Teenagers are in the most manipulative years of their development. It's a scary time for parents and can be a battle of wills just trying to "do what's best for them." How can we ensure that they'll learn the value of respect? That they'll achieve all that they're capable of achieving? It's a difficult relationship to manage, but the most important thing to give them is a stable sense of trust. Unfortunately, here are some ways we teach our teens the opposite:
1. We betray their privacy
It's difficult to go from raising them as infants and managing every aspect of their lives to giving them space as teens. They're individuals now, so you should respect their privacy. If you break that boundary by snooping through their personal belongings, journals and cell phone (whether you pay for it or not), you'll only make them get better at hiding themselves from you. That shouldn't be the end goal. Like any good relationship, you have to trust them in order for them to trust you too.
Boundaries mean knowing where the line is and where you both stand. It's confusing and detrimental to hold somebody to an expectation that they're not even aware of. Speak up. Let them know what you expect of them and let them tell you what they expect of you. Teach them how to create boundaries with others. This contract you have with them is only fair if you make it clear and abide by it.
3. We don't assume authority
Being a parent is a delicate dance. On one hand, we want to be the authority figure, the disciplined teacher, the bad cop. Yet on the other, we want to be their confidant, their patient ear, their friend. The problem is you can't -- and shouldn't -- always be both.
It's not easy to discipline somebody you love, but it's essential to building their character. Don't take the lazy route and just hang out with your child- consistently guide them instead. You can still be their friend and relate with them but don't let them off the hook when it counts.
4. We don't know them
Teenagers are constantly changing people, so it can be difficult to truly know who they are or are becoming, but it can be a massive slight if you don't pay enough attention.
How would you feel if someone close to you revealed that they didn't really know what mattered to you? Odds are you won't remember everything, but actively listen when they talk to you. Don't just mindlessly say, "Uh-huh," and "That's great, dear." Know who they are as individuals.
5. We shame them
When we react emotionally to our teens it can cut deep. They're growing and learning right from wrong usually be experimenting, testing the limits or simply stumbling into them. They're dealing with internal struggles about body image, acceptance and self.
By all means, call them out when they've done wrong, but discuss with them why it was wrong and ask them what they should have done instead. Relate with them and share stories of your own teenage struggle and growth.
Normalize who they are instead of shaming them: their sexual curiosity, their bodies, their stress, depression or anything else they're going through. Life can be messy and difficult, but if we face the reality of it - which is that we're all struggling with similar and different things - and let them know that it's OK and that we understand because we're people too, it can go a long way.
Our anxieties, world views and biases tend to get (unfortunately) passed down to our children. In the end, we are usually their first and longest lasting role models. Parents aren't perfect, but the best thing we can do is try to better ourselves. Telling them, "Do what I say, not what I do" isn't likely to be very effective in the long run.
Success in life, love and career is often dependent on relationships. The relationship we build with our teens sets the stage for most -- if not all -- of their future relationships. It's far better to make it a healthy, open and honest one, don't you think?