Parenting is tough. Parenting tweens and teens can be hiking-the-Himalayas tough. Throw in raging hormones, harder classes, a busy schedule and our modern culture into the mix and keeping in contact with your child can feel as impersonal as a text message. More IDK and less LOL. (That is, “I don’t know” and “laugh out loud,” respectively.)
And, what’s with that teen standard “I don’t know” response we get from our kids, anyhow? Report cards may show you’ve spawned a certified smarty pants, so why on earth do we get that answer to 99 percent of the questions we ask, when we are certain they, in fact, do know what they did in class that day? Since mind-reading is not a skill most of us parents possess (shh; don’t tell!), I, the mother of a tween and teen, decided to go straight to the source for answers to these and other burning questions, just in time for back-to-school hysteria. I enlisted four tweens and teens unrelated to me to provide the details (or, as your kids might say, the “4-1-1”).
1. Don’t yell at us.
“Parents should not get furious when their kids do something bad,” said Mick. “It doesn’t help the situation and just makes it worse.” Clayton agrees. “If you yell at us, we’re going to yell back. Speak with a calmer voice.”
Sara adds, “The best thing to do is say, ‘don’t do that again or you’re going to be grounded.’ Just say it calmly. Don’t yell it.”
2. Monitoring technology is good, to a point.
Our panel says that they expect their technology to be monitored. What’s okay: occasionally checking text messages, reading e-mail, trolling Facebook messages. They even accept the conditions to become “friends” with their parents on Facebook.
What’s not okay? “Don’t comment on something that’s an inside joke,” said Mick. “If you want to ask about it, don’t do it on Facebook. If the post relates to the family, it’s okay to comment on it, but if it’s about friends, don’t.”
Embarrassing our kids on Facebook in a no-no. Ask permission before tagging them in photos, just as you might do with your own friends. Discuss what you each feel comfortable with in terms of how you communicate on the platform.
Regarding privacy, Sara said parents shouldn’t read their children’s diaries or ask to know who they have a crush on. “That may be something we want to tell our best friends, [but] it’s none of their business.” There are things that, as parents, we don’t (and shouldn’t) share with our kids and, in turn, we should understand our kids’ need for appropriate privacy.
Regarding screen time, our panel also understands the need to monitor TV or computer usage, and admit they could be on it all day long if allowed. And what’s the right age to let your kid get a cell phone? Our panel suggests basing it on when she becomes more independent, such as going to more activities and friends’ houses, when she would need to reach the parent, not just to talk to friends. Answers ranged from fourth to seventh grade.
3. Don’t expect the worst.
Asked what they believe is the biggest misperception adults have about kids, Sydney said that at least for girls, it’s how far they’ll go with boys (which, she says, is not as far as parents are worried they will). Instead of being scared about it, Sydney suggest that the parents get to know their kid’s boyfriend or girlfriend, by inviting them over and letting the young couple hang out.
The guys on our panel believed calling it “dating” is silly until they have a car and can go places on their own, but kids still use the label “boyfriend/girlfriend” to show mutual interest and that they like to spend time together. Sara adds that parents should let kids date whom they choose (within reason). “Don’t judge them ahead of time,” she said. “And don’t say things like, ‘all boys are trouble.’”
In general, Mick thinks the biggest misperception parents have is that they seem to always think kids are “always up to no good. That they always need to be watched. It’s kind of crazy to call every five minutes to make sure you are doing the right thing.” While our panel shared that occasionally they have known kids to be deceptive to their parents about their actual location or activities, it’s the exception to the rule.
4. Be reasonable on grounding.
Clayton believes grounding doesn’t work to change behavior except for the time period that one is grounded. “What would work better is to not let the kids know when they’ll be ungrounded,” he said. Mick says it’s obvious that the way a parent disciplines is based on how their parents were raised. “My dad’s a Navy guy, so he’s more strict, but my mom is more laid back.”
Sydney sees a lot of parents who rush to ground their children after misbehavior, but then don’t stick to it. “They are supposed to be grounded, but the kid asks to go do something and they let them,” said Sydney. “So the kids know the grounding isn’t a big deal.” Bottom line? Following through is imperative to make grounding an effective punishment.
5. Compensate on chores.
Sure, they believe they should pitch in on household duties, including help with cooking meals, but if you want the job done well, our teens and tweens say it’s best to tie it to their allowance. The amount given on our panel was everything from $15-$50 a week, with the expectation that this money will be used to pay for things like makeup, movies and other items. Clayton believes kids shouldn’t get an allowance without working for it. “That doesn’t teach them anything,” he said.
6. Eat together as a family.
While schedules don’t always allow the family to sit down and eat dinner together, our panel said it’s the best time to find out what your kids are up to, so think twice about taking that bag of fast food into the living room with you when you get home from work. Our group said families who eat together are friendlier toward each other and seem more bonded.
7. Let them express themselves.
Kids want to select their own clothes and not be told what to wear, though they understand that their choices need to be age-appropriate and not overly revealing. Sydney said most girls seem to start wearing some makeup in the sixth grade, both to express themselves (since that’s the start of middle school) and also because that’s when they start getting pimples and they feel the need to conceal them. Sara adds that you want your children to feel confident and appearance is often tied to confidence in tweens and teens. While you should encourage them to find confidence within, understand that fitting in outwardly might help them to better tap into that inner confidence.
8. Don’t force them to join sports.
All four of our panelists said encouraging your children to participate in activities is a good thing, but don’t force them to do an activity just because you may have enjoyed that when you were growing up. “Let them pursue their dreams,” advised Sara. Encourage your kids to learn what matters to them and what makes them happy, which will serve them throughout their lives.
9. Only step in on bullying if it gets bad.
Our panel hasn’t seen much bullying, mostly because the schools put the breaks on it early (if it’s discovered), but mean girls, gossip and bullying does exist and our tween and teens recommend that parents stay out of it unless it progresses. They advise having the parent talk to the principal only after the child has tried to deal with it.
10. What “I don’t know,” really means.
They just don’t want to talk to you right now. Either they are doing another activity and don’t want to be interrupted or they just aren’t in the mood to talk. Sure, it’s a brush-off, but try saving those questions you really want answered for times they are engaged in conversation, such as at the family dinner table.
What Does it All Mean?
We asked Dr. Lisa L. Marotta, a clinical psychologist, to chime in on our panel’s top 10 list. Here is what she had to say:
There are three needs that these young people are addressing: 1. quality connection with their parents; 2. respectful communication and listening in the family; and 3. recognition of each teen’s individuality (their strengths, weaknesses and interests).
Overall, they are articulating their boundaries. The panel is requesting clear expectations and follow through in their families. That being said, parents struggle with setting and enforcing boundaries because they get caught up in their teen’s reaction. Most teens will gripe at least a little when they are given a rule or an expectation. Once the rule is set and respectfully encouraged, it becomes a given over time.
Take technology as an example. A limit of “no cell phones at the dinner table” is clear and easy to monitor. The rule should be held for the whole family (including parents). Most of the technology boundaries can be broken down into simpler steps so a teen can earn trust and learn responsibility. Docking the phone at a certain time each night, limiting texting, and periodic review of content are clear boundaries that can be addressed rather than a blanket “no cell phone until you are 16” rule.
I hope that parents will pay attention to this list and discuss each item with their own tween or teen. Open dialogue goes a long way towards bridging the generation gap to decrease conflict and increase understanding in families.
Dr. Marotta is with the Counseling and Consulting Offices of Tobin, Benjamin and Marotta in Edmond. She may be reached at 405-340-4321 or www.ccoffices.com.
Malena Lott is an Edmond author, brand strategist and mother of three.