Home > Uncategorized > Not your namby-pamby teenage parenting advice column

Not your namby-pamby teenage parenting advice column

March 16, 2016

I was quite annoyed this morning to read this recent advice column about parenting teenagers by Lisa Damour, entitled The Best Way to Fight With a Teenager. In first four paragraphs of this column, she never talks about what parents do, only what teenagers do. An excerpt:

Adolescents who favor either of the first two routes — escalating fights or stubbornly refusing to engage in them — are the ones most likely to be or become depressed, anxious or delinquent.

As if adolescents actually favor refusing to engage in disagreements. What a ridiculous notion.

Actually, it’s more like this: parents regularly attack and/or discipline their children for thinking differently, having dissenting voices, and generally speaking trying to establish their independence. I’m not going out on a limb when I propose the majority of teenagers who “refuse to engage” are reacting entirely rationally to being previously shut down for expressing an ounce of opinion.

Parents think that they have difficult teenagers, but the reverse is just as often the case: teenagers have difficult parents. Instead of a column for parents to think about all the dysfunctional ways their teenagers deal with disagreement, there should be a book for teenagers to learn how to deal with parents who cannot deal with being challenged. Maybe I’ll write it.

I’ll go further, in fact. Teenagers are easier to deal with if for parents who like their views challenged and who can react positively to having their hypocrisies pointed out to them. Because that’s what teenagers do, and god bless them, they are the most honest critics in the world. By the time they’re grown up they’ve learned to lie to make people feel better, but I’d rather spend time with a teenager any day of the week.

So, here’s my parenting advice, folks: listen to your teenager, because he or she is probably telling you something honest and true, in fact something so honest and so true that you can barely recognize it and it sometimes hurts. Don’t kill the messenger.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. March 16, 2016 at 9:19 am

    This all reminds me a bit of a pet peeve:
    When I was younger I hardly heard terms like “hyperactivity” and “ADHD”… think I began hearing them a lot around my 40s. Can’t help but think parents/adults completely forget what it’s like to be a young person… I don’t doubt children are often hyperactive… THEY’RE CHILDREN FOR GOD’S SAKE… that’s what they ought to be! I’m sure there is such a thing as clinical ADHD, but can’t help but believe that it’s waaay over-diagnosed and over-medicated.

    Having said all that, I DO wonder what the long-term effect (if any) of rapid-view-shifting shows like Sesame Street (and now digital games) has been on attention-spans of young viewers brought up on them?
    Anyway, parents I realize your memory is like Swiss cheese by now ;-), but try to recall what being a child or a teenager is actually like… or, read Cathy’s next book.

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  2. March 16, 2016 at 1:40 pm

    Excellent points.
    I seem to recall, 30 years ago, that there were books, perhaps several of them, on the notion that at some point parents had to grow up and interact with their children as adults.

    In the original article: “withdrawing” “complying”. I am trying to envision how these are different. The original author said little about “withdrawing”, whatever was meant by that.

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  3. Sam Baker
    March 16, 2016 at 6:01 pm

    Great post! Totally agree.

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  4. Laurent
    March 17, 2016 at 7:41 am

    You mean a book like this one: “Manuel à l’usage des enfants qui ont des parents difficiles”? Amazon.com seems to have it in a few languages, but not English 😦

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  5. March 17, 2016 at 2:21 pm

    Glad to see someone standing up for youth.

    Btw, “Teenagers are easier to deal with if for parents who like their views challenged” should be “Teenagers are easier to deal with for parents who like their views challenged”.

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  6. Da5id
    March 20, 2016 at 11:54 am

    I was, and often still am, a conflict-withdrawer. I learned this not from parents who shut me down but from parents who withdrew from conflict themselves. There are many ways to learn different the conflict styles.

    Georgephillies: Complying is doing what someone else wants to resolve the conflict. Withdrawing is running away from or ignoring it when there’s a conflict, AKA conflict avoidance. The conflict is not resolved when it’s withdrawn from, it can be forgotten or it can fester.

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  7. Kim
    March 23, 2016 at 9:54 pm

    The fact that teenagers are completely honest and true would be easier to handle if they could accept the same from their parents. So if my daughter tells me I look fat in something, she shouldn’t get mad if I say she looks like a slut in something. Teenagers want to be able say and do anything without consequences, but that is not the way life works. If teens want the freedom to say whatever comes to mind, they need to afford the adults in their lives the same freedoms.

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    • March 23, 2016 at 10:08 pm

      My kids tell me I am fat all the time. I am fat. I wouldn’t tell them, if they were girls, that they are slutty, because that’s more than a description, it’s a judgement. I might tell them they look sexy or alluring.

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  8. March 28, 2016 at 8:47 am

    This would make a great Disagreement Case Study. Any parents interested in taking part?

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  9. March 28, 2016 at 8:49 am

    Weird, previous comment didn’t post. Anyway

    This would make a great Disagreement Case Study as per http://www.overcomingbias.com/2007/02/seeking_disagre.html — any young parents interested in attempting one of those?

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  10. March 30, 2016 at 4:29 pm

    This really resonates with me, as a liberally-minded and irreligious person who was raised by religious conservatives in the South. As an adult I can see that they were right about some things, like their concern about my drug use, but because of our deep political/theological disagreements I couldn’t acknowledge their moral authority. It makes me wonder how I would handle my child suddenly becoming Southern Baptist, Ayn Rand-worshiping, pro-life etc.

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