What the heck is with all the slagging of teenagers (and young adults) lately? It’s coming from all sides: parenting blogs, magazines, news stories, social media, casual conversations.
Everywhere I turn, it seems I’m running across articles and blog posts about how very difficult it is to live with teens, how they disrespect everything and everyone, how they refuse to grow up, how they dress like what our father used to call “streetwalkers.” They’re angry. They’re hostile. They treat their parents like the live-in help. They are….TEEN-ZILLA!
Teenzilla will eat your head for lunch. Then she will fail to clean up after herself. (Photo: A. Robert)
Usually, these articles contain heartfelt laments about parents trying to live with these terrible teens—sometimes they take a humorous slant, but it’s easy to detect a tone of underlying desperation. Even parents of pre-teens are joining in, seemingly holding their breath in dread anticipation of a decade of parenting hell.
We all know the stereotypes…but are they true?
As a two-time veteran of the teen years, I’m left completely in the dark here. I honestly don’t get what the fuss is about.
And you’ve raised three kids to young adulthood—do you think these so-called “entitled Millennials” are as lazy, privileged, arrogant, and tasteless as they’re being portrayed? In my experience, teens can sometimes be testy and hormonal, but I seem to recall that I might have had a few moments of testy hormonal behaviour myself over the years.
More often, though, I’ve found that the teens I know, including the ones I haven’t given birth to, are interesting, chatty, respectful, delightful people. So how come everyone else seems to hate them?
A gaggle of great teens
Sure, teens are going through a roller-coaster ride of development in the years between puberty and college graduation. They are suddenly aware of their bodies and their sexuality in new ways, they’ve begun to realize that they have the power to decide for themselves how they want to act, and they’re starting to push at the constraints of childhood in ways that make adults—their parents and even strangers—profoundly uncomfortable.
If a parent says, “Ah, but you haven’t met my teen! He (or she) is completely out of control—you wouldn’t believe some of the stuff he (or she) does. It’s taking every ounce of my self-control and energy to keep from bopping him (or her) over the head with a two-by-four, just to get his/her attention!” I won’t argue with them.
But I will wonder what went wrong with that person’s relationship with their kid, such that they now feel so full of anger, so powerless, and so excluded from that child’s life that they can’t imagine a constructive solution.
I don’t believe there’s anything inevitable about the stereotype of the sullen teen. Or the desperate parent, come to that.
I do believe that the seeds of a great teen are sown long before that kid feels those first hormonal proddings. Like Aretha said, it all comes down to R-E-S-P-E-C-T. And wise parents know that respect is a two-way street that originates during the earliest years of their relationship with their child.
Many parents mistake “obedience” for “respect”—they think that as long as their kid does what she’s told, more or less when she’s told to do it, it’s evidence that they’re being respected. But what is obedience really?
I can tell you that when I was a teen I obeyed our parents (mostly)—but I certainly didn’t feel respect for them. I was resentful of their high-handedness, angry that they were both raging alcoholics who wouldn’t seek treatment, and furious that they seemed to view me more as a troublesome nuisance than as a human being with opinions and feelings.
To me, respect means having high expectations of your child, within the constraints of their current stage of development.
- It means understanding that kids are constantly developing, and their developmental needs must be accommodated. We don’t expect 2-year-olds to make their own suppers, and we don’t expect 15-year-olds to go out and earn a living.
- It means being open to their opinions, understanding their point of view, and letting them know that you’re always open to hearing from them.
- It means respecting their privacy, their ability to make choices (even the wrong ones), and their physical and sexual development.
- It means treating your child not necessarily as an equal, but as an individual who has opinions, ideas, and thoughts that you’re interested in hearing and open to considering.
Respect doesn’t mean abdicating responsibility for family decisions. As adults, we retain executive power in our families, but that doesn’t mean we run the place with an iron fist.
- If we model good negotiation and compromise skills, our children learn to negotiate and compromise.
- If we talk to our kids, and listen when they talk to us, they learn how to communicate…with us and others.
- If we take responsibility for our own behaviour as parents, we teach our kids to take responsibility for everything they do and say, to us and others.
- And if we treat kids with openness and respect, we get openness and respect in return.
The equation really is as simple as that.
It’s not rocket science, though I’ll concede that it’s definitely hard work. But the pay-off? We get to go through the teen years living with kids we like, who like us. Kids who ask our opinion before they go out and get that full-leg tattoo. Kids who don’t treat us as the live-in help. Kids who tell us what’s going on in their lives, and are interested in how we think and feel.
Kids who grow into responsible, caring adults, which as I recall was kind of the plan in the first place.