Do Your Teens Think You’re Perfect?
Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson
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Well, of course not! No teen in the Universe ever thought his parents are perfect.
But are you trying to convince your teen that you are perfect? Are you living a lie?
Here’s what I mean. We moms and dads sometimes sweep our own mistakes under the rug. We don’t let our kids know we’ve ever erred. We try to give the impression that we’ve never had a moment of doubt, never had a run-in with the law, never did anything we’re ashamed of now, and never, ever took a wrong turn and had to back up and try another path.
This myth of our perfection props up our credibility as parents. We think that by disguising our mistakes we set the bar high for our kids. We can truly say we want our children to be as wonderful as we are – or as wonderful as we tell them we’ve always been.
In actuality, of course, we want our kids to be better than we were. We’re terrified they will make our own dumb mistakes.
This is where our logic falls down. By not sharing with our teens our experiences with the hard, cruel world we miss out on the best examples we can provide of what not to do and of what to do instead. We tie our own hands.
Imagine, for example, that your teen is going to a party. Should you tell your kid about the time you went to a high school friend’s party when no adults were there, liquor was plentiful, a huge fight broke out on the front lawn, and the police were called? Maybe you don’t. Maybe you just forbid your child to go to the party but don’t tell her why. Maybe you let her go, but give her a long list of rules you expect her to follow. Either way, your teen is not likely to understand why you’re being so restrictive.
But if you tell her what happened to you and if you let her learn from your mistakes, she will be more prepared to avoid this mistake herself. She might still go to the party but now she’s armed with understanding that you had to learn the hard way.
If every teen has to learn everything on his own, reinventing the wheel, the same mistakes will be made in every generation. If, though, you admit to have been less than perfect and to have suffered some consequences in your own teen years, you educate your kid and really help him out.
Sharing your adolescent ups and downs has other benefits. It makes you more human, for one thing, and more approachable. If you weren’t a paragon of virtue, your child can admit to getting into trouble too.
It cements your relationship to your teen, by deepening the understanding between you. Your teen knows you know what it’s like to be under pressure from friends. She knows you know what it’s like to feel confused.
And it lets your teen know that his present state of inner turmoil and confusion is not permanent. Just as you overcame your teenage struggles, so will he. Knowing you’ve not been perfect even though now you seem to have things figured out gives teens hope. It makes them stronger.
And aren’t strong, self-assured children what you wanted all along?
© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.