If Every Parent Had to Read One Book, What Would You Want It to Say?

I ask this exact question to all of my teen interns. More specifically, I ask them:

“If you could write one chapter in a parenting book that every parent would have to read before they have a teenager, what would you want that one chapter to be about? What would you say?”

I have been both inspired and shocked by their answers. Interestingly, I also found that their advice typically fell into three main principles. I wanted to share them with you below:

1. “Parents think they know how to listen to us, but they don’t know how to listen well.”

Many teens told us that they wished their parents would truly listen to them. Teens wish their parents would truly listen by:

-Not thinking this time will be the same as last time, it is always different, even if only by a little.

-Not assuming that they already know the answer.

-Having an open mind.

-Not comparing what their teens are saying to other teenagers or siblings.

2. “Not all of us are lazy, like pot and feel angry at the world. We are different!”

Many teenagers feel that parents and adults in general over-generalize about their generation. They want media, parenting experts and parents to stop placing expectations on young people. Of course this is incredibly hard to do and I often explain to teenagers although it is not acceptable to over-generalize, it is extremely hard not to by into angsty teen stereotypes. The two ways to fight this are to talk to adults about the overgeneralization and act mature and different.

3. “Really, put yourself in our shoes. Did you sneak out? Did you dabble in some, but not extreme risky behaviors? Did you turn out, ok? Yes! Let us experience life for ourselves while staying close by.”

The teenagers I have spoken with are very mature. Many of them do not want complete unsupervised freedom, they know that is not appropriate, but they do want to have space to try…anything. They often beg me to beg parents to think about what it would be like if they were a teenager today with a cell phone, a Facebook and a crush. How would they feel? What would have been a reasonable amount of freedom and responsibility?

If you could have a parenting book that every parent had to read, what would you want to say?

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4 Responses to “If Every Parent Had to Read One Book, What Would You Want It to Say?”

  1. anonymous
    November 12, 2010 at 9:06 am #


    I was once the teen, and my mom was once “the kid who didn’t ________” – never one to acknowledge peer pressure, never one to engage in risky behavior, etc.

    I grew up “the good kid”, in stark contrast to my older sister, who experimented with Trouble [little was it known that I, too, experimented with Trouble…]

    My father “Tried, but didn’t like it”.

    Now, I’m a mom to a pair of teens…

    When they were young, and in the DARE program [Drug Awareness Resistance Education], they asked around, “Did you do drugs? Why?”

    “Did you do drugs?” “No” “Why?” “I didn’t want them/I didn’t like to hang with ‘stoners'”, etc.
    “Did you do drugs?” “Yes” “Why?” “Peer Pressure”
    “Did you do drugs?” “No” “Why?” “I didn’t like that type of person.”
    “Did you do drugs?” “Yes” “Why?” “Peer Pressure”.


    “Mom, did you do drugs?”
    “Yeah, I did.”
    “Because I liked getting high. I don’t – and won’t – do ’em anymore, though.”
    “Wait – you liked getting high? Was it like peer pressure that got you into them? What happened?”

    “I got high. I hate to admit it – but I was the peer pressure. I liked the false feeling of camaraderie – but I hated when I’d barf it up.”

    “Eww…wait – so if it makes people sick – why do they keep doing ’em?”

    “The high is like a roller coaster ride, at the peak…but I’ve, since then, watched people either die off, or watched their dreams fade out into nowhere…”

    Then, I introduced my kids to “successful stoners” – who are just barely getting by, in this screwball economy…and introduced my kids to straight/sober folks who have a blast without the internal chemical warfare. I also had a frank & honest drug talk with my kids and my mom – who worked as an RN in ICU, and whose tales pretty well defined some nasty endings.

    Thus far, my kids are drug free.

    I’d like to see more parents talk straightforward with their kids – no reflexive pat answers, no, “I already know it” attitudes…those did me precisely no good when I was a kid.

    Txting, sexting, etc…there’s kids who are being brought up on state charges for risque behavior…

    What goes online, the internet NEVER forgets. I’ve shown this to the kids, as well – and walked them through others’ sites, and others’ long unemployment history, to illustrate the point.

    I’d like to see a book address l337 – although I’m slightly more fluent than the kids [geekdom, late in life], many parents…just…aren’t.

    I’d like to see a book address that kids are not alien life forms – and that every generation of kids, since back in Plato’s time, have had a fascination with the insistence that Everything is Different.

    Parents may have been their kids’ ages, maybe not even all that long ago, but oftentimes parents forget that the era in which they were teens is not quite the same as this era, both with its technology, the world potentially at your doorstep, and most issues of privacy being a bit of a thing of the past.

    Bullying takes a lethal turn in cyberspace.

    There’s a thousand things that kids today live through that parents have only a fleeting concept of, anymore.

    I had to slow down and explain “meme” to my husband, the other day.

    I’m in the wrong demographic for what you’re trying to ask, but I feel that there are matters that many kids who grew up in these times don’t quite have a way to express – or acknowledge – concerns about.

    Make of it what you will.

  2. AlizaG
    November 28, 2010 at 1:47 pm #

    I love your answer Anonymous! When you go to a foreign country, you learn a little bit of the language, enough to get by. Why do so many parents not do that with the “foreigners” that live in our own homes??? I just had this discussion with my ex yesterday – he wonders why our daughter is always texting her friends. Duh – those are her friends! You want her to call you (he complains about this all the time)? Learn how to text and she will! Kids don’t talk on phones anymore. I very rarely talk to my daughter on her cell, prefering to text instead. But he just doesn’t get it.

    And, in talking to your teens, you have to listen non-judgementally, with an open heart and mind.
    My daughter is happy that she can talk to me, she says (and she will be 15 tomorrow) that I give her good advice and listen well. She sometimes wishes I wasn’t so tuned into what kids her age are doing (so she could get away with more stuff liek her friends do), but appreciates it anyway.


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