It’s not easy being the parent of a teenager. (I should know. I’ve had one for a couple of years.) But you know what’s harder than being the parent of a teenager? Being a teenager.
In theory, the process of leaving childhood and entering the adult years is a gradual one, but in reality, it’s like you wake up one day and everything is different. Your body is different, your face is different, your friends have changed, your parents expect more from you, there are huge decisions you have to make and you’re not ready. Or you’re totally ready to be taken seriously and do your own thing, but everyone still sees you as a kid. Sometimes you flip-flop between the two states, wondering whether you’re insane when half of you misses being a little kid and the other half dreams of freedom. It’s incredibly hard to find a happy medium when you’re in this place.
No one knows this better than the group of thoughtful, perceptive teenagers we’ve gathered to help us out on our latest project. Titled “Dispatches from High School,” this offshoot of our Hatch program focuses on teenage voices as they share their thoughts and feelings with us. We’ll be periodically reaching out to this group to ask some tough questions — questions about peer pressure, school pressure, their emotional lives, sexuality, friendships and more.
For our first installment, we’ve been thinking a lot about the challenges of parent-teenager conversations. They always feel so fraught and can quickly become heated. With this in mind, we asked the following question: What’s the one thing you wish your parents would stop asking/telling you?
Here are their responses. We hope you find them as enlightening as we did.
“Being in a divorced family and living with my mom, of course the questions will come up about if I am happy and if I like where I am. Most of the time, she asks me if I see my dad as much as I would like to. Obviously, I don’t, with him living in California and only seeing him twice a year. But I wish my mom would stop asking me questions about him because it usually just reminds me of him and makes me miss him and my half-siblings even more.”
“The one that bothers me the most is, “Evan, have you done your homework?’ My parents may not always trust me when it comes to getting my schoolwork done, but by now they should know that I always have my homework done by the time they ask. In their defense, the question is not brought up very frequently, but when it does, I get very frustrated. I wish my parents would stop asking me if I have done my homework — not only because it’s my responsibility whether or not I’ve done my homework, but also because I hate when my parents interfere with my schoolwork. They get very involved and sometimes that results in me having to start over, and that makes me very angry.”
— Evan, freshman
“The one question I wish I could banish from my mother’s dialogue is this: ‘If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?’ Every kid has heard this one time or another, and it just inspires the same feeling in all of us — an overwhelming feeling of frustration. Parents, this question is just a cliché response to your child. Instead, your child would like to have a mature, reflective conversation about the pros and cons of making an informed choice.
“The question is typically asked in a situation when a teenager wants to participate in something that their friends are doing. They know their parents will either say no or be on the fence about it. The child tends to say something like, ‘But all my friends are doing it.’ At this moment, they get hit with the big, overused question. This question from a parent is not very effective to the immature teenage brain. As I have experienced, it usually backfires, and the response will be nothing at all or very nervy. Typically, when I don’t respond, I can’t think of a response without being rude. Occasionally, I do let something regrettable slip out.
“The conversation has the probability of being much more mature and having a decent outcome if the parent would ask guiding questions to help their child see all angles of the issue. All kids have the desire to fit into the crowd, and although this might be unsettling, there’s usually room for mature compromise.”
— Lucy, Junior