There’s a mythic nature to the teenage years. I currently have four teenagers, and whenever I share that, people typically get wide-eyed and say something like, “I’m so sorry.” In many ways, that sentiment is understandable. The teenage years can be rocky. But dealing with real teens also can be a lot of fun. It’s helpful to parse out teen myths from teen reality—and to empower our teens by expecting more from them.
When I say “expect more,” I don’t mean we need to set some kind of achievement goal, as in “you should get ‘A’s” or “you should be on the starting squad.” Instead, we need to believe that our kids are actually capable of taking responsibility for themselves and others and of living with compassion. We need to stop believing these 3 destructive myths.
1. Teenagers are selfish.
Yes, teenagers are self-focused. They are discovering who they are, what they’re interested in, how their bodies are developing, what they value. So it’s appropriate and understandable that they would need to think about themselves a lot. But that’s different than being selfish. I’ve found that the teens I know can be some of the most compassionate, empathetic, and caring people. Often, the difference between a selfish teen and a compassionate one is the adults in his or her life. Compassionate teens have adults in their lives who believe they are actually amazing human beings who are full of potential.
Teenagers need adults who believe in them. Ask them to help around the house. Expect them to be kind to their siblings. Don’t tolerate rudeness simply because they’re teens. Involve them in activities that foster compassion and care for others (community service, spiritual community, etc.). Self-interested and selfish are not the same thing. Believe that your teen is capable of more and you might be pleasantly surprised.
2. Teenagers are lazy.
Teens do need lots of sleep and ensuring they are getting enough is important to their overall mental and physical well-being. However, that’s different than lazy. Teens actually can be incredibly industrious when they are motivated to be. However, we often see them slouched over their devices, lying around the house and we shrug our shoulders or yell at them without helping them think through how to make better choices. (And to be fair, we often have to look up from our devices even to notice they are attached to theirs.)
Empower your teens by believing they are capable of more.Empower your teens by believing they are capable of more. Your teens can make their own beds. Require them to help make dinner on occasion. Create a chore chart and expect everyone to participate. Talk with your teens about the fact that they are part of your family and, as such, these responsibilities are theirs as much as they are yours. Don’t get me wrong. They’ll complain, especially at first. But that’s another opportunity to teach them—about the value of a good attitude.
Outside the home, find activities that align with their interests and encourage them to participate. Recently, we found a local shelter for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault that has a garden. One of our teenage daughters enjoys gardening. We talked with her about how she could use her interests to make an impact at the shelter and walked her through how to get started. What interests does your teenager have? How might you help direct him or her toward meaningful work that makes an impact both in your teen and in your community?
3. Teenagers are disrespectful.
If your teenager is consistently disrespectful, it’s time to look in the mirror. Sure, all teenagers push boundaries and talk back and rebel in some way. But if your teens are consistently rude to you or others, it’s likely because you are letting them be. Don’t be afraid to set consequences for their behavior. Often, the behaviors we abhor are the ones we unconsciously are reinforcing. Have the courage to discipline your children.
At the same time, something deeper may be going on. If you believe your teens are capable of more but they choose to be disrespectful, it should send up a flag. Perhaps they’re feeling anxious or frustrated. Their disrespect actually may be an invitation to ask about what is going on below the surface. There are few things as empowering as knowing people believe you are capable of more. Give this gift to your teenagers.
Sound off: Are there any other myths out there about teenagers? Which ones do you find most destructive?
Huddle up with your teenagers and ask, “What myths do you believe are out there about teenagers? Why do you think these myths exist?”