Whether fair or not, teenagers have somewhat of a bad rap. They’re stereotypically sullen, they talk back and they’re embarrassed by our very existence. Not always, of course, but parents can find their relationship with their child strained during the teenage years. And it’s not necessarily the kid’s fault.
Child and family psychologist Barbara Greenberg says it might actually be us, the parents, who are doing more damage to our relationship with our teenagers than they are. We’re trying too hard in some areas and not hard enough in others.
Don’t act cool
One of the biggest cringe-worthy ways a parent can negatively impact their relationship with their teenage child is by trying to act too cool, Greenberg says. That includes, but is not limited to:
Dressing like your kids or in attire that is inappropriate
Using their vernacular (please don’t study and then attempt to use their slang)
Attempting to gossip with them about their friends or drama at school
Blasting (and dancing to!) their favourite music when they have friends over
“Parents want their kids to like them and they want their kid’s friends to like them,” Greenberg says. “But the way to get them to like you is not by acting cool. Kids do not want you to act like a friend; they’re uncomfortable with that. They want you to act like a parent.”
Keep their secrets
If your teenage child confides something in you, you need to keep it to yourself. You might think it’s so cute that Emma has a crush, but when you gush about it on the phone to your sister or your best friend, it will sound like you’re making light of something that is sacred to her.
“It really erodes the trust,” Greenberg says. “It sort of makes them feel like they’re not that important or that their secrets are a source of entertainment.”
Other examples might be a daughter confiding in her mother that she got her first period, something embarrassing that happened at school, or a conflict they are having with another friend. Take their trust in you seriously and, as long as no one is at risk for harm, keep it to yourself.
Don’t compare them to their friends
“Parents do this constantly,” Greenberg says. “‘Why can’t you be more like so-and-so; she’s so nice to her mother, or she gets good grades.’ It’s usually about grades.”
Asking kids why they can’t be more like a friend doesn’t magically motivate them to study harder or change their attitude at home. All it does, Greenberg says, is make them 1. feel inadequate and 2. turn them against that friend, whom they now see as a competitor. Focus instead on celebrating your own kid’s strengths.
You are full of sage advice! You, too, have been a teenager and you know what they are going through! Except no, you don’t, because being a teenager now is much different than being a pre-smartphone-era teenager. And interrupting them doesn’t make them listen to you more closely anyway; it makes them tune you out.
It’s more important to listen to your kids than to be heard. They need to know that their words and feelings are important to you and interruption gives the opposite message — that what they’re saying isn’t important enough to listen to.
And while you’re busy listening, Greenberg says, be careful to keep your own mood in check. Showing that your mood is contingent upon how your teen is treating you can actually be damaging to the relationship.
“Kids aren’t going to open up to you if you act like you can’t tolerate what they’re going to tell you,” she says. “This is a tough one but it’s an important one.”
Don’t be critical about little things
Sure, you have to set some limits on what they can or cannot wear. But whenever possible, let go of stuff like wardrobe and hair style. You might think that outfit doesn’t even remotely match or they look so much better with their hair pulled back, but keep it to yourself.
“What’s more important is the quality of the relationship,” Greenberg says. “Above all else, preserve that. Before you say something like, ‘Those pants are too tight,’ ask yourself if it is really necessary and if it’s going to help the relationship.”