My friends and I have just made our way through the buffet line and are taking our seats at a round table. As I pull my chair back and sit, I notice my friend is staring at her daughter’s plate. I know she wants to say something about the lack of protein and abundance of starches she sees piled up, but she glances away, and quietly takes a sip of water.
Watching her, I understood what was going through her head. I have had many similar moments of silence — when I want to say so much, but don’t. By staying silent, I have preserved my relationship with my teenagers rather than blurting out words that they ignore, resent or respond to with anger.
When my older son was about 14, he had a wicked crush on a girl who seemed to be annoyed by his attention. On Valentine’s Day, he bought her silver heart earrings. Aren’t they nice? he said, putting the earrings in front of me. At that moment, I knew my son was going to give her the earrings no matter what I said. So I said “yes” and then stayed silent.
At so many different life moments, I have wanted to offer my teenagers suggestions that would save them from getting hurt, or warn them about friends who aren’t loyal or give an opinion on a love interest. But as I began to open my mouth, I realized my comments would be misconstrued or worse, cause my teens to go in an opposite direction just to show me they are their own persons. So as I have gained some teen-raising wisdom, I have started to recognize when to bite my tongue, avert my gaze and resist the instinct to blurt out what I am thinking.
Of course, there are times when I do speak up because staying quiet can create bigger problems. The challenge for a parent is knowing when to make that call.
Here are the times I think it’s okay to tell your teen what’s on your mind:
To tell them the risk or consequences of an action. Whether it’s drugs, drunk driving, cheating on tests, or premarital sex, I think teens need to know the worst that could happen.
To give them another option. If your know your teen is going to be at a party with alcohol I think it’s okay to say something like…”If the only option is getting into a car with a drunk driver, call me — I don’t care if it’s 2 in the morning.”
To remind them of the rules of your home. If you have a rule of “no doors closed when the opposite sex is in the room” it’s okay to say something when the rule isn’t being followed, even if it’s in the moment.
To address a lie. This is tricky because most teenagers tell their parents lies or just tell them half of the story. In an online poll of 1,000 teenagers, only 40 percent said they tell their parents the whole truth. Some lies or half-truths can be ignored. Others can’t. I have had to drill down at times to get the whole story and then figure out what to say in a way that will encourage them to tell me the truth in the future.
Here are the scenarios in which I zip my lips and stay quiet.
To comment on anything related to body image. We all know teenagers are sensitive about their appearance, but somehow we can’t help doling out advice and giving our opinions. Usually, what we say or what advice we give is not taken well.
To say something about one of their friends. This is super-dangerous territory and can easily go badly for a parent.
To comment on a romantic interest or boyfriend/girlfriend. I have discovered your teen can say something negative about their love interest. You cannot. And if you think you you can guide them toward being interested in someone you pick out for them, don’t go there.
To compare them with a sibling. Somehow almost every parent at some point falls prey to the temptation of comparing a child to their siblings. Don’t do it!
So many teenagers walk around saying they hate their parents or they can’t talk to their parents. Ugh…I don’t want that to be me. So now, I put a little thought into what I say and how I say it, and at those pivotal moments, I stay silent. (Here’s an article I like about Talking to Your Teen )
Parents, do you believe in staying silent at times? Has staying quiet helped, or made a situation worse with your teenager?