a private room. It is not always possible, but even a balcony with a divider is better than nothing. Gal's parents arranged a room for Gal's sister when she was 15 years old in the laundry room. She was the happiest teenage girl ever.
I wanted to have my own room all my life. At the age of 16, when my sister left home, I finally had my private room. My younger sisters and I were in such a great relationship at that stage, I stayed with them in their room, which was bigger, until late at night and we did not want to go to sleep so we would not have to say goodbye to each other for the night. I was hardly ever in my own room.
Therefore, it is best to listen to your kids and not assume that they need a private room. Gal and I wanted a private room for each of our children, but they find any excuse they can to "sleep over" in each other's rooms. Tsoof and Noff share a room and feel lonely going to sleep without the other one.
Some parents do not like the idea of locking for safety reasons. Regardless, teach your kids to knock and wait for permission to enter and be a role model. Never enter your kids' (especially teenagers') room without knocking and waiting for permission.
Also, do not go through their things and be very strict about all your children's private things. When one child touches the other one's private thing, be very clear that "we do not touch other people's private things". Again, this is about respect and trust.
You're not the boss of me!
"They're not the boss of me. They can't tell me when to go to sleep or when to come back from a party. I can take care of myself, thank you very much. What do they know about being a teenager today anyway?"
What parents can do
Parents are in charge of the family, but they can be bosses or leaders. The difference for teens is that bosses give orders and do not care about their employees' thoughts and feelings, while leaders set an example and take into consideration everyone's internal motivations and wellbeing. A boss is afraid employees' might find he is not all knowing and a leader knows he is not all knowing and asks his employees' opinions, feelings and support.
Parent from strength and not from weakness. When you are using force, you are weak. Set rules, but be flexible with rules and not too strict about them. When you are unreasonably strict, it is a sign that you are afraid of losing your power if your kids do not follow your rules 100%. It is OK to come late from time to time. You come late from time to time and you survive your own little slip-ups.
Make sure you ask your teens for their opinion, thoughts and feelings. Respect them and tell them you were once a teenager too and you accept that times have changed, because they have, and what was acceptable 25-35 years ago is not acceptable today and vice versa.
Allow your children to have their own feelings and thoughts, They are not extensions of you. If you want them to be little copies of you, it is a sign you are looking to reinforce yourself. Your kids should grow up to be better than you are. Duplicating you will only keep them behind their generation.
My money, my life
"I want to have my own money and to buy my own things. I hate it when my parents tell me what to buy. It's my right to choose my own clothes, make-up and stuff. They're so old they just don't understand anything about fashion."
What parents can do
"Money and teens" is a big issue. While a 9-year-old will manage if you have financial issues, teens find it harder to be seen in public during their parents' financial struggles. Many parents believe that the solution to all their struggles is having lots of money and giving their kids everything they want, but I do not agree with this.
I have always had enough money, but I did not give my kids everything they wanted. I grew up in a house that did not have a lot of money. In fact, I grew up in a very poor family and I do not think I understood what my parents had to go through in order to provide for us. Kids should know! It may not be appropriate to tell them all the details of your financial struggles, but being open and honest about it can help greatly in changing their beliefs about money and about you.
Being dependent on parents for money is not fun. Admit it! It was not fun when you had to ask your parents for money. I do not think this can be avoided completely, but there are ways of giving kids (especially teens) some freedom with money.
I used pocket money as soon as my kids could count (about 3 years old) and the rule in our family is that parents buy the things we need - clothes, school uniforms, shoes, food and groceries - and our kids can do whatever they want with their pocket money. Kids must learn to spend money and they can only do it when they are free to make mistakes. If they use all their money at once on something, they learn the hard way that money does not grow on trees.
Having the money does not give you the right to determine what they will wear. Yes, there are limits, but you are not likely to share their taste and their fashion sense, no matter how much money you have. You can say how much money you are willing to give, you can insist on going shopping with them, you can insist on not buying torn or low-quality clothes, but do not get into fashion arguments. You are about 30 years behind the current teen fashion, so let go! If you insist, they will wear whatever they want as soon as they leave home anyway. Any control you may have now is only temporary, so do not use your money to control them.
Help your teenagers get a part-time job regardless of how wealthy or poor you are and teach them money management. Guide your teenagers gently through making purchasing decisions. Teach, but do not preach!
Everybody has one
"I must have that pair of sneakers/smartphone/game console or I will have no friends and everyone will laugh at me and treat me like an outsider. I can't show my face at a party with this old piece of mobile phone junk. Everyone has Internet connections and unlimited calls and text. Why do I have to be different?"
What parents can do
Being accepted and being cool are the most important things for teenagers. They are just as important for parents of teenagers or they would not get new cars, bigger houses and more impressive job titles. Wanting to be accepted is a high need and it hits its peak during adolescence. If you think it must be painful, you are wrong! There is a great way to make sure your kids never think this way and when it comes up in arguments, there is a great way to reply to it.
Teach your kids that they are special without gadgets. Help them define their identity and keep telling them "Be special. Be yourself". Being unique and independent is a blessing, while continually measuring themselves against others robs them of their freedom.
Noff has no mobile phone, Tsoof does not have a smartphone and my kids do not have never a game console or any other trendy gadget, mainly because they do not need them. When there is a need, we examine it and buy what is suitable and not what is best advertised. We teach our kids that status symbols are a way to pressure us into doing things we would not do otherwise and that many of those things waste our time and our mind.
The latest sneakers are not a need. Basic healthy food is a need. Sleep is a need. Drinking water is a need. Shelter is a need. Clean clothes are a need. Human company is a need. Do not let your teens use the word "need" inappropriately. Teach your kids to focus on what they have and not on what they lack. In fact, you should start when they are 5 years old.
If we do get into an argument and my kids say, "Why do I have to be different?" I answer, "You are different no matter how many gadgets you have. You have lived in different places around the world, you are talented, your mom and dad are still together, you speak two languages, you love your siblings, you are smart, you are friendly, you are sensitive, you love to learn, you are successful - you are different. We have spent a lot of energy to make you different and that's the way we like it". I think they understand.
It may also help to take an honest look at your own buying habits and consider the example you are setting. Actions speak louder than words, especially with teenagers.
Join me next week for the 5 last thoughts teenagers have that make their life hard and create lots of conflicts with their parents, along with what you can do to prevent them from thinking that way and how to eliminate those thoughts if they come up.