Complain about the difficulties of raising a kid
The road to raising a child to adulthood is never without its bumps. However, the problems you face as part of raising your teen kid are not your kid’s problems. Complaining to your teen about those problems risks damaging their sense of self-worth – something that’s often very fragile in many young people.
Criticizing their appearance
The teen years are when appearance really starts to matter to many young people. It’s also when they begin to face judgment from their peers – in person and online – about how they look. This is difficult enough for them. However, hearing criticism from you about what they wear, how they style their hair or how much they weigh can be very damaging to their self-esteem.
The phrase, “If I was you….” is rarely helpful when spoken by a parent to their teen kid. Yes, as the parent, you do have life experience you want to share, and you do want to help your teen avoiding making the same mistakes you made. However, projecting your experiences onto them is a sure-fire way to ensure they don’t listen.
Not giving your teen kid space to get on with their activities without you peering over their shoulder or directing them is helicopter parenting. Most parents of young kids do some version of helicoptering, but you must learn to stand back as your kid gets older. After all, you’re unlikely to be sitting next to them on their first day at college.
Making unhelpful comparisons
Comparisons are inevitable if you have more than one kid. However, they’re also potentially very harmful. Everyone is an individual – and that includes your kids. Comparing your younger kid’s academic achievements to your older one’s is just going to make one of your kids feel inadequate.
Not monitoring screen usage
Many experts recommend that kids between five and 17 should have a daily maximum of two hours’ screen time. This is difficult with teens, who may rely on screens for their education and social lives. However, parents must strike a balance to ensure appropriate use of apps and the internet while also guiding their teen towards full independence.
Make hurtful statements
It’s all too easy for anyone to say something hurtful. Often said in the heat of the moment and quickly forgotten, the recipient of the remark – especially if they’re a sensitive teen – may brood on the statement. This can damage self-esteem and the trust between parent and child.
Getting over-involved with homework
Parents get involved with their kids’ homework for different reasons. Sometimes it’s because the kid has asked for help. However, sometimes it’s because the parent mistrusts their ability or worries that the homework won’t get done at all without parental intervention. Neither of these second two reasons help a teen who ought to be moving towards self-sufficiency in study.
Not allowing screens
By the teen years, most parents have given their kid a smartphone or, at least, internet access via a shared family device. Some, however, resist. Unfortunately, a banning a teen from developing an online life not only risks seeing them excluded from the social life of their peers, it also denies them the opportunity to learn how to navigate the online world before reaching adulthood.
Allowance and pocket money
How much money to give your teen is a contentious issue. Too little and your kid may feel resentful and unable to do many of the things their friends are doing. However, give too much and you risk raising an entitled young person who doesn’t appreciate that money must be worked for.
For most people, the teenage years are the ideal time to learn to drive. However, there’s a difference between ensuring your kid receives appropriate driving tuition and undertaking that tuition yourself. Depending on personality, once they’ve had some professional tuition, you might consider taking them out for a practise. However, it’s best for all concerned if the actual lessons are left to the professionals.
Kids, even teenagers, need boundaries – because they haven’t yet worked out their own safe boundaries. Curfews are part of setting appropriate boundaries. Statistically, teens who are allowed out as late as they want are more likely to end up in trouble or getting hurt.
If you have big age gaps between your kids, it probably seems natural to expect an older one to take care of a younger one – at least some of the time. To some extent, this responsibility can be good for a teen. However, beware of fostering resentment if you take their babysitting services for granted, especially if it means they miss out on their activities.
Parenting is often a thankless task – and parenting teens can be particularly hard as this is when the brain rewires itself for adulthood. However, a teen who tells you they “didn’t ask to be born” is spot on. You shouldn’t tolerate rudeness but you must also accept that gratitude must be genuine in order to be worth anything at all.
Not encouraging reading
In a screen-obsessed world, the number of teens choosing to engage with books and reading is falling. It might seem impossible to get them to reengage but don’t give up. Statistically, reading is associated with success in later life – and it’s also relaxing and potentially therapeutic. Try to find titles that engage your teen and don’t rule out audio books.
Sometimes, teens can push buttons you didn’t know you had. However, a parent who responds by rejecting their teen, whether that’s verbally, physically, or both, risks doing long-term damage to their relationship. No matter how hard it is, always try to reject the behavior and not the teen themselves.
Allowing too many extracurriculars
In the race to make themselves stand out for college applications and future employers, some teens can go over-the-top on extracurriculars. If they can cope – with their extracurriculars and their schoolwork – that’s great. However, watch out for a teen who’s struggling to keep up. They may need you to step in and suggest dropping or reevaluating an activity.
No matter what form it takes, belittling your teen is nasty. It might feel relatively innocuous, or even jokey, to you. However, remember that many teens have a very fragile sense of self and you risk damaging this developing identity and esteem, as well as your relationship with them, if you belittle their choices, appearance or what they say.
Not making chores compulsory
Many teens have a natural tendency towards indolence – or, at least, to staying in bed as long as possible. Even if your teen isn’t like this, perhaps because they’re always busy with studies or extra-curricular activities, make sure they have regular chores to perform. Chores underline that a teen is part of a small community (in the home) and help them acquire valuable life skills.
Playing the victim card
Watch out if you regularly play the victim card in your daily life. Your teen is likely to pick up on your behavior and, eventually, to mimic it. The result may be a young person who struggles to take responsibility for their own actions or who uses unfortunate events to manipulate others.
Making them attend church
Whether it’s church, synagogue, temple or mosque, at some point the choice to follow a religion has to be a personal decision. This can be very difficult to accept for a parent who’s a committed member of a religious community. However, forcing a reluctant teen to attend worship risks breeding resentment, alienation and perhaps, ultimately, estrangement.
Not taking mental health difficulties seriously
Growing up is hard work – on the mind as well as the body. And, just as you take care to ensure your child’s physical health, you must pay the same attention to their mental well-being. This means watching out for signs of potential eating disorders, anxiety, OCD, depression and the like and seeking appropriate professional help.
Not checking up on them
Teens may argue that it’s an invasion of their privacy. However, knowing where your teen is, who they’re with, and when they plan to be home again is an important part of keeping them safe. For instance, it can help prevent them getting involved with gangs, indulging in under-age drinking, or traveling in a car driven by someone without a license or who is drunk.
When things go wrong, it’s a natural reaction to find someone blame. However, blame is rarely a healthy or constructive response. And, when it’s directed at a teen with a still-developing sense of who they are and what they’re capable of, it can be very damaging. If your teen does something blameworthy, it’s far better to wait until everyone’s calm and have a constructive conversation.
No parent wants to see their child in pain. Whether it’s physical or emotional, it’s instinctive to try and shield them. However, learning how to manage pain – especially emotional pain – is hugely important in anyone’s self-development. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t support them through it. Instead, it means acknowledging that they’re hurting and helping them find coping techniques.
Not encouraging self-study skills
Many schools are great at spoon-feeding their students. However, as a young person progresses through the educational system and, especially if they go on to college or university, self-study skills become ever more important. As a parent, if you encourage the development of these, you are giving your teen important tools for future success.
Living vicariously through them
There’s something about having a teenager that makes even the most balanced parent look back on their own life and regret things they didn’t do. While regret is one thing, trying to live vicariously through your kid is another. Your teen is not you. Chances are, they have different interests, talents and ambitions and will only resent you if you foist yours onto them.
A parent may sometimes find themselves leaning on their maturing teen for emotional support. While this is inevitable to some degree, you need to watch out for any signs of “parentification”. This is where, essentially, you and your teen switch places, with them taking on the role of primary emotional supporter. This is an unfair burden and could indicate that you need external support.
Whatever your kid enjoys doing, they want you there cheering on the sidelines. They might not admit it, and they might say you embarrass them, but simply showing up and – where needed – cheering for them means a great deal. Parents who never attend their teen’s ball game, dance exhibition or music recital are giving their kid a powerful message about the value of them and their choices.
Wishing they’d never been born
No matter how many times or how vehemently you think it, verbalizing your wish that your teen had never been born is a bad idea. Even if, on some level, they understand you’re saying it out of frustration and don’t really mean it, it will be difficult for them to interpret as anything other than a form of rejection.
Effective rules are imposed with consistency. If you tell your teen that they need to be home by 10 p.m. but then allow them to stay out an hour later because it’s a special occasion or they’re with someone different, the inconsistency will prompt them to look for other ways to bend the rules.
Stiff upper lips
Do you believe that “boys don’t cry”? Or does it make you uncomfortable to see anyone “indulge” in tears. If you’re happy to raise an emotionally repressed individual, who’ll probably be as uncomfortable with the emotions of others as they are with their own, then carry on. If not, allow your teens to wobble their stiff upper lips.
Maybe you have a favorite child. If so, keep that to yourself. Even if you don’t, watch out for inadvertent favoritism. For instance, perhaps your teen worked hard to persuade you to let them pierce their ears when they turned 13. That same teen is likely to perceive it as favoritism if you then let their younger sibling do the same thing at only 12.
Valuing them according to their achievements
No matter how proud you are that your teen was class valedictorian or took first place on the podium, make sure they know you value them for more than just prizes and medals. A teen who feels that their parent values them most for what they achieve may be more prone to mental health difficulties and may come to question your love for them.
Good cop, bad cop
It’s an act many parents fall into: one plays good cop and the other bad cop. It can be an effective strategy albeit at some cost. For a start, your teen may work out that it pays to target the good cop parent (when they’re alone) in order to get permission for something. Far better for both parents to take a measured, same page approach.
Not accepting their choices
You may not like your teen’s new haircut. You might have issues with the classes your teen chooses to take. You might even not like their friends. While your feelings are valid, so are your teen’s choices. Unless those choices are actively harmful, you need to sit back and let them face the consequences – both good and bad.
Perhaps you abhor waste and can’t bear to see an unfinished meal. Perhaps it drives you crazy when your teen raids the refrigerator at night. Whatever your issue, try to demonstrate a healthy attitude to eating and nutrition. It’s fine to stop eating once full and, equally, it’s important to remember that growing teens need a lot of food – and often at the oddest times.
Not encouraging a part-time job
A part-time job is invaluable for most teens. Not encouraging them to get one means denying them a great way to learn a little about the workplace and of what employers expect. It also denies them the chance to earn some of their own money and grow their sense of financial responsibility.
Teasing them about their romantic interests
Whether they’re gay, straight, bi, pan or totally not sure, teens are invariably very sensitive about their romantic interests – or lack of them. Teasing them about this, no matter how kindly you intend it, is hurtful and can make them feel vulnerable in the place (home) where they should feel safest.
Taking it personally
No matter how rude, disrespectful or apparently cruel your teen is towards you, taking it personally is a mistake. To the teen, it both represents a victory (because they’ve got under your skin) and a scary blurring of the boundaries (because your response suggests you’re no longer in control, which makes them feel unsafe).