What are the most important lessons you've learned from raising and parenting teenagers? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Answer by Julie Timmer, author of Mrs. Saint and the Defectives and other novels:
Here's what I've learned about parenting teens:
- When teens are feeling down, they want you to listen, not lecture. I used to suffer from "teachable moment" syndrome as a parent--i.e., no matter the situation, I would always looked for the moral lesson and tried to impart it. My daughter would come home from school and report she'd been the victim of some mean-girl behaviour, and I'd whip out my lecture about how "hurt people hurt people" and the kids picking on her had low self-esteem themselves, and that's why they were trying to drag her down, and blah blah blah. But what my daughter really wanted was for me to hear her talk about how bad her day had been. She didn't want or need me to advise her about the psychological makeup of her tormentors. She needed me to be quiet and listen, and maybe to say, "Oh man, that's awful," or "That must have felt terrible for you" every now and then. Once I learned to zip it and listen, I found my teens confided in me a lot more. There's a time to get out all the moral lessons we're dying to impart, and there's a time to shut up and listen.
- Teens have a strong sense of justice; respect that, and respect them. I found that when my children morphed from young kids to teens, they immediately lost all respect for, "Because I'm the mom, that's why." Sometimes, that might be the only answer, and the right one, but there are countless times we parents tend to pull that out in a knee jerk manner instead of explaining our decisions, listening to our teens' input, respecting that they might have an idea that's better than ours, and considering a compromise of some kind. I found that the more willing I was to explain my reasoning behind my decisions, to listen respectfully to my teens' opinions about why I should consider a different decision, and to back down when I honestly thought their reasoning was sound, the more willing they were to obey whatever the final decision was, about that rule and every other. (I don't mean to suggest I let them talk me into changing rules as a means of making them follow rules. My kids will tell you I'm the strictest parent they know, and I had no problems holding them to rules, and no need to bribe them by making the rules easier. I only mean that if they had a valid point that one of my rules or decisions was overly restrictive or seemed unfair, I was willing to listen, to admit they might have a better idea than I did, and to adjust my rules accordingly.) The other thing my willingness to negotiate did was teach them how to voice their differing opinions respectfully. I made it clear I would not argue about rules with a teen who was sarcastic or rude, but I would happily discuss rules with a teen who was mature and respectful.
- Teens will, to a large extent, become who you say they are. If you treat your teens like untrustworthy hoodlums who can't be left alone in the house for fear they'll have a raging party or burn the place down, they will become some version of that person. If instead you treat them like mature, honest, capable people, they will act that way. There are exceptions of course, but I found that thinking highly of my teens and making it clear to them that I thought that way about them led to a virtual circle of them acting in a manner that corroborated my thoughts about them.