Are You A Screw-Up?
Not too long ago I was paid a visit by one of my students whose grades were slipping. The student shared that problems at home (particularly with parents), was the reason for the declining grades. “My mom’s pretty much a screw up; and my dad’s no better”, the kid said. Together the student and I worked out some strategies to raise the grades and we discussed ways to build on the positive aspects of the relationships with mom and dad. I contacted the student’s mom to inform, and clarify details of what the student shared. Additionally I solicited her parental input, and offered support and pertinent resources.
So, does your teen consider you a “screw-up”? Perhaps I should define “screw-up” before you answer that. The meaning of the term depends on your teen’s definition. Other terms that I’ve heard students use to describe their parents are “pain-in-rear” (I’m being nice here), “crazy”, “nag”, “embarrassing”, and “nuts”. Hearing this sentiment from high-schoolers from time to time is common in school counseling.
You’re Probably a Screw-Up
As you read this you may be thinking, “Surely my kid doesn’t think I’m a ‘screw-up’.” Think again. You don’t have to be a convicted criminal serving a life sentence for your teen to put you in one of the categories I’ve listed above. To be considered a “screw-up” in your adolescent’s mind only requires that you screw-up once; and you’ve earned your status as a parent-screw-up. Even if you are somehow the perfect parent (which is yet to be discovered); all it takes is for you to disagree with your teen on some issue (even if you’re 100% right), that’s grounds for you to be a “screw-up” as far as your teen is concerned. It’s your fault. You don’t understand; and you’re a pain in the rear.
Reasons Why You’re A Screw-Up
The adolescent mind is an interesting place. Many adult qualities are burgeoning in your teen’s brain. High-schoolers are discovering new ways to see the world. They have an ever-increasing ability to employ executive functioning skills, to analyze ideas, to evaluate rationale, to derive their own conclusions about events, ideas, and people (including their parents). These are mental tools that you’ve been using for eons, but new tools for your teen. They will use them to navigate life in the quickly approaching adult world. Like any novice with new tools, they need practice for the real world; who better to practice on than mom and dad. After all, you’re the one whose challenging them. Many teens will use their new-found mental faculties to contest every idea, decision, and rationale you throw at them; after all, why should they listen to you? They can think on their own now!
To add injury to these insults, teens at this age are distancing themselves from their parents emotionally. This allows them to prepare for and make room for other kinds of healthy adult relationships they will form in college-life, work, and beyond. With that distance and the new-found thinking abilities, high-schoolers are able to evaluate mom and dad from a vantage point that is less like a dependent and more like a peer.
What’s a Parent To Do?
- Understand what’s happening to your teen. There are very dynamic things happening in your child’s brain. Many times they don’t know why they are so combative, or resistant, or aloof, but if you know; that will at least help one of you to have composure when disagreements flare up. Purchase some teen parenting books or follow a few good parting blogs!
- Remind them that you are not their enemy. Do this by your actions, words only go so far when you are trying to build a bridge. At some point you must build the bridge.
- Remember to respond to your teen and not to react. Some teens say some pretty clever and cutting things on impulse; and they know just how to get at what really irks you. They have all the tools to engage in intellectual debate with any adult, yet they lack the prudence and restraint that is only acquired with maturity.
Even though your kid may consider you the “nag of the century” or a “screw-up” or a “pain-in-the-neck!” Don’t stop being a parent. Don’t stop holding them accountable, don’t stop giving consequences, and don’t stop teaching them. In addition to those things be sure and give your teen plenty of grace; it’s tough navigating these new waters.
You Won’t Always Be a Screw-Up
I’ve had the privilege to work with thousands of teens and their parents over the past 14 years I’ve learned this: eventually they’ll take you off of their “screw-up” list. Sometimes kids put their parents on the list for a day or two and other parents find themselves on the list for a few years; but eventually you’ll be off of the bad list and back into the hero hall of fame. I was a screw-up for a couple of years. My daughter had me on the list and everything. She’s currently a college freshman. About a month ago I got a text from her, telling me how much she appreciated everything that I’ve done for her. Of course I called her to find out how much money she needed! Turned out that she didn’t want anything but to show her appreciation. We had a great conversation and she sealed it off with “okay, love you. bye”. All an adolescent wants is a mom and a dad who loves them and can guide them along the way. If you can do that through those high school years, you’ll eventually get a payoff of love and appreciation later on. Parents, keep up the good work, you’re not a screw-up after all.