By Kim Fusaro
Find out what’s really on your teen’s mind when it comes to stress, school and sex
Wonder what’s bugging your teen? It’s hard to be certain when all your son does is grunt and your daughter won’t stop rolling her eyes. So rather than pressing our own kids to talk—not going to happen!—we asked teenagers from around the country what messages they wish they could share with their moms and dads. Sure, every child is different, but it may do you and your teen some good if you took these truthful kids’ concerns to heart.
1. She needs privacy.
“I hate that my parents don’t give me any personal space,” says Eleanor, 14. “And I hate that they don’t think I need it.” Even if your children share a room, give each child an area that’s off-limits to everyone else in the family (including you), such as a desk or a spare closet. To show that you respect your teen’s privacy, don’t rummage through her personal space unless you have a concrete reason to believe that she’s lying to you or hiding something serious. And remember: “All kids today are doing drugs” isn’t a concrete reason.
2. Sometimes he just needs you to listen.
“I want to tell my mom and dad everything,” says Keegan, 13, “but I don’t want to listen to them nag.” Understand that sometimes your kids just want a sounding board—they’re not looking for you to solve all their problems. When your son complains that his science teacher is being unfair or his soccer coach has been extra-hard on him, encourage him to talk by asking open-ended questions. (“Well, how does that make you feel?”) Don’t jump in with advice or threaten to intervene.
3. She may be dating—even if you’ve explicitly said she can’t.
“I didn’t tell my parents about a guy I dated for a year, because they didn’t allow me to have boyfriends,” says Marla, 15. “They knew we hung out, but I’d say, ‘Oh, we’re just friends.’” Try to be relaxed when it comes to dating—even if it’s killing you. Instead of forcing your daughter to sneak around, let her start with group dates, where at least four other kids are with her and her date at all times.
4. He may not be getting great grades on every assignment.
“I don’t tell my parents when I get a bad grade because I don’t want to listen to them tell me how I’ve let them down,” says Sam, 16, who says he occasionally fails a quiz but usually makes up for it with better exam scores. “There are nights I just don’t feel like studying!” Sometimes one bad grade is just that: one bad grade. If your son feels like he can vent to you about bombing a quiz or a book report, you won’t have to wait until the end of a semester to find out he’s struggling in school.
5. She doesn’t want to talk to you about sex.
“My mom knows I’ve kissed a boy,” says Sonia, 15, “but I don’t want to tell her anything else. It’s my life, not hers.” The good news is, in a 2005 government survey, less than half of high school students (47 percent) said they’d had sex. Still, it’s safest to assume your teen is in that 47 percent and educate her about birth control or preventing STDs. Don’t press her for personal details, but do offer advice; use third-person examples if it helps.
6. He hates when you don’t hold his siblings accountable.
“I hate that my parents don’t care how my youngest brother acts,” says Henry, 13. “When he swears or picks a fight with me or my older brother, they say, ‘He’s 7. He doesn’t know any better.’ But when I was his age I would have been in big trouble for swearing.” While it’s natural to become more lax as you have more children, it’s important to consider each unique situation, not just your children’s ages. Remember, all of your kids will respect you more if they think you’re a fair and reasonable parent.
7. She wishes you’d cut her some slack.
“It makes me sad when my mom screams at me when I’m already down,” says Erin, 17. Even if your daughter seems to screw up every time you turn around, it’s important that she doesn’t feel like you’re constantly coming down on her. When you’re upset, take some deep breaths; a few minutes might give you perspective (is it really worth it to lose your cool over dirty laundry?) and a chance to evaluate your daughter’s mood. Perhaps she’s ignored the laundry because she’s stressed about school or antsy about a boy who hasn’t called her back.
8. He lies to stay out of trouble.
“Sometimes I don’t come home because I’m too drunk to drive,” says Aaron, 19. “If I told my parents that, they’d flip out, so I lie.” While it would be irresponsible to give underage drinking the green light, you don’t want your child to be in an unsafe situation because he’s rushing to be home on time. If your son calls just before curfew and says he needs a ride, save your questions (and lectures) for the morning.
9. She gets frustrated when you use her age to your advantage.
“I can’t stand it when my parents say, ‘You’re 17. Act like a grownup,’ one day, and then turn around and say, ‘You’re not old enough to do that. You’re only 17,’ the next,” says Izzy. “Which is it? Make up your mind!” Since “age-appropriate” is subjective, try to give your child hard-and-fast rules that aren’t dependent on a number. (“Every member of this family attends church on Sunday,” or “Visiting friends at college isn’t allowed until you’re in college yourself.”)
10. He wishes you would trust him.
“My parents don’t trust that I don’t do drugs,” says Steven, 15. “And I really hate that they believe what other people tell them instead of what I tell them.” Constantly accusing your kids of this or that—especially if your accusations are unfounded—breeds mistrust. Eventually they’ll do something dishonest just because they’re sick of being wrongly accused. Trust your kids until they give you a real reason not to.