Ages ago, our son Garrett drafted a long list of things parents never should say to their kids. Admittedly, this list of parenting don’ts was initially directed towards me in anger, but it turned out to be therapeutic for both of us. Recently, now-teenage Garrett updated the list specifically targeting adults raising teenagers. Although Garrett’s points are generalizations for all parents, I responded directly to him because I’m his mom, and we look children in the eye and respond when they open up to us. Garrett and I hope our list will spark conversation within your family.
4 Parenting “Don’ts”
1. Saying “You’re just a kid/You’re too young to understand.”
Parents, you probably say this because you think your kid is for some reason incapable of critical thinking due to youth and a lack of experience. In reality, all you’re doing is coming across as dismissive, showing an unwillingness to listen, and insulting your child’s intelligence. This discourages kids from forming their own opinions on complex issues, or even from trying to think about things in the “adult world.” Don’t invalidate your child’s thoughts because they disagree with you; you’re doing nothing but damage. If they legitimately do not understand something, just explain to them what they’re missing in a way that doesn’t belittle them.
Good points, especially those regarding discouraging kids from forming their own opinions. Noted. Most parents aren’t intentionally belittling their children, but you’re right. Parents need to practice explaining the why behind a statement.
The reason parents say this is because there’s a difference between intellect, knowledge and wisdom. Intellect is one’s capacity for rational thought. Knowledge is the information one acquires. Wisdom integrates intellect, knowledge, and experience. No matter how much intellect and knowledge a person possesses, some situations require wisdom. Wisdom requires time. Ideally, parents have the combination of intellect, knowledge, and experience. Our desire is to share our wisdom with our kids, even when we inadequately express that.
2. Preventing your child from dating
You probably do this because you think you’re protecting your kid or keeping them away from distractions. In reality, you’re damaging your relationship with them while preventing them from learning crucial, developmentally appropriate lessons about relationships and sexuality. Let your kid date. Even if they make mistakes, they’ll learn extremely valuable lessons at the right time instead of fumbling to figure out the basics in college or elsewhere.
I agree. Perhaps the conflict with a lot of families is when teens should be allowed to date. There’s a lot of stuff wrapped up in that decision. Things like culture, religion, and geographic location. Dating is a topic families should discuss, including negotiating the when and the how.
3. Saying “Because I said so.”
This parenting don’t occurs because you don’t want to explain yourself, you feel like your authority is being challenged, and you don’t want to consider the fact that you may be wrong. Instead of killing all communication in your relationship with your child and belittling their intelligence, try explaining your logic in a reasonable manner. Allow your child to respond in a similarly respectful way, and things will be much better for both sides. Communication is always key.
Yes, I’ve used this phrase, not as often as I heard it from my elders back in the day. There were times it was necessary. Remember what I said about wisdom above? Also, parents sometimes don’t have the luxury to explain. I remember walking down the street with you and seeing an unwell soul walking towards us. I maneuvered to cross the street. You audibly questioned me because I veered us away from our destination. I didn’t have time to explain. Potential danger was approaching. Plus, the person would have heard me explaining, and that may have jeopardized our safety. You needed to do what I said, when I said it, without explanation. That’s why I gave you the “Despite Your Belief, I am the Boss of You” stare. Some occasions call for it.
4. Being dismissive if your child expresses any problems with their mental or physical health.
No, they don’t just want attention. They’re not lying. They are crying out for help. If it has gotten to the point where they are coming to you, it’s already very, very bad, whatever it is. Take them to the doctor. Take them to therapy. Please prioritize your child’s wellbeing. I have witnessed firsthand the irreversible, lifelong damage that can be done by dismissing a child’s pleas for help, either psychologically or physically. Just listen.
Ditto. Have I told you today that I love you and am proud of you?
The common theme behind all of these parenting don’ts seems to be listening. Just listen to your kid. They’re smart. They can think too. Don’t let your ego get in the way. Don’t minimize them by saying they’re just trying to challenge your authority. Don’t tell them they don’t know what they’re talking about. Your child is a person too, and they deserve to be treated as such. It doesn’t matter that your parents didn’t raise you that way and that you turned out fine. (Go to therapy, by the way. You’re not fine, and that’s okay.) It doesn’t matter that you’re insecure that a child could be right where you’re wrong. Just hear them out. Showing a little respect goes a long way to getting it in return.