The Life of Bon: 21 things parents should know about their teenagers

Thursday, April 24, 2014

21 things parents should know about their teenagers

I don't have kids of my own and I don't profess to know a thing about how extremely difficult it is to raise them.  But I do teach kids.  180 of them, in fact.  I teach English in a suburban high school in Utah- five senior classes and one junior classes.  Every day I interact with hundreds of teenagers- your children.  I talk to them, I read their papers, I get to know them all.  By the end of the year I am shedding tears as I say goodbye to them- over the nine months we have connected and bonded, and I feel like I am saying goodbye to my own kids.

I am finishing my fourth year of this gig, and I don't see myself quitting anytime soon.  I adore these teenagers.  They may be a bit of an enigma, but I think after four years I have learned a few things about teenagers and the way they work.

Sometimes parents will ask me for advice.  They'll come in harried looking and frustrated to parent teacher conference or they'll write me a frantic email.  "Ben doesn't open up with us, I don't know how to help him- anything you think I should do?"  or "Have you noticed John has been moody and sad lately?  Do you know why?"  They have questions about their children, and they think that because I see them outside the home that I may know something about their children that they don't.

Maybe I do.  And maybe I don't. Who's to say?  I do know that many are willing to tell me things or open up to me in ways that they might not be willing to with their parents.  I don't have the power to ground them for the weekend, after all.  Plus, I have the added benefit of being younger than 40- a fact that certainly makes me a much more likely target for their tales of worry and woe.  I observe a lot of students and their parents and the way they interact.  I hear about a lot of home situations... kids fill up notebooks telling me all about their life experiences.  And so, I never feel totally qualified to answer parents' questions about their teenagers, but I have started to catch on to a few things.  With the huge disclaimer that I have never myself raised a child, I give you tonight what parents should know about their teenagers.  If I were a parent to a teenager, these are the things I would want my child's teacher to tell me.

1.  Teenagers are not nearly as "bad" as you think they are.  As a whole they are kind, loving, funny, vulnerable, quirky, scared, anxious, and very very sweet.  They are likely not up to half of the mischief you think they are.
2.  Teenagers are seeking your approval and your love.  More than anything, they want you to be proud of them.
3.  Teenagers lie because they don't want to disappoint you.  They don't want to ruin their relationship with you and are afraid if they tell you the truth it will damage the relationship you have.  They aren't trying to be deceitful, they are trying to protect their relationship with you.  (Read Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman for more on the study of why teenagers lie.  It's fascinating.)
4.  Teenagers want to go dinner with you or catch a movie with you or just "hang out" with you.  They want to spend time with you even though they would never tell you that.
5.  Teenagers want you to ask them questions about their lives.  They might not open up on their own, but with a little prodding, there is likely so much that they want you to know.  More than you realize, they crave a close relationship with their parents.
6.  Teenagers are smart.  And manipulative.  Even when they don't realize it, they are often subconsciously trying to manipulate adults.  Give them clear limits and boundaries and don't let them take advantage of you- that is the only way they can really thrive.
7.  It's okay for your teenagers to be bored.  Teach them how to deal with boredom and how to entertain themselves.  It's also okay for them to be frustrated.  You don't have to rescue them from all of their bad experiences.
8.  It's okay for your teenager to go without his or her cell phone.  Set limits on it (Turn off texting after a certain time at night) and even make him help pay the bill!  Have no texting zones like the dinner table or the family car so they learn how to hold conversations without checking their phone every two minutes.
9.  When a teacher calls home because of a problem with your teenager, take the teacher's side.  Nine times out of ten, the teacher is in the right and the teenager needs to know that you are not going to save him from every situation.
10.  Teenagers are like babies- if they are grumpy, it is likely because they are hungry or tired.  Feed them dinner and make them take a nap and they will likely be much more reasonable.
11.  Teenagers are mostly motivated by three things: money, food, and the opposite sex.  Use that to your advantage.
12.  Teenagers want to be seen as adults, even though they're not quite ready for that responsibility.  Their two greatest needs are 1) Love and 2) Freedom- in that order.  Give them as much freedom as you can (within clear limits, of course) and let them have a voice and a say.  A lot of the times they just want to be heard.
13.  Not all teenagers are having sex and getting high on the weekends.
14.  Some are.  But that doesn't mean they're not great kids.
15.  Teach your teenager how to have a conversation with an adult and how to be polite to adults and other authority figures.  This will get him further in life than any tutoring service or extra curricular activity.
16.  Teenagers are moody.  If your teenager is lashing out at you today that means nothing about how he will treat you tomorrow.  Most of the time, it has nothing to do with you.
17.  Don't let your teenager come home, go into his room with the door closed, and spend the rest of the afternoon and evening on his computer.  Just don't.
18.  I can tell the way you let your child talk to you by the way he talks to me.  Don't let your teenager call you stupid or any other derogatory name.   It is amazing how quickly I can tell which parents put up with demeaning talk and bad attitudes from their children.  Countless times I have had a student be rude, sassy, or disrespectful to me only to later see him interacting with his parent in the same way.  Demand respect and give it back.
19.  You don't have to be the cool mom or cool dad.  Just be a parent who will listen to their teenager.
20.  Your teenager is likely the busiest and most stressed he has ever been in his life.  He is juggling more than ever before.  Be patient, loving, and kind with him and validate his stresses.
21.  Your teenager adores you.  He only wants the same from you.


  1. I sometimes reflect back on my teenager years and wonder what my parents were thinking during those times. Oh, I thought I was so clever! Love this list and your insight from a teacher's perspective. A few favorites are #3, #13 and #14 and #20. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Gosh you're smart. I love all this.

  3. Great post, Bonnie! We've been working with our church youth group the past year. Love 13 and 14. Truth.

  4. these are all really great and i don't think they are over the top at all. i feel like many of these also lead to raising decent human beings, something the world can always use more of. this post was great!

  5. I love this so much that I am printing it! I'm a single mom of three wonderful kiddos, ages 20, 18, and 12. Parenting is hard without a doubt, and it is hard to remember to slow down and enjoy them. Love, love, love this!

  6. I love kids - I'm a Nanny so it's hard to go to work and not like them - but when it comes to teenagers I find myself cringing a little; probably because the first 5 years of High School were some of the bitchiest years of my life. That being said after reading this I'm not so cringy anymore.

    Sophie xxx

  7. All totally true, tho I would add a couple more. Set rules and stick to them. Teach your child that there are consequences for their actions. They will make mistakes, but they have to learn that when they do the bad stuff, there are consequences. If you set a rule, and they break it, give them a punishment.....that could be removal of phone, or grounding, but do it! Don't let your kid get away without consequences. This is something my daughter hated growing up, but now tells me was one of the best things I ever did as her mum. Secondly: be a parent first and a friend second. They need you to be there to set the rules, to set the boundaries and to deal with the mess of everyday life before they need you to hang out with them and get drunk with them.

  8. This is amazing. I have a six and four year old and the teenage years scare me, but I was really close to my parents when I was a teenager and I expect the same from my kids. Limits, clear expectations, interest, lots of love, and no isolating behaviors... sounds about right to me!

  9. I love this. We don't have children, but thinking back to when I was a teenager, and you nailed all of this advice on the head, great job Bon!!

  10. I love the one about them being like babies - so true! A good nap and a big meal does wonders!

  11. I know Hannah Llewelyn!!! I danced with her and was in her stake. She's a sweetie pie! I can't believe we know each other through the same people! :)

  12. This post should go viral. I hope it does, and I intend to promote it in every way I can think of. Thanks, Bon. I joke with my mom about how I was such a witch between the ages of 13-19 to her. She never disagrees. #3 is dead-on.

  13. Love 13, my mom is guilty of thinking this way too often and it's not true!

  14. I am a teenager and this is so accurate it's scary. Loved this post; 3, 10 and 13 are spot on!#

  15. Anonymous12:47 PM

    I absolutely adore this post! I am not a teacher but I have spent the majority of my adult life working with teens in one capacity or another and this is so accurate. I have told parents who confide in me pretty much the same things on your list. Teens are pretty wonderful and if given the chance, they'll prove it!

  16. I love this post. Last summer, I actually wrote a similar post, but about preteens for Laura at Mice in the Kitchen.
    Understanding Preteens

  17. I worked with a youth group of 200+ students for around 17 years... and absolutely love this list! You are so spot on!

  18. I taught high school for several years before switching to the little ones. One thing I wish parents would remember is that although their problem is minimal to an adult it can be quite serious to them. Never diminish their feelings about a problem they are dealing with. Oh and another thing is to model friendship behavior. Girls in the teenage ages can be brutal but those friendships are very important. It is crucial to show your teenagers the importance of not being a gossip nor isolating another friend because the group is doing it. I love to see a person, regardless of age, stand up against the majority to do the right thing.

  19. Anonymous5:12 AM

    Great, the only thing I cannot completely agree with is #12...It used to be normal for people not to go to college and just start 'their own life' when they reached 16 or 18 and they managed it, what if teens actually are ready for the responsibility and handling them like they are not actually makes them believe they aren't? I mean, when I read my blog from times at high school (mostly what I thought of life, universe and everything - not like party journal) it actually made me cry as I thought gosh I now know less stuff

  20. We do not know each other, but I read your blog regularly. I find you refreshing, honest and so funny. I can tell you that you have amazing insight! Not having raised children yet (but being a teacher who practically LIVES with teens haha), you are keenly aware of some absolute truths! This list is incredibly spot on! You will be a wonderful mother.

  21. As a teenager myself, this rings out to be true. I often find myself keeping things from my mother because of a fear that she'll lash out on me, and have so much to do that a weekend where I just relax is basically extinct. Parents: please try to listen to our problems, and don't force anything on us- let us make our own decisions, but guide us and don't be afraid to put your foot down. Kuddos to you, Bon, and everyone else that's dealing with us nowadays. You guys are my heroes.

  22. Love this list, so much and so much insight on how much we all just want to be heard, loved, and respected.

  23. I love everything about this post! One of my biggest things were always that I felt people didn't believe in teenagers. I had the amazing privilege of seeing some of them at their absolute best and how kind, funny, intelligent, clever, selfless, and deep they were. Then on the other hand, it also drove me nuts when people wouldn't let teenagers be teenagers. I always tried to make youth group relaxing because the group I had always had so much on their plates, and when they were being really goofy, people would be upset. Um... they're sixteen! Let them have fun!