I’m not great at the advice. Can I interest you in a sarcastic comment?
– Chandler Bing
What’s good parenting?
Sure, ask a teenager that. What could possibly go wrong? She definitely knows what she’s talking about. It’s definitely not counterintuitive to ask a child (yes, teenagers still count as children) this. Wisdom comes from unexpected places, you say. So stop expecting things from me!
As far as I can tell, it doesn’t matter if you don’t do the voices in Peter Pan or conveniently fall asleep while reading Harry Potter. In fact, that may just make your kid want to read it him or herself. And reading is a good thing, right kids?
What matters is the big stuff (for kids, I mean. Most of our ‘big stuff’ is downright miniscule when put into perspective). Like when they don’t get the role they wanted in the school play, or didn’t get to play at a football match. Just being there is usually enough; we don’t need a big motivational speech, it’ll probably go straight over our heads. But just knowing that help is there if we need it, is plenty. Throw in a hug or two, maybe a nice dinner, and you’re set.
At a younger age, it’s probably better to keep it simple with the advice – children work in mysterious ways. At the same time, it’s better if they understand why they shouldn’t touch a kettle on the stove rather than just being told to stay away. Otherwise the more rebellious ones may decide to get adventurous. As for punishments, all I can say is to not make them stand in a corner near a window – it’s too distracting, and the birds on the wires outside make you forget you’re being punished at all, which somewhat diminishes the whole ‘think on your sins’ idea.
The first few years are good for filling the family album, and while they come with temper tantrums and runny noses, they’re a walk in the proverbial garden compared to what comes next.
The premonition of the teenage years
Enter the teenage years. (Imagine your favourite apocalypse music playing in the background). Now, you might just get lucky and your kid may not have a rebellious phase, or like most parents, you spend your time wondering how kids of this generation got so snarky and cynical. You weren’t like this when back when, were you? It’s hard not to roll your eyes, especially when we do it so much. And then there’s the whole “nobody understands me phase”, that you can’t even begin to comprehend. Now, you can either give them space, or you can get involved. I have it on good authority that option two is what we in teenage terms call a bad idea. That’s basically a regular idea, only the light bulb that just popped into existence over your head glows red and makes “game over” sounds. Best case scenario, you find out what’s bothering them. And there’ll be pigs replacing aeroplanes as well. But, more likely, you’ll hear a whole lot of “NOTHING, I’M FINE!” (imagine the whiny tone). It’s probably going to be hard to refrain from saying “One day you’ll realise how stupid you sound.”
Again, I’ve heard that doing what we teenagers call ‘backing off’ may help. This may seem simple, but it’s harder than it looks, depending on the moodiness levels of said teenager. Consider a scale of one to ten for the moodiness meter. Now, discard it. Teenagers don’t often go below levels of twelve or thirteen. Now, backing off doesn’t mean just not asking how their day went. It means no subtle involvement either: don’t suggest books like “chicken soup for the blah blah blah” or find a convenient opening at dinner to talk about this great article you read about teenagers doing great things before they hit college. Or the next thing you know, they’ve locked themselves in their room and you can hear them breaking the ‘don’t panic’ sign you surreptitiously hung in their room. Pretty scary huh? Well, at least they’re getting their protein, right?
While the teenage years of your child are the worst of your life, the bright side is that you can stock up on ammunition to blackmail them with, in fact, realise how stupid they sounded. However, the worst thing you can do to your child, toddler or teenager, is to compare them to another kid. They really couldn’t care less how well the next door neighbour’s kid did in their board exams. While you sit across them at the dinner table, telling them how great that other kid is, there are a thousand things your kid isn’t telling you, like how (ahem) ‘irresponsible’ said prodigy is. I say irresponsible, but you can replace it with just about any curse word you like. That won’t even be close to the curse words your teenage son or daughter is saying in their head. Yes, all of the kids know curse words, and no, it isn’t because of all those doggone video games they play these days.
But I digress. The point is, comparing your children to others puts unnecessary pressure on them, and I’m sure you don’t want them to resent you more than usual, so lay off (this can be used interchangeably with ‘back off’). If they’re in their teenage years, this will especially rub them the wrong way. How can they be special snowflakes if the kid next door is always one upping them? It’s probably hard to do this, seeing as you’ve been doing it for a while, but at some point you have to stop back seat driving. At some point, you have to stop ‘helping’, because, though you have the best intentions, I don’t think it means what you think it means. Put simply, “help” = “interfering” = omg, leave me alone. You’ll have to stop sooner or later, and sooner is often better. Sometimes a ‘hang in there’ is better than a heart to heart, but not always. Sometimes, you do need to step in and find out what’s wrong, but for the most part, teenagers can go solo as long as they know whose side you’re on. (Just to be clear, it’s theirs.)
And if you think you’re doing it wrong, join the club.