My Advice: Don’t Ever Offer Advice to Your Teenager!
If there is a good rule of thumb in parenting teenagers, it is this: Resist giving advice – even if your teen asks for your advice.
If you are the typical parent of an adolescent, I’m sure you have thought more than once about why your son or daughter never listens to you and never seems to want – or use – your great advice and well-considered suggestions.
Also, again if you are a typical parent, you probably have found it difficult on various occasions to stop yourself from giving advice when it seemed to be called for.
For example, Heidi heard her daughter Samantha talking to a friend about posting something negative on Facebook about somebody they both knew. Later, Heidi said to Samantha, “If I were you, I wouldn’t do that. You don’t know what could happen as a result of saying something about people on a social media site. It could all go horribly wrong.”
To which Samantha replied: “Get over it, Mom, it’s just Facebook.”
And when Paul tried to give his son Eric suggestions about his basketball playing, Eric’s responses were nearly always the same: “Whatever.” And Paul never saw any indication that Eric heeded his advice.
But to not give your teen any advice, doesn’t that contradict conventional parenting wisdom? Aren’t good parents supposed to support their adolescents and communicate with them?
Well, yes, that much is true and is certainly well-founded conventional wisdom. But the next question is more important: How often do teenagers want your advice? And, as a follow up question, how often do they actually ask for your advice?
Assuming again that you are that typical parent of a teen, you might not be able to recall very many times your teen actually solicited your advice or suggestions – on any subject. Instead, your perception is probably just the opposite. That is, while you have lots of good advice that you’re ready and willing to share with your teenager, most of the time she isn’t willing to listen to it.
Of course, there is a developmentally appropriate reason for this. Since they are becoming more independent and autonomous, they would like to feel more grownup. If they asked for your advice or took your opinion into account in making decisions, it might make them feel like a younger child – and not like the adult they aspire to be.
However, I do know that adolescents — on occasion — seek advice from their parents. There are some good reasons for this, too. One reason is that no matter how often they act like they don’t care what you think or how much stored up wisdom you have, the fact is they still do look up to you. But because of them desperately needing to break away from you and be their own person, they can’t really acknowledge this.
On the other hand, there are those times when they have a momentary loss of belief or faith in their own capabilities. They, then, may be looking to borrow your belief in them until they can restore it in themselves. However, the catch-22 here is that they can only regain faith in their own abilities by working out their own problems.
Which often means that while you should probably not waste your time giving unsolicited advice, you should also not take a teen’s request for advice too literally.
I have another rule of thumb that applies to such situations: Don’t ever give advice to your adolescent until the third time they ask for it.
If you start with “What do you think you ought to do?” or “What do you want to do?” and they give adequate responses to these questions, but they still want to know what you would recommend, you can assume they are serious and truly do want to know what you would advise.
If you follow my two rules of thumb you might find out what a parent I know discovered. After following my rules for dealing with teenager’s requests for advice, she commented: “The less advice I offer, the more my son talks to me.”
The Day I Broke Mr. Winter’s Rule
I was talking to a friend recently. She’s an experienced probation officer in a juvenile court working with delinquent teens on probation.
“Why don’t these kids listen to me when I tell them that if they fail to follow the probation rules there will be unpleasant consequences?” she asked.
“I take many these kids back to court for violation of probation hearings,” she said. “Sometimes their probation is extended and sometimes they get locked up in the detention center. Even though, I carefully go over the probation rules with them, the funny thing is that many of these teenagers tell me they didn’t believe it could happen to them.”
As I tried to answer my friend’s question, I remembered something that happened to me in the fourth grade. Mr. Winters was my fourth grade teacher and one of his rules was that you walked quietly down the wooden steps that led from the playground into our lower-level classroom.
I was well aware of this rule because I saw some of my classmates get punished for breaking this rule. I figured the rule applied to other children, but not to me. After all, I was a good student. I got good grades. I helped Mr. Winters by taking messages down to the office and doing other chores for him.
So, one day I stomped down the wooden steps making a great racket. Mr. Winters was waiting for me at the bottom of the steps.
“You’ll be staying in class for the rest of the week doing extra homework instead of going out for recess,” Mr. Winters announced to me.
“But that’s not fair,” I protested. “I was just playing around.”
“You broke my rule,” he said simply, but firmly. I knew there was no point in arguing further.
I found out that day that Mr. Winters’ rules applied to everyone – even me. I also learned he didn’t play favorites. It didn’t matter that I helped him clean the blackboards earlier that day or that he liked me. If you broke one of Mr. Winters’ rules, there would be consequences.
I never forgot the lesson I learned that day. And I never had to test out one of Mr. Winters’ rules ever again.
Maybe that’s the problem for many adolescents that my friend works with in the juvenile court. Perhaps these kids never had a Mr. Winters in their life. Nor did they have parents who set rules with consistent consequences. I have no doubt that for many of the teens who wind up on probation live in homes in which the rules and the consequences shift from day to day, depending on their parents’ whims or moods.
I’ve come across many parents over the course of my career who do not want their kids to be mad at them. Or they can’t tolerate the temporary anger – sometimes even the momentary hatred – that results when children are given a consequence when they break a rule or violate an established limit. Some of these parents who end up being permissive just want to be popular with their kids and often feel guilty when they hold their children accountable.
Fortunately, Mr. Winters wasn’t trying to win a popularity contest. He didn’t care that day whether I was emotionally hurt or that I might not like him for the rest of that day. He had the wisdom to know that teaching a lesson about rules and consequences was far more important than worrying about whether a student liked him.
Which is why my friend, the probation officer, has to be the person in a lot of teenager’s lives who finally says, “You broke the rules, now you have to pay the consequences.” If no one else is going to enforce rules and limits, she must.
It’s too bad more children don’t have a Mr. Winters in their life when they are young. If they had a Mr. Winters, then they would learn valuable lessons long before they became adolescents and before they were forced to learn one of life’s important lessons the hard way.
Your Teenager Was Caught Cheating at School. Now What Do You Do?
Jasmine, the mother of 15-year-old Julian, was concerned about his cheating at school. Jasmine had received a phone call from Julian’s Algebra teacher that she had discovered Julian cheating on a test and had given him a zero on the exam.
“This isn’t the first time he cheated at school,” Jasmine said. “This happened in another class a few months ago.”
Jasmine was concerned about what her response should be.
“How should I handle it?” she asked. “I feel like I should try to make him feel ashamed because he doesn’t seem to have any guilt about cheating. Should I discuss it openly at home? Should I tell his grandparents? Should I punish him.”
She said she had talked to him and learned that he was aware that other kids in his Algebra class were also cheating. Therefore, he didn’t think he did anything so wrong. “Everybody cheats,” he said to her.
“But with his attitude,” Jasmine said, “I feel like I should teach him a life lesson. But I don’t know how to do that.”
Many parents might feel the same way as Jasmine. If your child was caught cheating at school, you would like to not only stop it but also teach an important lesson in the process. However, like Jasmine, many parents may be perplexed about how to approach the situation so something positive comes of it.
But how should Jasmine – or you — handle it when your adolescent is caught cheating?
Although I believe that guilt is important in helping us regulate our behavior, I’m not sold on the idea of trying to shame a teenager in order to attempt to bring about a change in behavior. The self-image of teenagers is often too fragile for public shame or ridicule to be effective. Better ideas might be the following:
- Make your rules and expectations as clear as possible. For instance, after a cheating incident you could say, “You know how I feel about dishonesty. It’s wrong to cheat in order to get a better grade. No matter why you cheated, there is no justification. I don’t want you to ever do this again.”
- Try to understand what motivated your teen to cheat. Was he trying to get a better grade in order to live up to pressure on him to succeed? Was he doing it because he thought everyone else was cheating? Is cheating a habit or pattern for your child? The more you know about the motivation, the better able you will be to help him deal with the cause.
- Help your child to problem solve and come up with a viable plan so he won’t have to cheat again. Knowing why he cheated can help you help him to devise a strategy so he can avoid cheating in the future. If he feels there is pressure on him to achieve very high grades, then maybe you can help him to view the pressure differently or perhaps you can help ease this pressure.
- Be clear in reasoning with him as to why you think cheating is wrong. You may have personal scruples, a moral philosophy, or religious principles that lead you to believe that cheating is wrong. When talking to your child, tell him why you believe it is wrong. For example, you could say, “I strongly disapprove of cheating because it is morally wrong. I believe it is not right for people to seek to gain something through dishonest means.” Or, you could say, “I find cheating to be a very poor habit because if you get away with it you may come to rely on cheating and you may do it again and in other classes. The more you cheat at school, the greater the likelihood that you will risk a suspension or expulsion. If you cheat in the future in a job or work environment, you may be labeled as untrustworthy or you may even be subject to criminal charges. Cheating is a very serious matter.”
Teen Shares Risk-taking Behavior; Now What do you Do?
I overheard a mother and her teenage daughter talking to each other recently. Some important issues were being addressed and while both mother and daughter were struggling with these issues, neither seemed to realize exactly what was going on in their discussion – or their relationship.
The surface issues had to do with communication, morality, discipline, and trust. But, the age-old problem of redefining the relationship between parent and adolescent was also lurking underneath their conversation.
In this discussion, 16-year-old Charlotte wanted to be honest with her mother and she said she wanted to let her mother know that sometimes she drank beer with her friends.
“And you expect me to just say, okay and let you do that?” her mother asked. “What else can you do?” Charlotte responded.
“As a parent,” her mother replied, “I have an obligation to tell you it is wrong. Maybe I should even try to stop you – or forbid you to hang around with your friends.”
“You can’t do that,” Charlotte said. “How would you do that anyway?”
Although there was a defiant edginess in this question by Charlotte, it was actually an excellent question. At the same time, it revealed the conflict that often takes place between parents and adolescents. Parents may realize they may need to continue to set limits, but how exactly do they do that with a girl like Charlotte who drives, spends time with friends, and is away from home a good part of every day?
Although the conversation started out as Charlotte’s attempt to be open with her mother about her behavior, her mother was concerned about Charlotte engaging in a risky behavior – drinking. And her mother wasn’t sure what to do with this knowledge. Should she try to stop her daughter from drinking? If so, how would she do this? Should she repeat again (for maybe the 100th time in Charlotte’s life) that drinking alcohol at her age is illegal and that she — her mother — thought drinking was wrong?
Would anything her mother said or did have any significant effect on Charlotte’s future behavior in regards to drinking alcohol with her friends?
Charlotte and her mother were visiting a classic struggle that countless other parents and teens have faced. The problem seems to be about drinking, but the conflict has much more to do with the relationship between parents and teenagers.
Parents worry that they are losing control and that they have a diminished ability to play a significant role in what their adolescents do. On the other hand, teens may seek out a more equal relationship with their parents and they may want to be able to share things about their life in an open, adult-like manner.
Yet, a parent doesn’t stop being a parent – certainly not with a 16-year-old daughter or son. So even though a child may reveal things that are of concern, how is a mother or father supposed to handle it?
In this conversation, Charlotte’s mother was not ready to say what needed to be said. However, based on my experiences with teens, here’s the way I believe parents need to respond in this kind of situation:
Mother: “I appreciate you being honest and open with me about your drinking. I’d like to believe that we have an honest relationship with each other and I hope that continues.
“However, as you are aware, I can’t offer my support for you doing something that is illegal and maybe even dangerous. But I also have a lot of confidence in your ability to make wise decisions.
“I prefer that you not drink with your friends. You know all the reasons why I’m against teenagers drinking. And you know I love you and worry about your health and safety. However, I also know I can’t stop you from doing things when you are with your friends that are risky.
“But, again, I trust that you will make good decisions that will make me proud of you. I’m willing to discuss your decisions any time you want. And if I can help you make the right decisions, you know I’m always here for you.”