In the 23 plus years I’ve worked with teenagers, one of the main issues I’ve helped them work through is difficulties in their relationships with their parents. While there are exceptional circumstances, I find that most teenagers want a good relationship with their parents and most parents want a good relationship with their teenagers.
But sadly, both sides spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to do it. Hearing others’ stories has shown me some of the barriers parents create between themselves and their kids. Here are 5 mistakes parents make with teenagers—mistakes all dads should avoid.
1. Treat them like kids.
At my house, there’s a 10-year gap between my oldest and youngest children. While we’re pretty lucky they all get along, there’s a huge difference between being four, or eight, or a teenager. One of the most natural mistakes parents make with teenagers is not respecting that difference. It’s important to offer older kids privileges not afforded to younger ones, like staying up late. It’s also important to have higher and specific boundaries for teens, like a specific set of chores a younger kid cannot do. Our teenagers need to see that we trust them with more and expect more from them than their younger siblings.
2. Be a helicopter parent.
From the moment I first held each of my kids, I’ve felt an instinct to protect them from pain, heartache, and failure. And this instinct is a good thing—particularly when we use it to protect them from recklessness or the harmful actions of others. But it can become a problem when we shield our kids from even the possibility of hurt or failure. In these circumstances, what teenagers hear from us is that we don’t trust (or respect) them. Our kids need the opportunity to discover gifts and talents they didn’t know they had, and most of all, they need to know we have their backs regardless of the outcomes.
3. Marginalize their feelings and opinions.
All of us were teenagers once, and it can be tempting to assume that this means we understand everything our own teens are going through. We might be tempted to react to our teens’ emotions or opinions by telling them “It’s not a big deal,” or “You’ll grow out of that.” The statement might in fact be true, but saying so represents one of the mistakes parents make with teenagers: marginalizing their feelings, opinions, and experiences. When we resist the temptation to dismiss something they say or feel, no matter how much we might disagree with an opinion or want to roll our eyes at an outburst, we teach our kids that we respect them.
4. Miss the big picture.
A colleague recently challenged me by asking, “Who do you want your kid to be 10 years from now?” and to use that answer as the guide to making a particularly difficult decision. It’s probably some of the best parenting advice I’ve ever been given, as it helps my wife and me to differentiate between the big issues and the small stuff. Looking at the big picture can help us navigate our way through the crises that our teenagers inevitably will bring into their (and our) lives and to decide which battles to pick.
5. Stay disconnected.We need to talk to, listen to, and waste time on our teenagers.
From work to sports to whatever pops up on our phone screens, there’s no shortage of distractions from the business of raising our teenagers. To be honest, it probably seems easier sometimes to stay detached from someone who doesn’t want to engage with you. One of the mistakes parents make with teenagers is allowing ourselves to get disconnected from our teens. We need to talk to, listen to, and waste time on our teenagers as much if not more than on younger kids who are far more difficult to ignore.
Sound off: What mistakes have you made (or seen) in raising teenagers?