Many years ago I did an informal survey with about one hundred Year Ten students in Brisbane, Australia. I asked them to give their parents some advice. I had no idea what they would come up with and assumed they would say things like – let us go out more, don’t have rules for the computer and give us less homework! Admittedly, some of them did, but others gave me some really insightful answers.
I felt like there was a moment of real honesty amongst the group that day. I am not sure I could repeat the same atmosphere again or invoke the depth of thought that happened. It was a special time. Towards the end of the program the students and I had a laugh about sending their answers to their parents. They were hugely enthusiastic as they felt it would help their relationship with them immensely.
I have included the group’s answers below, as I believe they truly represent the desires of most teenagers. These are desires that teenagers don’t often articulate well. They are things they would love you to know but would prefer not to tell you. Each one of them is equally important and a big key into your teenager’s world.
Point 1: Accept that I am a Teenager
Everyone feels safe when they can be themselves. Teenagers need plenty of room be ‘teen like’ without being judged or criticised. It is normal for teenagers to talk about the same problems day after day, malfunction when they are hungry or tired, obsess over their social life and make a drama out of nothing. Although these behaviours may be frustrating for parents they can’t be disciplined away. Try not to criticise behaviours that are a normal part of your teenager’s stage of development, and for your own sake try not to focus on them.
Point 2: Acknowledge my Feelings
The emotions that your teenager feels will be far more intense than yours. Even if you think you remember what it ‘feels’ like to be their age, remember to times it by two to compensate for the memory loss! Expect extreme language as they verbalise their feelings and needs. Try not to trivialize their feelings. Their problems may appear small through adult eyes but they can be gigantic in their world.
Point 3: Don’t make Assumptions
Teenagers are constantly changing and therefore you can’t assume what they will think from one day to the next. Their ideas are far more flexible than most adults. As you approach each new day ASK…never assume. Don’t assume the worst, or even the best. If your teenager’s viewpoint disappoints you, take comfort in the fact that it could be all different tomorrow. Teenagers often say to me, “My parents always assume they know what I am thinking when they don’t.” It really seems to bother them and can be a big contributor to a breakdown in communication.
Point 4: Treat Me the Same Every Day
This point is a big ask of parents. Teenagers need to know that even after they have ranted and raved, slammed the door and refused to come home, you will treat them with respect and love them as consistently as you did the day before. During their worse moments teenagers need to feel the same unconditional love you gave them when they were angels. Of course the consequences must change in response to their choices, but your value of them shouldn’t shift.
Point 5: Give me a Fair Amount of Freedom
Can you believe they said this?! They said they wanted freedom (what teenager wouldn’t) but they wanted a fair amount of freedom. They also wanted their parents to protect them. You are the only one who can set absolute limits for your teenager’s life. This is one thing that other mentor figures can’t provide your teenager with. Teenagers who know that their parents will say ‘no’ when necessary feel a great sense of safety. Don’t be scared to pull in the rope when you need to, they will thank you in time.
Point 6: Don’t Tell the World my Problems
A safe person is someone that teenagers can turn to for a sense of security in their lives. There is nothing safe about hearing your parents talk (or heaven forbid laugh) about your problems or life experiences with friends or family. If a teenager knows you are going to pass on their private information to someone else they may think twice about speaking to you.
Teenagers want so many things from the adults in their life. However, I believe these six things are the most fundamental and sensible requests I have ever heard from a group of teenager’s mouths. If you are ever lost for what to do with your teenager, I’d suggest simply coming back to these six things as a starting point
THANK YOU to everyone who has been passing these blog posts on, and for all your kind emails about their impact on your family. If you have a topic you would like me to blog about email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will respond to it as soon as I can.
If you would like to book me to speak at your school or community event email email@example.com.
MOST IMPORTANTLY if your teenager needs support from a psychologist, counsellor or mentor Youth Excel would love to help. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What Teenage Girls Don’t Tell their Parents is available at www.michellemitchell.org for $24.95 plus postage.
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