TALKING TO TEENS
Teens and their parents lock horns on what’s right or wrong. This week’s conversation with teens focuses on how they communicate with their parents in terms of problem resolution and decision-making. We also explored how advice their parents gave them in the past affects their lives today.
I spoke with a group of high school and college students and a couple of eighth-graders who were out this past weekend enjoying the warm October weather-seven teenagers, age 13-19, the majority of whom were female.
What’s the greatest barrier to effective communication between them and their parents? The general consensus seemed to be that their parents believe they are always right, no matter what. 18-year-old Deidra, a south suburban resident, said “My mother is always right, even when she is wrong. I really hate when she says, ‘I’m older and I know more things. I’ve been here. I’ve done that already,'” she added, describing how a typical argument ensues in her household.
Keaya, 19, co-signed on Deidra’s sentiment and added that parents seem to be in a time warp, forgetting what it’s like to be young. She said today’s teens seem to feel parents don’t really listen to them. “They rely on the times and things of the past and totally ignore what’s actually happening today,” Keaya said, noting that most arguments in her home end with her going to her room and closing her door.
Lalo, a 19-year-old self-admitted spoiled brat, says she usually wins an argument by making her parents feel sorry for her by crying and stomping to her room screaming, “You don’t understand me!” As an only child, she says that usually works. In cases where it doesn’t, she stays in her room until she thinks it’s safe to come out and try and win the same argument with new material, sprinkled with statements to make her parents feel guilty for treating her so badly.
Eighteen-year-old Mario of Chicago’s West Side K-Town area and his South Side classmate, 18-year-old Jeremy, paint a similar picture.
“I pull a guilt trip on them,” Mario stated. “I explain how it’s rough out there for a teen. I tell them they are so out of touch with today that they don’t know the pressures I have to deal with as a young man,” he added.
Jeremy, laughing, said, “Sometimes it’s just about the fight. I like to argue, especially when I think I’m right. We can argue all night and continue on into the next day. I don’t really care; I get off on that,” he added.
Asked what most arguments are about, many teens said the same things: money, boyfriends, girlfriends and curfew. Teens feel that even though they are living with their parents, as 18- and 19-year-olds, they should be able to decide where they go and when they come in. Alexis, 16, says that, in her household, curfew is a never-ending argument. “My mom thinks if I’m not in the house by 10, I’m out there getting pregnant or something stupid. She really thinks if I’m in by 10 p.m., I will stay out of trouble. She even tries to tell me who to hang out with,” she added.
Our discussion quickly turned to whether they were working and contributing to the household. Most were not. However, that didn’t seem to make a difference as to whether they thought they should be allowed to set their own comings and goings. The teens think being 18 and older is simply enough. After all, the state considers them adults.
“Why can’t our parents see us as adults?” Deidra asked.
I asked if something their parents taught them when they were younger, which they thought was irrelevant or unimportant then, now seems more important and useful in their daily lives.
The conversation became lively and spirited; just about everyone had a comment. Lalo said the most important lesson her parents taught her that she now understands is to save money. Now a college student, she finds herself wanting and needing things which do not fit into her limited budget. Since she is an only child, she thinks her parents spoiled her by giving her more, and now she finds it hard to live within her budget.
Mario said the greatest lesson his parent taught is “that the streets aren’t everything they seem to be. Now that I’m in college, I see the same people are out there in the streets doing the same thing, going nowhere. My mother use to say, ‘The streets aren’t going anywhere; there will always be the streets. The question is, will you be going somewhere?”
Keaya recalled her mother used to tell her to hold her head up, no matter what. She says this helps her face difficult times and challenges in her life. It also helps her maintain confidence in herself.
Lalo said her mother told her to “never rely on any man because they come and go, but to rely on what you instill in yourself and what she raised me with, which will always be there.”
Seventeen-year-old Carmen echoed that sentiment, noting that her mother told her, “Don’t rely on any guy to be happy; make yourself happy.” The younger teens did not have as much to say as the others on this topic, but they had strong opinions nonetheless.
Margaret, 13, said the best thing she learned from her mother was to be honest in whatever she does. She also said her mother taught her not to follow her friends if she thinks they are doing something wrong.
Christina, 17, said she learned a similar lesson from her mother, who said often, “Stand for what’s right, even if you have to stand alone.” Christina added that when she was doubtful as to whether she should go along with a group of her friends in doing something she didn’t think was right, she would replay her mother’s voice in her head saying those words.
I noticed that few had words of wisdom or lessons learned from their fathers. I inquired as to why that seemed to be the case. I was given many diverse reasons, which we will explore in another article.