Monday, September 08, 2008

More on Raising Teens

This past weekend we had some company over and the woman was describing some difficulty she was having with one of her teenage sons. The lad had taken to wearing all black, with the hip chain and dyed his hair jet black. She told us how she put him in his place.

"I told him how he and all his friends are trying so hard to be different that they all end up looking the same anyway!"

It's an innocent enough statement, but what struck me was the tone of contempt in her voice. She seemed proud that she had struck a telling blow on the teen.

Another mother was describing how her 17 year old daughter had spent the summer lazing around, wouldn't follow the rules and was now trying to move in with one of her friends. One friend had bailed on her, so she was trying a different one. This mother told me how she was coming down hard on her daughter.

"I told her, if this doesn't work out, then she'd have to come back home and live by the rules. It's time she straightened up her act!"

Now my boys are only 12 and almost-14, so I have hardly any experience raising teenagers, but both of these cases saddened me. They feel hard, and cold. In the first case, I feel that the boy's need to figure out who he is should be respected. In the second case, the girl should have an opportunity to negotiate what her rules and responsibilities at home will be.

I recently had a talk with Luke (Mr. Almost-14) because he kept acting contemptuously of me because I didn't know his favourite cereal, or which books he'd already read. I told him this:

"Luke, you're right, I don't know you. You're growing up and discovering who you are. I won't know about you unless you choose to tell me. So please don't disrespect me if I don't have all the answers. Instead, talk to me."

Luke understood this and he agreed with it. Though he kind of laughed at the idea of talking with me. ;-)

I read Barbara Coloroso's Kids Are Worth It! when my children were babies and I think that's where I get my ideas about how to raise my teens. My role as a parent is to guide them, not make their choices, to protect them from their own lack of judgment, and to give them responsibilities to live up to in proportion to the freedoms they earn.

Check in with me in 4 years. Let's see if I can hold to it.


  1. You'll hold onto it... it sounds like you and your kids have a loving and respectful relationship, and it will survive even the teen years.

    My experience has been that the nasty, confrontational kind of relationships you encountered are usually based on parents who have a need to be the center of attention, or a best buddy, or the smartest smart-aleck.... instead of being a parent.

    It's a tough job, but I agree with you that love and (mutual) respect is the key.

  2. You're very right - the contempt is the soul killing undercurrent that speaks so much louder than the content of the words. I haven't allowed it to infiltrate my marriage, and I hope I never allow it a place in my relationship with my children. Sadly, that element of contempt in family relationships seems to be a stereotypical societal assumption that needs active challenging.

  3. Wow. That first story really struck a chord with me. Parents don't seem to realize how much harm they can do by this kind of criticism. I'm in my late 30s and I'm still struggling with trying to be who I am and trying to please others by being something else. Sad.

  4. I was blessed than neither of my kids were challenges. Both were a delight even as teenagers. Yet I had friends who loved their kids every bit as much and who had nothing but trouble.

    I think part of it is the luck of the draw.

    But one thing I did notice over the years - we didn't 'send' the kids places as did many of our contemporaries - we 'took' them. They gradually developed independent interests and pursuits which supplemented rather than replaced their family life. The transition to adulthood was relatively seamless.

  5. I would say, judging by the problems they're having already, that those two parenting styles don't work. If they did, the kids wouldn't be rebelling.

    I hate contempt. It does as much damage as any other form of abuse. I had a great deal of it from my Mother growing up, and now my sisters. It's the most demeaning thing you can do to another person. It took my years to heal from the damage it caused.

    I have worked very hard to keep contempt out of my own family life. I love my Sweet Hubby and my 2 daughters and treat them with love and RESPECT. Respect is way better than contempt any day. So far, my daughters are turning out wonderful. (They're in their 20's now)

    I commend you for your parenting goals. You will do just fine, and your kids are very lucky to have you.

  6. Wow! Makes me glad my kids are all grown up. The one thing I do remember from having boys is that the 'troubles' begin much later than for girls. That male slow-maturity thing

  7. Thank you thank you thank you for your wisdom. My kids are much smaller, but we've been struggling with some issues lately, and your tone with your children is inspirational. Thank you again.

  8. You are such a good mom!

    When you write posts like this one I have my 15-yo dd read them and she always agrees with me. We have great discussions about your parenting techniques.

    Thank you! --syl

  9. Anonymous8:56 pm

    I was a kid of parents like that... It was the 'my way or highway' philosphy, and I got turfed out at 13. I have to say, we have no relationship at all now, and it's been 20 years.

    I believe it's a learned behavior, and that's why it's so prevalent. A contemptuous parent teaches a child to be a contemptuous parent. If we don't stop to think about how we raise kids - it'll never change. The other reason I believe it's so prevalent is because raising kids is stressful, and we don't learn when we're stressed out. It's an awful cycle. Thank god there are people like you out there raising children with respect and thought.

  10. Around 15 or so, I remember telling my mother that if she wanted me to act like an adult she should treat me like one. She would never tell her friends "No because I said so". It really changed our relationship from that point forward. (It of course backfired the moment I behaved like a 5 year old, lol) Having raised them from infancy, it can be hard for a parent to recognize that teens are more like adults than toddlers. And that they will most likely live up or down to a parent's expectations.

    I think how you handled the situation with Luke was the right way. To return inkind with contempt only creates more. A respectful conversation is the only way to encourage the same.

  11. Anonymous10:25 pm

    You know, I had a son who wore nothing but black and had that "goth" look. I didn't like it. So, I knit him the "skully" sweater from stitch n bitch. It's hard to be too goth when your mommy knits you a special sweater. He still loves it, and has outgrown that phase. We love him for who he is. shelly