Don’t Tell the Acorn Too Much!

A parent sought me out at church a couple of weeks ago, wanting advice on how to get her daughter to be more polite.  “She interrupts me all the time, and she never says ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ unless I remind her to.”  She continued, “My husband just laughs and says she’s me all over again.  Which is actually true!”  I cautioned her not to say that in front of her daughter, because she would be giving her permission to continue being rude.

I’ve heard it often at the conference table:  “Of course, I was never very good in math, either, so I can’t expect him to do any better.”  “I’m afraid there’s not much hope for her; I always got in trouble for talking, too.”  I may smile and nod my head, but I really want to put my finger to my lips and hiss, “Shhhhh!  Stop staying that!”

A parent’s motive behind saying such things may be to reassure the teen that he understands because he’s been there, but such comments can have a negative effect.  A student who is struggling in math, or who doesn’t like math, has just been given license to stop trying.

In the same way, a student whose constant talking is disruptive has no reason to stop.  In fact, the pleasure gained from being “just like Mom” may lead to more talking.

It’s often amusing to see how much your children are like you (it’s even more amusing for their grandparents), but it’s important to stop and think about the consequences before mentioning the flaws you share.  Even if you qualify your observation with, “. . .but that doesn’t mean you have to act like me,” you’re still offering an excuse for undesirable behavior.

A better idea is to notice the similarities but comment about them to another adult, out of your teen’s hearing.  You can shake your heads and share a laugh together about the acorn not falling far from the oak tree without granting permission to repeat your mistakes.

And then you can call your mother and tell her that her wish came true – you did wind up with a child just like you!

One Tough Job

I’m not talking about teaching 8th grade – I’m talking about parenting a teenager!

Remember when they were 3 years old and were unhappy?  You could usually cheer them up with a hug and a cookie.  It’s waaay more complicated now, isn’t it?  You ask, “What’s wrong?”  And you get “Nuthin” or “Stop bugging me all the time!”  Or a defeated shrug.  Any further attempts on your part to communicate are either ignored or greeted with an outburst that lets you know your efforts aren’t appreciated.

And yet – when I shared this reality with my 8th graders a couple of years ago, there was a thoughtful pause and then one student said, “I’d still like that cookie!”  And from the corner of the room a soft voice said, “And I’d kinda like that hug.”

Parents tell me their teens don’t talk to them anymore.  Teens tell me their parents won’t listen.  Obviously, the desire to communicate is there on both parts, but it seems like you no longer speak the same language.  It’s my goal to provide a place to share advice and experiences in this blog.  Teens tell me I “get” them, and every year I hear, “I wish you’d tell my parents that!”  But I don’t have all the answers, so I’m hoping this can be a dialogue.  Please use the comment section to share your advice and your questions – and even your frustrations – and let’s make living with teens more meaningful and enjoyable than you thought it could be!