Skip to main content
There seems to be the almost universal belief among North American parents (I'm sure this is a phenomena found elsewhere as well, but I'm just talking about what I've personally seen) that their kids, whether these are theoretical future children or actual kids, and whether they have yet to reach their teen years or not, will hate or at the very least dislike them. Teenagers hate their parents: everyone knows that.
My mother has told me that when my sister and I were small, she used to say to my father that he had to take over primary parental duties once we hit our teen years. She's told me that she loved being a parent, and loved spending time with us, right from the get-go, but being surrounded by warnings of "wait until they become teenagers!" she always thought that would change when we got older.
I suppose it's actually a very reasonable belief that your teens will dislike you: after all, most teens I know and have known do dislike their parents!
What isn't true, though, is that that dislike is inevitable.
The dreaded teenage years came in my family, and likely to my parents surprise, nothing horrible happened. I mean, problems came up in day to day life, for sure, but looking back, I actually think that in terms of parent-child relationships and issues over "discipline" type stuff the teen years were (and are, as my sister is still a teen) smoother than when we were younger. I attribute this to the fact that it was a constant progress over the years from more traditional parenting to more respectful parenting (which mirrored our transition from relaxed homeschoolers to unschoolers).
Though there are definitely unschooling parents/teens who don't have very good relationships with their teens/parents, it seems that the majority of unschoolers really and truly do. Which to me, is a wonderful thing to see.
I believe the reason for that is actually pretty simple.
When the subject of "teenage rebellion" comes up now, my mother is fond of saying "why would you rebel, since there wasn't really anything to rebel against?"
Now, I think there is an important distinction to be made here: some parents proudly brag about how their teens aren't "rebellious," and what they really mean is that their children are obedient to their parents wishes (or, possibly more likely, are simply very good at hiding the aspects of their life that their parents would disapprove of). When I say that most unschoolers I know, myself included, don't or didn't "rebel" against our parents in our teen years, I don't mean it's because we fit the perfect-child model of some narrow-minded authoritarian-parenting suburbanite.
While I've never been very big into alcohol or drugs, I definitely drank long before the legal drinking age (though admittedly the whole culture in my home province of Quebec is very different from the rest of North America, in that virtually everyone drinks at least some amount from the time they hit their teens, with the parents knowledge). My sister, who turns 18 (legal drinking age in Quebec) this summer, has been going to bars since she was 15 or 16, with my parents knowledge (again, very common practice in Montreal). Both my sister and I have been openly anti-state, anti-hierarchy, and anti-authority for years. I've dyed my hair unusual colours, shaved the sides of my head, and worn clothes throughout my teen years that plenty of parents I know would have disapproved of. Sometimes we stay out late into the night. We've been known to participate in Pagan religious rituals. We swear frequently. We hang out with people who are big into drugs. If all those things were listed entirely out of context, it would probably sound like we were the people that many parents warn their kids about (then again, for all I know, parents have warned their kids about us...)!
So why do we get along so well with our parents? It's pretty simple: control.
Or, more accurately, the lack of control.
Think of the things that most commonly cause friction between teens and their parents: breaking curfew, bad marks in school, skipping school, using drugs, subscribing to different religious and political views than their parents, disobeying parents...
Compare this to a respectful unschooling parent: no school, no marks, no curfews, no orders, and a belief that teens are entitled to their own beliefs.
I want to make it clear that being a respectful parent doesn't mean agreeing with or approving of everything your teen does: it just means accepting and not attempting to control what they do. Thus, a parent that's strongly anti-drugs of all types might share all their opinions on the issue with their teens, give them information on why they believe what they do, etc. Yet despite that, they wouldn't ground, punish, or shame their teen if they came home high. In a mutually respectful relationship, teens are far more likely to genuinely take their parents opinions into account when deciding what they want to do, but teens are still their own complete and autonomous people, and will make the choices they deem best for themselves in the end.
Parents in general, from the most to least mainstream out there, all seem to frequently express a wish that their children communicate with them and be honest with them. Yet what the more authoritarian and punitive parents seem oblivious too is that no one is going to be honest with someone else if they know that by being honest, they're opening themselves up to be yelled at, punished, shamed, or treated with anything less than respect. Those parents also don't seem to realize that good communication has to work both ways: parents can't expect their children to spill all the secrets of their lives, all their important thoughts and deeds, to someone who thinks their own personal life is none of their kids business.
I also want to make it clear that I don't, and didn't when I was still in my teens (having just turned 20 a couple of months ago, I still have trouble remembering I'm no longer a teen!), tell my parents everything. I'm my own person, with my own life, and some things stay private. Sometimes because it's something very personal, or a secret not mine to share, and sometimes it's because I know it would worry or upset them to know something. Yes, occasionally I keep things (and have kept things in the past) I know my parents would disapprove of away from them, not because of any fear that I would "get in trouble" or anything like that, but simply because I don't want them upset or worried about things they ultimately have no control over.
My (and my sister's) relationship with my parents is really good. We talk to each other about everything from how we've been feeling, what we've been doing, interesting links online or news stories, what our friends are up to. We don't stray away from subjects such as drug use and other illegal activity. I'll cheerfully announce that a friend is taking up graffiti, and Emi will call to say she's headed out to a bar after band practice, so expect her home late. I've never worried about coming home smelling like weed. And because of the relationship we have, my sister and I have never hesitated to get our parents help when we're worried about a friend doing hard drugs, and we'd never hesitate to call instead of driving home with someone who's drunk.
I'm incredibly grateful for the relationship I have with my parents, and that my parents are the people that they are.
So in conclusion, here are my very inexpert opinions on what makes a good parent-teen bond: respect, honesty, communication, and a lack of coercion and control.
Basically? Treating each other like full and complete human beings, with different desires, beliefs, aspirations, and experiences.
It's such a simple concept: don't be your teen's enforcer, be their partner. And if more parents acted this way? Well, then I think we'd start seeing a hell of a lot less of this "teen rebellion" thing!
Originally published at http://yes-i-can-write.blogspot.com/