In the last three weeks, I gave you a sneak peek into teenagers’ minds. Many parents say to me, “If I only knew what’s happening in their mind…” and I think they have only forgotten what was on their mind when they were teens, or maybe they have forgotten the struggles their friends had during the toughest periods of their life – adolescence.
Here are the last 5 typical teenager thoughts and tips to prevent or eliminate them.
I prefer to be alone
“Thank God they are going away this weekend. I can have the house to myself. I can watch TV as much as I like, play the computer as much as I like and eat whatever I want. Freedom at last!”
What parents can do
When kids reach the teen years, they loves to be on their own sometimes and it is normal and healthy for them to be on their own. Even bringing a babysitter to stay with them (to take care of the other kids, of course) can give them that sense of freedom and it is not a sign of your good or bad parenting.
Having an evening when they can do something different is very attractive to teenagers and as a parent, you need to provide them with opportunities for such time. I remember myself at the age of 15 having the time of my life when my parents were away for the weekend. I did all the same things I did when they were there, but it felt better. On evenings when they went out, we played hide and seek in the dark and I still have wonderful memories of those special days.
When kids are young, have an evening a week away from home. Go to the movies or meet friends, just leave the house and let them know they have the house for themselves so they can plan what to do. Our kids order pizza some evenings or make their own dinner, they walk to the local shops to bring a movie, they play on the computer a bit longer and listen to music in full volume. They bake or go to have dinner outside and they have a wonderful bonding time together.
It is OK if they do not join all your weekend activities and you will find that your time away is a very happy occasion for your teens. It is not losing power but giving and gaining respect. Remember to set the rules about bedtime or having friends over (we do not allow our kids to invite friends over when we are not home for safety reasons, because if there is a child in our house, we are responsible for them in the eyes of the law and we obviously cannot be responsible if we are not there).
I’m better than my parents
“I’m much smarter than my dad. He was not that smart when he was my age. That’s a shame. He no longer can help me.”
What parents can do
This is life. Kids today are smarter than their parents were and it is better not to fight it and try to show them you are smarter. However, although you may not be smarter, you are wiser, so it is not true you cannot help them. Your love, your experience, your years of practice and your caring are the greatest ways anyone can help and you will be able to give them for a long time.
Stop pretending to be “all knowing”. You are not! When your teens ask you something and you do not know the answer, say, “I don’t know the answer for this, but I’ll help you find it”. My kids are very musical and all play musical instruments. I do not know how to read music (I once asked them to teach me to play a piano piece – you can see my first piano concert). Since they were young (for Tsoof, since he was 5 years old), they cannot ask my help with their music, but I consider myself a wonderful helper with their musical adventures. I sit with them, listen when they play, enjoy it, praise them, take them to and from rehearsals and private lessons. You do not have to play music to help your kids with music and you do not have to know math to help them with their math homework.
If a child needs help, learn to admit that you do not know, but always be willing to help them find the answer or the solution. Being there for them is the smartest thing you can do.
Time to leave
“I don’t think like them anymore. I don’t agree with anything they say. Maybe it’s the end of our relationship. We can’t live in the same house when they say one thing and I say the opposite. That’s no way to live together. Maybe it’s time for me to leave.”
What parents can do
Thinking differently is no reason to leave, but when teens reach a point when there are too many conflicts, they may do anything to avoid them. Many parents instill this thought in kids’/teens’ mind in two ways.
- When they divorce or separate, they give the child the message that there is a point in time when there are too many arguments and it is better to say goodbye. There is no way around it. Every separation, even if it is done in the best way possible, will plant the seed of “Too hard means no love and goodbye” (most of the time, it is “badbye”).
- When parents use their position to control the child and send them conditional messages, like “To get my love and appreciation, you need to be successful at school/smart/sporty/do what I tell you/agree with me/obey my instructions, etc”, then the kids think that agreement = love and therefore disagreement means there is no love.
Many adults are still in this position, trying to please their own parents to get over this feeling. So, this belief is very heavy to carry and teens carry it to adulthood. Try to make sure your relationships are not full of conditions. A rule of thumb: if you talk too much about discipline, you are parenting with conditions.
I look horrible
“My skin is not the same as it was before. I looked in the mirror for hours and I don’t know what to do. Kids make fun of my freckles/pimples. I wish I could find a way to hide it.”
What parents can do
No teenager’s skin is ever the same as they were during childhood, so this is a very natural feeling and it is not easy to cope with, especially during the teenage years, when so much stuff happens at once.
Be there for your teens when they experience physical changes during their teen years and share with them your own experience to help them understand this is only temporary. Teens think that the way they look may be the end of the world. Realizing their parents have gone through the same thing can help them relax about it.
Never undermine a child who feels bad about their skin and appearance. Help them find solutions. Eating healthy food is a wonderful solution and making sure the house is free from food that damages the skin (white flour products, sweets, sugary drinks and junk food) will be highly appreciated by teens.
Never make fun of your children and do your best to help your kids find the right food and supplements to help with their skin problems. It can help a lot and teens may not be able to buy it for themselves.
What are they hiding?
“Every time I ask them about their childhood, they avoid answering. I think they are hiding things from me. If they hide things from me, I will hide things from them.”
What parents can do
Teens are very sensitive to those around them. 40% of them are kinesthetic in their communication style, so they are even more sensitive than others. Hiding things from them jeopardizes the trust you are trying to build with them. When they ask questions about your childhood, they are trying to form their identity by learning about you, your desires, faults, talents, experiences, knowledge, strategies, values and fears. The more related your stories are to the way they feel, the more they will be open to sharing theirs with you.
When teens get the feeling you might be hiding something from them, their mind goes into full-speed search for what horrible secrets you are keeping from them. I agree that it is not suitable to tell your kids everything that goes on in your mind, but be open and share stories about your childhood in a way that is appropriate for the developmental stage of the child.
Lying is not recommended either, because by the teen years, your kids know you well enough to tell when you are lying. Sharing both beautiful and ugly stories from your childhood can be a wonderful lesson in values and learning.
Last year, I had a talk with my son Tsoof, who was 15 years old then, about success at school. I had talked for years about my own bad school experiences, but they had not sunk in, because he was shocked when I told him I had been kicked out of school at the end of 10th Grade (not to worry, I went straight back in and got a scholarship for excellence the year after).
Hiding something from kids is very heavy. Sometimes, it makes it harder to cope. If you want them to share things with you, share your things with them and if they share with you something you are not happy about, make sure you still express your appreciation for the trust and the honesty. Remember, it is better if they come and tell you when something is wrong than if they do not. Be a role model.
If your teens blame you for all their troubles in life, remember to say that no matter how much grief they give you, you would not replace them for the world and that your love to them does not change even if they do things you are not happy with.
Another thing you can do is to sit down in a quiet place, take a deep breath, relax and remember how your life was during your teenage years.