Dear Parents: What We Wish You Knew

Some people look back on their teenage years with nostalgia; others just try their best not to look back. Even if your teenage memories are good ones, it probably won't take too much thought to be reminded of things like not making the basketball team, failing a math exam, getting dumped by the boy you were sure was "the one," or being teased beacuse you didn't exactly fit the mold. It all reminds me that I'm glad to be an adult.

A Broader Perspective

Time has a way of making embarrassment and heartache fade, but when it comes to parenting your child during this roller-coaster stage of life, it might be a good idea to think back on your own teenage experiences and remember the times besides school dances and football games.

When I was in junior high and high school I remember thinking that my parents had no idea what it was like to be a teenager. They didn’t agree with my need to always wear the right name-brand jeans and they just didn’t understand why removing the pimple from my chin was a matter of life and death.

Eventually I learned that it didn’t matter how much I spent on my jeans or that everyone gets pimples. I even grew to realize that my parents actually knew more about adolescence than I thought. But why didn’t they understand the importance of my safari shoes? I guess I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but I can now see that my parents had a broader outlook on life. They knew that the clothes I wore would not always be so important, and they were right.

Even though I eventually came to this understanding, it sometimes takes years for that to happen. Meanwhile, millions of teenagers are still just trying to belong and are thinking (as I thought) that their parents have no idea what it is like to be their age. Well, maybe we don't always know what it is like to be their age. Each generation has different struggles, and parents can't always be aware of all the opposition their kids are facing.

I wanted to hear what it's like to be a teenager today and what adolescents want their parents to hear, so I asked junior high, high school, and college students what they wished their parents knew about being a teenager today. We all had to pass through this age in order to become an adult, but I think sometimes we may have forgotten what that time was like.

It was not surprising to find out that these kids had complaints and communication problems, but what did surprise me was the respect these young people had for their parents and the logic behind their issues. Hopefully, the words of these young people will serve as a realistic reminder of those days gone by, helping us as parents to understand our teenagers a bit better.

Welcome to My World: Emma, ninth grade; Veradale, Washington
I wish my parents just knew more about me. Sometimes I’ll be sitting in the car and my parents will ask about my day. I’ll talk to them, but I will not tell them about everything. I won’t tell them about my friends, boys, or problems at school because I know how they will react—and it is the same every time. Getting the same response every time is really irritating to me. So instead of telling my parents about everything I just think, “Why bother?” Because of my attitude my parents see me as just another distant teenager and it seems they don’t trust me as much.

Sometimes I do try to talk to my parents, but it seems like they don’t even try to relate to me. I know that they were kids once, and I’m sure they had some of the same experiences that I am having as a teenager. I even think that I share some of the same dreams for the future that they had. But my parents never talk about their childhood and they make it very difficult for me to find any common ground with them.

I also find it frustrating that sometimes what my parents want for me is not what I always want for myself. I know my parents only want the best for me, but sometimes I want to choose for myself (as long as I never abuse my agency). I want to show my parents that when I can choose for myself I will make the right choice.

Lastly, I want my parents to know that it is hard for me to fit in at school. I recently moved, and in the process had to make new friends. I have met many new friends and one girl in particular that I really like to hang out with. But my parents won’t let me hang out with her a lot because they worry that I am not doing the right things when I am away from home. I just wish my parents knew how great my friend is and how trustworthy we both are. My friend knows of my high standards, respects them, and shares most them. Just because my friend and I do not take time to talk in front of my parents it does not mean that we are behaving badly or talking about inappropriate things.

Feeling Abandoned in Remarriage: Alyssa, eleventh grade; Chandler, Arizona 

Although I think I feel happy most of the time, when I’m alone and depressed I realize that I feel abandoned.

My parents divorced about seven years ago when I was only eight years old. My mom has been single all this time until she just married my stepdad. He’s a nice enough man but he’s so different from us and he tries to set down rules for me as if he’s my dad. I also notice that he’s short-tempered with my mom sometimes. I hear them argue and I hate the tension that’s in the house. I know they’re arguing about me and my brothers and how to parent us. When she was single our home was calm and fun to be at. Now, I hate being home.

Sometimes I'm mad at her for choosing to get remarried. I didn’t want her to be lonely, but her husband has just made our life a lot harder than it was before. I just wish she would have at least dated him a little longer to figure out some of these things before they got married.

I feel like my mom has abandoned me and my needs because she’s so preoccupied trying to make her new marriage work. She doesn’t have time for me like she used to. We don’t do very many things together anymore.

My dad remarried soon after my parents divorced and he has four young kids with his new wife. I feel like he’s moved on without my two brothers and me. He only lives about five minutes from me, but I only see him every couple of weeks. When I do see him, I feel totally out of place because he’s busy with his wife, kids, and job. I feel more like a babysitter than his daughter. We really don’t know what to say to each other. He doesn’t know anything about me and I feel like he’s too busy to care.

I hope I never get divorced and make my kids feel the way I feel. I feel like I don’t fit in anywhere.

I Didn’t Know: Maria, twelfth grade; Veradale, Washington

I want my parents to know that I am ignorant about a lot of things, and in order to learn I need them to show me how to do things—at least once. My parents act like I should already know that when I put a package of popcorn in the microwave for five minutes (like the package instructs) that it will burn. My question is: How am I supposed to know that popcorn is best cooked for two minutes and not five if I am never taught?

I don’t understand how I am supposed to automatically know how to fill out financial aid papers, cook dinner, or wash laundry if I am never taught how. It seems to me that there are a lot of things that appear so simple to adults, and so they assume that their kids already understand these things. The truth is, the adults had to learn how to wash their dirty clothes, and so do their kids.

I’ve heard stories of kids who go to college and don’t know how clean and cook. I’ve also heard adults who question why kids don’t take advantage of opportunities like scholarships. I would guess that kids don’t know how to cook and don’t apply for more scholarships simply because they do not know how, not because they lack desire.

Privacy Please?: Ben, college freshman; Montgomery, Alabama

When I was in high school I always felt like my parents were invading my space and privacy. I remember my parents were always involved in the activities that interested me. They were always asking me how my day was and how my grades were. The fact that my parents wanted to know everything was quite annoying. They wanted to know where I was going, who I was going with, and when I was coming back.

At times I felt like I had no privacy away from my parents. What made it even worse was the fact that other kids at my school would go home and hardly even see their parents. If they did, their parents never asked where they were going or how they were doing in school. Sometimes my parents’ constant presence got really annoying, and, unfortunately, I would respond with a very bad attitude.

Now, as a college student, I realize that what my parents were doing was just plain awesome! They were actually interested in my well being and my future. Their involvement kept me out of a lot of trouble and really showed me how much they loved and cared about me. I guess the moral of my story is that parents should get involved even if their child doesn’t react kindly to it. Even though I did not enjoy it at the time, I now realize that my parents’ involvement in my life gave me assurance of their love and showed sincere concern for me as their child.

The Impact of a Parent: Tyler, twelfth grade; Sandy, Utah

As I think about my life and my upbringing I have come to realize that I’ve been blessed with great parents who are usually very understanding, but sometimes my parents can frustrate me.

For example, when I am at a friend’s house and my parents call to remind me that I have to be home at 10:00 on a Friday night I’m usually not thinking, “I am so blessed to have such loving and protective parents.” Sometimes I think my parents have a hard time understanding my point of view when it comes to curfew, girls, sleeping habits, eating habits, relationships with siblings, pressure in sports, and the importance of following fads. I honestly don’t think it is overly important for parents to fully understand every aspect of being a teenager today, but what is really important is that parents at least try to understand their kids.

There is one thing that I do think all parents need to realize. It is the impact they have on their children’s lives through what they say and do. Even though I do not always appreciate my parent’s rules I know deep inside that my parents are just looking out for me and trying to keep me safe.

Also, the way my parents treat each other has a big impact on me as well. I am never happy when I overhear my parents arguing over things, especially when they are insignificant or something that is out of their control. On the other hand, I know that I am truly happy when I am spending quality time with my family. That is why whether we like it or not, all teenagers depend on their parents to be a positive influence, to set boundaries, and to be good examples. It is up to me to follow those rules and to appreciate my parents’ love for me.

Thinking Back

Adult-size responsibilities have a funny way of quickly changing our priorities—suddenly external appearances and things of that nature just don’t hold as much precedence as trying to raise a healthy and happy family. This doesn’t mean that a teenager’s voice and problems aren’t as valid as our own or don’t come with plenty of stress.

The world may be quite a bit different now than when we were teenagers, but some things are still the same: wanting to fit in, wanting independence, trying to find your own voice, and being a little bit afraid of the future are all feelings that almost all teenage kids face, and chances are, you did too. Many of us probably still face a lot of these issues to a certain level, which is important to keep in mind as parents and teenagers try to communicate.

Most kids are really trying to be good. Growing up is scary and confusing and mistakes are inevitable. If ever there is a time to make it clear to children how much they are loved and appreciated, it is during this period of insecurity. Love your children, talk to them, and really listen to them. You might be amazed at what insightful things you can hear.

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