When I was raising my own daughter, sometimes I made parenting gaffs so obviously ridiculous, gave advice so blatantly controlling, or made suggestions so deserving of teen eye rolling, that all I could say to her in the end was, “Well, Audrey, I’m just muddling through this parenting thing as best as I can.”
There’s no rulebook. I’m glad about that, because I see parenting as an expression of our deepest personal and family values. I’ve given confident and hard-learned advice to parents who asked me for it, only to have them aghast and appalled at my insensitivity—“How can you tell me this!”
And I’ve thought: “You asked!” But I know, it’s personal.
My dear doctoral advisor, Dr. Joe Rost (dec.) once reminded me, “Advice is bad news.” Parenting has enough of that to go around, for sure.
Luckily, there is plenty of good news anyway. Read on.
Here are a few of the latest tips from the field. As the school year ages, and we move towards March and the always-needed spring break, you may just be looking for some tips. These tips are hand picked as the ones that tend to support great education in particular. Enjoy (and don’t blame me!):
- Teens go to extraordinary lengths to establish independence and they are vocal about not wanting their parents around.
Wanna buy a bridge? Teens need you around, but they often tell you they don’t. If you listen to them and disappear, it can be extremely discouraging to them. They (often secretly, and also often subconsciously) long for your presence. They want parents and parenting, despite any protestations. However, and this is a big however: They might not want a ton of advice. Presence and your non-judgemental listening are their gold standard. As one expert says, “the same adolescent who laments her parents’ absence might only faintly acknowledge their presence when they are in fact home.” (Lisa Damour)
Research shows higher rates of emotional distress in teenagers who routinely return to empty houses after school or whose parents were rarely at dinner.
I know that those trips to the donut shops or just a drive together in the car, going wherever, are among my strongest memories of my father (who worked long hours).
- Teens need ways to hang out at home in proximity to parents.
I am not going to go into the stories I have heard over the years about kids who grow up in huge houses of the affluent and basically have a wing to themselves—I hope your kids don’t have a wing to themselves. With this knowledge, savvy family homebuilders are now creating floor plans with dedicated areas, such as a nook by the kitchen, a desk area in the mudroom, or an office near the family room, for children to do their homework. Just being nearby and a warm presence is a big help to some students as they get their schoolwork done—even if you know zero math. (Maybe especially if you know zero math: Then you won’t have to give advice.)
- Eye rolling
The drive for autonomy is a central force during adolescence. Taking orders can be especially annoying for teenagers. If you really want your daughter to put on a warmer coat for you rather than give you an eye roll, experts suggest just asking her a legitimate, truly non-threatening question: “When I looked at the weather report, I noticed that it will be dropping down to 30 below zero with gale force winds. Would you be willing to consider a warmer coat for tonight?”
- “Where did you go?”
“What did you do?”
The teen years can be taxing. High school presents many pressures not present in elementary years. So when you ask, “How was school today?” your teen might be hearing and interpreting your question as this:
“Hey, why don’t you list all the tedious things you went through today?” Not so motivational.
So ask about something specific: “How did the physics project go?” “Did Jimmy and Suzie make up today?” And if you get an answer from your teen on that one, do not, I repeat, do NOT attempt to solve your teen’s problems. When they finally open up to you, they are looking for genuine proof that you understand. Normally, that’s all. Just understanding and acknowledgement. And that’s good news. (Advice …is bad news—at least if it’s unsolicited.)
Put a sign up on your wall that reads: “My teen just needs to be understood—he needs to solve his own problems.” Teens don’t want you to fix them.
(This approach to parenting is easy for teachers like me to recommend, because it is not too far from the method of great teachers. Being Socratic entails probing genuinely of our students so that they have the opportunity to clarify their own thinking—we know they are up to this clarifying, and so we do not do it for them. Sparing our teens from our great but unsolicited words of wisdom may be our highest wisdom! Our whole culture is shifting to a more student-centered, technology-infused, collaborative culture of teaching and learning. So, why not ask: How is this being reflected in our home and family?)
Getting into a power struggle with a teen is a generally bad move for any teacher or parent (unless drug abuse or mental illness is indicated). Experts identify four different conflict styles teens mainly use: attacking, withdrawing, complying and problem solving.
If your teen is relying upon the first two, he/she is more likely to fight depression, anxiety or some form of delinquency.
If your teen is compliant, it might be good: But beware of passive compliance, which can indicate a mood disorder.
Teenagers who use problem solving to address disputes with their parents present tend to enjoy the sturdiest psychological health.
Expert say that “good fights” happen when teenagers consider arguments from both sides, and bad fights happen when they don’t. Thankfully, the intellectual capacity to consider multiple outlooks is blooming in the teen years.
Note to parents: if you can clearly show understanding of your teen’s point of view, you not only help them clarify that point of view, but you vastly increase the odds they will be willing to consider your point of view.
But when you respond to a behavior with a quick: “No way!” as we all do from time to time when confronted with an old issue, the response could be a teen who digs in his heels or rolls her eyes.
We’re all different. So when it comes to parenting, nothing quite beats Steven Covey’s Rule #5: Seek first to understand. Seeking first to understand is sort of a price of admission you need to pay before being understood.
And, to sum up, here is the good news: Disagreements are not always such bad news. Many disagreements give parents and teens the opportunity to help one another understand themselves and others. When we set out genuinely to clarify our own thinking, those around us are much more likely to collaborate.
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