As you know, teens are very close to my heart. At the age of 16, I decided it was time for people to change their attitude towards teens if they want them to change their attitude towards their life and the adults in their life. I was a bit shocked to realize that the relationship I had with my parents from an early age had led us into constant conflict during my teen years.
Until that point, I thought all teens hated their parents and that all parents lost their kids’ respect and trust in their teen years. I knew that having such thoughts did not help teens or parents.
Yet, even during conflicts with my parents (and I had many of those), I knew deep inside that I did not hate them and that they cared about me very much. This belief took me out of a world of conflict into a world of good relationships with my parents all the way to being the parent I am today to my two teens.
The understanding I gained at the age of 16 (lucky me, it happened when I was young) is what makes my kids hear every day of their life how much they are loved and, believe it or not, they also express their love to me every day. Yes, every day!
I think one of the reasons teens find themselves lonely and unable to approach their parents for help is because there is a leak in the communication between them and their parents.
It starts long before they become teenagers. Many parents communicate to their teens in ways they hate when they become teens, but they do not think of new, creative ways to communicate. Remember this:
If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten
If you have a great relationship with your teen – keep doing what you do.
If you have a challenging relationship with your teen – it is time to make some changes.
Teenagers have been asked about the attitudes of their parents that are the source of their bad relationships. It was amazing that they all expressed the same frustrations, same difficulties, same attitudes they hate. To them, all parents were the same.
When I read this report, I felt like defending all the parents of teens. The thought we are “the same” is the most insulting feeling for parents and I am sure that if you are a regular reader of this blog, you feel the same.
Out of their input came this list. The list of things you should not do, if you do not want them to categorize you as “just another parent of teens”. I decided to present it as a course for losing your teens (hence the “101” in the title), but you get the drift, right?
Step #1 to losing your teens – Preaching
One major complaint teens have is that parents preach. Parents preach when they are worried. They believe they can prevent their kids from failing, from falling down, from hurt and disaster but in fact, this translates into patronizing. When you preach, your teens think you are saying, “I know things better than you”. Parents are not there to tell their kids what to do. They are there to love. For teens, preaching is the opposite of love.
When you communicate with your teens and you hear yourself preaching, restate your message as a caring, forward-facing statement that first of all ensures they know you love them.
Step #2 to losing your teens – Nagging
Another thing that turns every teen off is parents’ nagging. If you want your kids to do something and they choose not to do it, but you keep putting pressure on them to do it, you are not respecting the choices they make.
How can you ask your kids to be responsible and make smart choices if you are keep teaching them to do what you have pressured them to do, just because you are a persistent nagger?
If you think it is valid to follow other people’s pressure, do not complain when your kids choose to do things their friends put a pressure on them to do.
When you hear yourself saying, “How many times did I tell you”, recognize you are nagging. They have heard you loud and clear. Saying things hundreds of times is not the answer. If there are things you want to keep saying (I am sure you do) say them without the stress. Stay calm and restate your message in a positive way, such as “I think it is wonderful you hang out with Josh. He is a responsible kid” instead of “I hate it when you hang out with Mike. I told you a hundred times that Mike is a bad influence on you”.
Step #3 to losing your teens – Conditional love
One of the attitudes that set teens off is conditional love. Many teens believe their parents only love them if they follow the rules. This attitude is extremely dangerous for teens because it makes them do many things, even things that will hurt them, to gain their parents’ love and attention. The extension of this belief is that for me to gain love in life, I need to follow other people’s rules.
It is amazing that teens are convinced they do not get hugs, smiles or attention because they did not do what their parents wanted them to do. Those kids struggle between obeying and feeling loved, while neglecting their own ideas and thoughts, and walking their own path and being rejected. In this dilemma, they are doomed to lose, regardless of what they choose to do.
As a parent, surely you love your kids regardless of their behavior. You love them not matter what. They want to know that! Hug your teens, kiss them, smile at them and give them attention regularly. Let your teens know you love them. Teens who know they are loved even when they fail, fail less.
Step #4 to losing your teens – Constant criticism
Kids grow with love and encouragement. Some parents think they need to tell their kids what is wrong with them in hope of “improving them” and making life easy for them. “Why didn’t you get an ‘A’ on your exam?” “Why can’t you be like other kids?” “A kid your age should not be looking like this”.
While kids still depend on their parents for encouragement and support, teens will easily give up that dependency and look for encouragement somewhere else. When they need encouragement, they are subject to influence you do not necessary want them to have. In this emotional state, they can be easily encouraged to drink, use drugs, do illegal things or have unsafe sex.
Teens who think they need constant “improvement” start thinking of themselves as defective or broken. This feeling greatly damages their self-esteem and makes their life harder and more complicated.
If you find yourself wanting to improve your teens, stop and think. Do you really think they need constant fixing? Have you done such a bad job for 12 to 20 years that nothing has turned out well?
Join me in two weeks for Losing Your Teens 102.
And if you want to know more about how teens think, read my book Be Special, Be Yourself for Teenagers.
Happy “parenteeng” (parenting your teens),