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By Charles Hartley
Parenting teenagers is both painful and enjoyable.
I endured this rousing and rocky ride with my two 21 year-old-twin girls. And I am now amid the adventure parenting my 16-year-old son. With this in mind, I share with you what I perceive to be my biggest parenting mistakes and successes.
3 Biggest Mistakes
1. Adding Pressure. I pressured them too much in sports in an unhealthy and self-absorbed way. I lived vicariously through my teenagers’ athletic careers. I was a good high school athlete but not good enough to play college. I also didn’t practice enough.So when my teenagers played sports, I tried to fix my past by saving them from the same mistake. I over-emphasized the need to practice more and more to get ahead. I was consumed and repetitive with this message. They just tuned me out and resented me.
2. Annoying Them. I said too many things too often just to get a reaction out of them. I would tease them, say things to annoy them, say the opposite of what a parent should say just to make sure they were listening. This tactic backfired. They hated when I did this. They found my “cleverness” annoying.
3. Micromanaging. I didn’t trust them to complete their schoolwork without my supervision. I ruined every Sunday because I insisted they study instead of relaxing. They resented me for it, justifiably. This Sunday tension planted a permanent blemish on our relationship.
4 Biggest Successes
1. Focusing on Learning. I stressed the value of hard work and learning for the sake of learning. By focusing on learning instead of grades, I helped ease their academic pressure which, I believe, led to more successful academic pursuits.
2. Working Hard at Sports. I taught them how to compete and accept the consequences or change their habits. I didn’t blame coaches when my teenagers didn’t start or make the team. I put the focus squarely on my kids and emphasized that if they wanted to make the team or get more playing time, they needed to put forth the effort and practice more. I told my kids to get good enough so they win their playing time. I put the onus on my teenagers to practice more. Often they did and improved and were more successful athletically.
3. Being Present. I was around a lot, making their lives my priority. I didn’t work as many hours after I had kids. I tried to attend most sporting events and I didn’t stay late at the office. I made sure to be present for their teenage years. They didn’t always want to talk, as is typical of teenagers. But when they did, I was there to talk, guide, instruct, and motivate. They know me and I know them. We have a relationship.
4. Being Complimentary. I learned one truth—teenagers appreciate being complimented. They may not tell you this and they may not show they are appreciative—but they are. When my daughters went to college, I emailed them many positive messages and told them I was proud. As a result, our relationship became less strained and more respectful than when they were in high school.
Criticism doesn’t go over well with my kids; and any hint of advice bothers them. But compliments make them feel loved, From time to time they need to hear my opinion, but I am careful about when and how much I criticize. Beyond their families, I don’t think they hear how great they are and how well they are doing often enough. This would be the single best piece of advice I can offer.
Charles Hartley has been a freelance writer for more than 25 years.