Dreams Vs. Reality In Bringing Up Teens

Love, Family

You thought you were raising a straight-A student, but got a punk rock drummer instead. What now?

Donna was such a nice kid! The whole family adored her. Sweet, easy to take places, considerate of grandparents—she even remembered their birthdays before her parents did. Who would have imagined that at sixteen her hair would be purple with yellow streaks, she would have a few too many piercings and would have scared her parents sleepless when she fell in love with Donnie, who at that time, was her mirror image as a boy?

Virginia was a sensitive, private child, not easy to get to know. Her parents worried about her: she stayed inside when neighborhood children played, and she never wanted to have a sleep over. A good student, she seemed content to do things quietly, her way, which, although totally acceptable according to a local psychologist, was hard for her outgoing, social parents to accept. Even as a teen she was somewhat of a loner, still an Honor Student, though she now had two best friends and played the Tuba in the high school band. Her parents lost sleep and worried constantly as they wrung their hands over an overly shy teenager. And why the Tuba? Couldn't she have picked a more standard instrument like her cousin Linda did, say, a flute?

Every parent's dream is that their child will grow up successful in life, with a loving spouse, a great job, and a happy family. The dreams of parents and their child may differ quite a bit though, given that personality styles start to show in infancy and are not necessarily compatible with family norms.

Even at a very young age each child begins to find herself, who she likes, who she hates and what she dreams of becoming. She has already formed a personality style that is reflected in her interests and her way of responding to all of life's events.  For example, from the playground on kids form small cliques with other children who share similar interests, and eventually they form emotional and romantic bonds with others who also reflect parts of themselves.

This can be hard and scary for teens and parents alike. As parents, we want to protect our children from the pain and heartache that can come with relationships and other situations. If we fear our child is experimenting with alcohol or drugs, we may be frightened for their safety. We want to know that the people who come into our daughters' lives will be in their best interests.  We may also wish that these people, including those romantically involved with our daughters, reflect our values. 

For the teen herself, knowing that she is in conflict with her parents, it can be hard to confide in her parents about the real stuff in her life.  She may want to, but fears of disapproval or embarrassment get in the way.

Here are a few things you can do to make a positive difference to your teen:

  1. Keep In Communication! Talk to your teen about their day, interests, and friends. Sometimes all you need to do is ask!
  2. Have an open mind! This is very important. Keeping an open mind to your child's sexuality and opinions, even if they differ from yours, will build a stronger relationship.
  3. Trust them! Trust your teen. After all, you raised them. If you trust and believe in your teenager, then they will trust and believe in you.
  4. Listen to them! Sometimes your teen doesn't want advice. All they really want is someone to listen and understand them, and maybe a shoulder to cry on. This can be really helpful, and your teen will want to come and confide in you more often.
  5. Love them—always! This is the most important. Your teen needs to know you love them unconditionally. More than just hearing that you love them, your teen needs to feel it and see that you love them despite their mistakes, opinions, or sexuality.

Will your teen thank you?  I can't say, but she will benefit from your behavior and you won't stay up worrying so many night.  Those are the beginnings of a win-win!

Dr. Barbara Becker Holstein, Positive Psychologist and Happiness Coach

Websites: Enchanted Self, TheTruthforgirls, Next Year in Jerusalem, Authors Speaking, Positive Psychology for Women

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