Teenagers can be notoriously hard to talk to. “How was your day?” “Fine.” “What did you learn today?” “Nothing.” “How did your—” “UGH HOW MANY MORE QUESTIONS ARE YOU GONNA ASK ME.”
But when it comes to giving our teenage kids some advice? Well, that can be a particularly tricky minefield to navigate.
We have so much advice bubbling up inside of us for our kids, especially as they hit their teenage years. We remember what it was like to be in high school. We have the benefit both of hindsight and of a fully developed frontal lobe. Man, the sheer amount of wisdom we’re carrying around with us could solve the vast majority of their dilemmas.
The problem? They may not want to hear it. The #1 most eye-roll inducing phrase a parent can say to their child is “When I was a teenager...” Because you were never a teenager; you are a boring parent and have always been a boring parent and wow, how lame are you for trying to relate to her. (We were this way, too, remember?)
But there might be a chance to impart a tiny bit of that wisdom—if you approach it just the right way. The first thing you should do? Psychologist and author Lisa Damour writes for the New York Times that you should start by asking for permission.
The most powerful force in a normally developing teenager may be the drive toward independence. Unsolicited coaching — even when it is excellent and well-intentioned—goes against the adolescent grain.
An easy fix? Before dropping knowledge on your child, ask permission. In practical terms, this might be saying, “Hey, I found this interesting article on managing digital distractions. Do you want to take a look at it?” If you find your teenager grousing about a problem for which you have a solution, try, “I’ve got an idea that might help. Do you want to know what I’m thinking?”
Damour offers additional tips for advising our teenagers: Be self-aware enough to know what you don’t know, coach them to weigh their options (versus telling them what you think they should do), and keep conversations more general and less personal.
But starting with asking whether your input is needed—or wanted—is a good first step. It shows your kid that you value their autonomy and, therefore, might have something worthwhile to say after all.