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Having teens forces you to dig deep and remember how tumultuous your own teen years were. At times I feel my cheeks redden at the mistakes I made—like the way I acted around that older boy I had a crush on, or the way I talked to my science teacher (that I didn't care for at all) in the eighth grade.
When my three teens come to me with an issue, or something they've done, said, or are struggling with is brought to my attention by a teacher, I want nothing more than to help them.
I am a few years into this parenting teens business and often try and get advice because, let’s face it, we need all the help we can get. Not just from friends and adults who have parented teens, but I've found I need help in the form of books written by experts. Listening to podcasts is a great tool, and talking to my kids' therapists or counselors has been huge.
Then there’s piece of advice I've heard over and over should be avoided, and I still catch myself doing it despite that fact it isn't helpful to my kids at all: Sharing stories from when I was a teen.
I know it seems normal and natural. We want them to know they aren't alone and that we have been where they are now and that there was a time when we felt awkward and insecure. We struggled with peer pressure, wanting to fit in. We had trouble sticking up for ourselves and went along with the crowd, too. We dabbled in things like alcohol, drugs, sex, and skipping school. We were not perfect, but we got through it and now know our bad decisions didn't help us.
In short, we’d like our kids to learn through our mistakes.
But looking back, I remember how much it annoyed me when my mom did it to me and that it kept me kept me from telling her things. I feel when we do this with our kids we are deflecting their situation. They don't want to hear about the struggles we had with boyfriends or girlfriends in the 10th grade. They don't necessarily care that someone spread a nasty rumor about us or that we struggled to keep our grades up while playing sports and we did this, that, and the other to fix it.
The need to have their own experiences, make their own mistakes, and learn all on their own.
If your teen comes to you with something going on in their lives, or you approach them about something you have concerns over (which is often the case), they want to talk about their situation and how to fix it. They don't want to talk about you and your high school years unless they specifically ask you about them.
I'm finally catching on. To them, it's the same feeling you get when you are talking to a friend or family member about a conflict you are having, and they bust in with a similar story about themselves.
Perhaps they are trying to help but it makes you feel like you are shrinking, and they aren't interested in listening or hearing about your situation at all—it’s all about them.
Also, my kids have reminded me time and time again when I was a teenager in the late '80s and '90s things were so different, and they are right on.
We didn't have the constant contact with friends.
We went home after school or practice, and we had a break. Sure, we could talk on the phone, but there wasn't the constant, in-your-face presence of your classmates and friends like there is today with Instagram and Snapchat.
The expectations weren't so high.
There is a lot more expected of our teens today. They are graded differently; the workload definitely seems much bigger; and sports are a lot more competitive. Not to mention there wasn't a place to view a list of students who made the honor roll at a click of a button.
I have no idea what it is like to be a teenager today, except through the small window my kids provide, but I am not them living their life. Whenever I think an unsolicited story from my glory days will "help" them figure things out, I stop myself.
They’re not just living their life but also developing their own identities that are often completely separate from that of their parents. Experts have discussed this in articles on Psychology Today, the National Center for Youth Issues, and more.
I know this to be true because whenever I try and relate to my teens by going back to my teen years, I realize it does no good. I can practically hear their eyeballs roll when I start. It makes them feel as though I’m not listening.
One way to get your teen to talk to you
Sometimes, parents try too hard because we so badly want to have open communication with our teens. One expert says simply seeking their advice is a good way to get them warm up to the idea of sharing with you:
“Try sharing something from your own day” said Van Achterberg, founder of Capitol Hill Child Psychiatry, in a Washington Post article on parenting pitfalls. He suggests saying something like: “The weirdest thing happened at work today, and I couldn’t figure out what to do about it.” Achterberg says statements like this “can lead to a conversation in which your teen may be empowered to share advice with you, a wonderful state of affairs for their confidence and your connection.” A little vulnerability on your part can go a long way, he continued.
I want to help them as much as possible and I've found that listening to them, watching very closely (teens can be so darn quiet about what's going on in their head), and asking them what support looks like to them in that moment, then doing the exact thing they need is more helpful than me telling them about how I told by best friend off during lunch my senior year and how I had to eat crow and beg for forgiveness and it was the best thing for our friendship.
Besides, if I really want to dig up my past, I can chat with old friends, share memories on Facebook, or think about all the silly, senseless stuff I used to do and keep it to myself.