Guest post by the lovely, talented and teen-connected, Vanessa Van Petten!
By Vanessa Van Petten, creator of RadicalParenting.com and author of the parenting book, “Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I’m Grounded?”
When I was 16 I thought it was my Dad’s goal in life to make me miserable. I was convinced that he had a running list of all the ways he could embarrass me in front of my friends, trick me into doing more chores or make my curfew earlier. Our relationship would have continued to fracture until one day I saw my Dad reading a parenting book. I flipped through it while my Dad was in the bathroom and realized a lot of the things he did that drove me crazy he was getting right out of this book! I looked at the other parenting books on our shelves and realized that they were all written by adults. I wondered—has anyone ever asked teens to write to their parents?
I decided to build a website where teens could answer questions and write to parents called RadicalParenting.com. I couldn’t believe how quickly it grew and how happy both teens were to get their voices out and parents were to have a new outlet for connecting with their kids! We now have over 120 teen writers who give advice. Here are the six things they wish their parents knew:
1. Don’t Ask ‘Answer-Questions’
An Answer-Question is a question that already has the answer in it. For example, moms love to ask, “Don’t you think that girl Sheila is mean?” or, “Do you think you should do something about that very important extra-credit assignment?” Sometimes Answer-Questions drive us crazy because it makes us feel like our parents don’t think we know what to do, or belittle our opinions.
2. Comparing Us Hurts More Than You Think
Whenever a parent starts a sentence with, “Why can’t you be more like…” teens automatically cringe. Fill in the blank with perfect best friend, older sibling or a younger, more obedient version of Mom. Many parents don’t realize that comparing us to others makes us feel bad about ourselves and sends us the message that we should be less like ourselves and more like someone else—never a good feeling.
3. The Issues Are the Same, the Circumstances Are Different
We know that every parent was a teenager once—although it is sometimes hard to believe it. Even though all teenagers have some of the same issues, like dating, curfew, pressure at school and bullying, we want parents to know that the circumstances are different. Colleges are more competitive and technologies like Facebook and texting add a new layer of complication to teen relationships. Please don’t assume things are the same as they were when you were a teenager and talk to us about what is different.
4. Risk Is Tempting
Risk is much more appealing to us and this is backed by science. Researchers at University of Texas found that there are parts of the teen brain that are more tempted to take risks. Teenagers want their parents to know this so that parents can encourage positive risk-taking. Extreme sports, running for student government, going to a theme park these are all positive adrenaline producing activities that scratch that risk itch.
5. Just Because We Are Rolling Our Eyes, Doesn’t Mean We Aren’t Listening
We often pretend to not listen to our parents or care what they think, but we do. Don’t let our eye rolling, lackadaisical attitude fool you, we are often listening and what you say matters to us more than you think.
6. Social Rejection Is Actually Painful
Many parents do not understand why we care so much about what our friends think. Two researchers at UCLA discovered that social rejection actually registers as bodily injury or pain in the brain! There might not be that big of a difference between a punch and a catcall. For us when our friends disapprove or we feel socially rejected it can feel worse than a punch in the gut. So have patience with our obsession with friends and help us find great ones and balance social time with family time, work time and alone time.
In conclusion, ask your own teens what they wish you knew about them—they might surprise you. All of these tips come from my book that I wrote with my teen interns for parents. It’s called: “Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I’m Grounded” and it offers a totally radical perspective for parents to connect with and build relationships with their teens and tweens. Please check it out!