How To Ruin Your Relationship With Your Teenager

Even the best of us will recognize our own failings in the following list, but look at it as an opportunity to improve rather than berate yourself. All relationships take work, but your communications with your teenager can be lifesaving. The largest problems can be solved when you have a good relationship, but even the smallest problems can cause disaster when your interactions are filled with tension

1. Not Listening

“Once your child reaches the age of 13 or 14 they know your opinion of everything under the sun. Your job from now on is to shut up and listen.” Your teen may act like they know it all and don't know any more of your knowledge.  I remember feeling a bit defensive the first time I heard this counsel. I had so much knowledge yet to share.  As adults, we think we know all we need to know about the teenage world.  But things change. Our swiftly moving planet has spun beyond our intimate knowledge of the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s. When you take the time to listen, truly listen to your teen, your kids will ask your opinion and that is the moment you share your knowledge and or advice.

2. Criticizing Excessively

I think we all know the evils of fault-finding, but in parenting, criticism (to some degree) is a necessary evil. Parent to child is one of the very few relationships where you do need to offer correction. It’s our job to teach kids to comb their hair, take out the garbage, do their homework, etc. Censure should be given kindly and sparingly. No one can handle a barrage of disapproval; especially teenagers. And remember, kids are criticized all day by teachers and peers; home should be a haven of acceptance and love (as well as occasional reminders to trim their fingernails).

3. Grilling Them With Questions

Perhaps this complaint sounds contradictory to the first. How can a parent listen without asking questions? But we all know there’s an enormous difference between asking and listening. Where were you? Who were you with? What were you doing? Don’t you hate it when someone peppers you with questions without even waiting for your answers? Sure, ask one or two questions, but then just sit back and listen. Allow for pauses in the conversation.

When talking to kids and the conversation lulls, simply say, “I’m listening.” That pause, the permission to gather their thoughts, implies safety and leads to real conversation.

4. Telling Embarrassing Stories or Complain About Them Publicly

You can scarcely go to any social gathering or social media without hearing someone trash talk their kids. They act like it’s normal to talk about how their kids have ruined their lives. More often than not, their child is listening to this barrage of insults. Can you imagine standing in the corner of a room hearing your parents talk about how terrible you are? People act the way we treat them, and if parents handle kids like they are rotten, they either will be, or they will cut their parents out of their lives. ”

5. Stereotyping Their Behavior

“Teenagers are all crazy/selfish/irresponsible/lazy.” Somehow, it’s socially acceptable to belittle teenagers. Yes, there’s that whole brain development thing going on, but most of the teenagers I know are doing an incredible job at managing complicated lives.  Kids are putting in hundreds of hours in service, playing instruments, creating computer apps, juggling AP classes, playing sports, performing in plays and dance…all while working a part-time job, nurturing their sibling and doing the dishes at night. So maybe we should cut them a little slack when they forget the dishes?

6. Fighting the Wrong Battles

We all know the stereotypical story of making a kid sit at the dinner table until they’ve finished their broccoli. Parents need to ask themselves before making a stand, “Is it worth it?” Teenagers are facing so many big issues, their choice of vegetable really doesn’t matter. In fact, most battles don’t matter. If kids are given the freedom to choose in many areas of their life, they will be much more likely to listen to parents’ opinions on the big issues. 

7. Expecting Instant Compliance

Too often, parents expect kids to jump up and comply with their requests in a way they’d never demand of their spouse or themselves. It takes a minute to wrap up what you’re doing and empty the garbage/put your shoes away/bring in the groceries. Unless there’s a fire, let’s give kids the same respect for their time we’d want for our own.

8. Maintaining Constant Suspicion

When we expect the worst of people, they usually comply. Yes, parents should be cautious and careful; we should all know the signs of depression, drug abuse, alcoholism, promiscuity etc. But if parents create an environment of rigid rules, suspicion and distrust, kids are drawn to dangerous behaviors. Parents can keep safeguards in place without destroying relationships. At my house, we keep our two computers password protected and my kids know I regularly check the history. It’s not that I don’t trust my kids, it’s simply that I know pornography is readily available and especially tempting when kids are tired, lonely or bored. It’s like keeping guns in a cabinet—the lock exists to protect innocents who might be curious about something that could destroy their lives.

9. Being Stingy With Your Apologies

It seems that some parents are a little like 3-year-olds and believe an honest, sincere, “I’m sorry” will cost them money, pride or status. Every time you yell at your kids or unjustifiably punish them, you’re placing a brick in a wall between you. Remorse and forgiveness can remove those bricks, but if you let them pile up, you’ll build a hard wall between yourself and your teen. Every parent messes up, but we should apologize easily and often. Our kids benefit from our example when we show remorse for our wrongs and try to do better. In turn, teenagers will learn to apologize quickly and forgive easily—both positive habits for a happy life.

10. Making Them Feel Less Important Than Your Phone/Car/Friends/Golf Clubs, etc.

Teenagers hate, hate, HATE when you talk on the phone while driving with them. Even if they aren’t in the mood to chat, they don’t like to be treated like a bag of groceries on the seat next to me. Sometimes, you need to take the call, but you will find your kids are happier if you keep it short and offer an apology. You don’t spend nearly as many hours with your teenagers as you did when they were little, and you need to have a listening ear when you are together. It’s not that teens need to be treated like they are the center of the universe—they just need to know they matter to you. And if they do accidentally scratch the paint on your car or dent a golf club, they need to know they are more important than any object. When kids feel valued, they value their relationship with you.

11. Nitpicking Their Appearance

We all know teenagers are sensitive about their appearance, but somehow we can’t help pouring on our advice, critiques and opinions. At 11 or 12, boys really do need reminders to shower, comb their hair and wear deodorant, but by 13 or so, both boys and girls know most basic grooming. Anything from here on out should be gentle reminders, not nagging. It helps to set a family standard—everyone showers, does their laundry, brushes their teeth, eats their vegetables, gets some form of exercise each day etc.—rather than making it personal. Parents should help—provide acne medicine, healthy food, opportunities to exercise, help with buying clothing, etc.—but persistent fault finding only hurts relationships.

12. Comparing Kids With Each Other

Another behavior we know we should avoid, but somehow almost every parent at some point falls prey to the temptation of comparing a child to their siblings, the neighbors, a cousin or acquaintance.  The best way to avoid this behavior is thinking of how you would feel if your husband compared you to your sister, your neighbors, an acquaintance…

13. Expecting Prowess at Sports, Dance, Music

Seeing and watching a father scream and yell at his son for striking out is not how to be a good parent. Over the years, at various sports games, music recitals, and dance tryouts, dozens of parents scold and belittle their child for not performing up to standard.  Do not do that.  

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