As a child, I absolutely worshiped my parents. I thought they were gods. Then I became a teenager and realized why everyone hates teenagers. Teenagers are essentially irresponsible and impulsive adults trapped in a kid’s body. More simply, they demand the rights of adults without any of the responsibilities. But there’s something else that causes parents to fear the day their innocent, sweet little boy or girl hits their teens. It’s that, when kids are teenagers, they learn to effectively pick out faults and imperfections, and to question and disagree with people and society. And who better to practice these skills on than the people you live with 24/7? Of course, teenagers are many times wrong in their judgements and conclusions. However, sometimes they are right. And it is this rare rightness that causes parents to cringe as their teen flings an accusation at their faces. And so, without further ado, I, a person about to leave the dark and seedy realm of teenagerhood, present to you a parent’s guide to parenting, aka: things I have learned about adults throughout my short life.
Don’t pretend to be always there for your kid. Don’t tell your child anything along the lines of “If you ever need to talk about something, I’m here” and then totally reject this statement when your child comes home and tells you something that you would rather not have to hear. If you are not willing to accept the things that your kid tells you in a calm and open manner, then you are not always there for him/her. Don’t pretend to be. You are either there or you are not; there is no in between. When I was little, I used to confide in my parents things that they didn’t want to hear. And every time, they would yell at me for it. So I learned to deal with everything on my own. My parents are great people and I love them with all my heart. But don’t be like that. Be there for your kids.
Cut down on the yelling. My parents are yellers, both of them. They would yell for arbitrary reasons and make my siblings and I cry, and then yell even louder and more bitterly when they saw our tears. From these occasions I learned that crying was never okay, and I developed some very real and debilitating insecurities because my parents would often throw in a bunch of insults when they yelled. The point is, yelling is never good for a child. It ruins their self-esteem and makes them lose trust in you. Discipline your child; discipline is essential to the raising of children. But discipline them with time-outs when they are young and taking away privileges when they are older. Sit them down and have a firm talk about what they have done, then let them describe their side of the story and then you can assign an appropriate punishment. Scold your child, but don’t yell. In no circumstance is yelling the answer.
Do not coddle your kids. It is undoubtedly tempting to protect your child from the big, scary world. But the reality of overprotective parenting, or “helicopter” parenting, is that it only breeds exceptional liars. I would do things that I wouldn’t have to lie about had my parents been more open and less coddling, and then I would have to lie about them. Don’t coddle your kids and then get mad when you catch them lying, because that’s the only natural effect of overprotectiveness. If you want your child to be honest, don’t coddle. That’s it.
Don’t be sexist (racist, homophobic, transphobic, etc.) My parents were excessively sexist. They made me sweep, clean and cook because I was a girl, while my brother was allowed to play and run around freely. I asked once, “Why do I have to do all the cleaning?” and they responded, “Because how are you going to make your husband happy when you grow up? By watching TV?” My parents wanted to send me to college, of course. They wanted the very best education for me; they wanted me to go to Harvard. But they, my dad especially, did not have any intention of me entering the workforce. They told me that the purpose of college was to learn for the sake of learning, and to find a husband. After I found a husband, my duty would be to raise the children, and they told me that they wanted me to have four kids. For my brother, however, they had much bigger dreams. They told him he could be the President, or the CEO of a huge company, or a doctor that saved millions of lives with a revolutionary new medicine, or a stock broker on Wall Street. This made me furious to no end; I would always dream of becoming a world-famous geneticist. When I voiced my anger, my parents would mock me or think that I was joking. My parents didn’t want me to attend Columbia because it was in New York City, and according to them, New York City had “unsavory men” who would “chew you up and spit you out.” My whole life centered around my virginity. I was not allowed to attend sleepaway camps (save for Johns Hopkins’ CTY, but they insisted on visiting me every week) because my parents feared that I would go on some romantic rendezvous there. I was nearly forbidden from attending the 8th grade Disneyland day trip, because my parents were afraid of the same thing (but, since it was the highlight of the 8th grade year, my parents decided to let me go—but only if I updated them with a text every half-hour). I was not allowed to use tampons because my mother, no matter how many articles she read, thought that tampons would take your virginity. I wasn’t allowed to wear shorts (not even short shorts—all mine were just above the knee) because my parents were afraid that boys would look at me “in the wrong way”. I guess that it’s because of their sexism that I feel so inclined to feminism. The point of this argument is that sexism (and not only sexism—being transphobic, homophobic, etc will have the same effects) is something that no child should experience, not at any age, and definitely not by their parents. Sexism makes a child doubt their abilities and their wants and needs. I remember wanting a truck toy when I was 6 and thinking, “Can I have this? It looks fun, but I’m a girl.” Encourage your kid to be themselves and to be the person they want to be.
Don’t force your child into things that clearly make him/her miserable. Whenever I see someone do this—bringing a 12 year old girl who is clearly unwilling into a waxing parlor, push their confused and afraid little boy back onto the basketball court for the umpteenth time—I die a little inside. Everyone wants their kid(s) to be happy, but what makes you happy doesn’t necessarily make your child happy. Stop living vicariously through your child. I was five or six when my parents started me in Taekwondo, and from the very beginning I hated it. To get me to be quiet and not throw a tantrum on the dojo floor, my parents would give me a bag of chips after the class. Eventually, when I got older—eight or nine—I was no longer the recipient of any bribes. I was expected to endure the activity I hated most with no reward and I was not allowed to quit. I would always regard Mondays and Wednesdays with dread and anxiety. My stomach would tie itself in knots and lumps would choke my throat whenever my parents mentioned karate. At the dojo, respect was demanded and not earned. The whole point was to build confidence in kids, but it only bred insecurity and emotional distance in me. I would often be the only kid that couldn’t do her kata or form (a series of steps and attacks against a fictional attacker), because I abhorred karate so much that I could never bring myself to practice it. When I did actually practice, I hated every minute and nothing would ever stick in my memory, and I only practiced when my parents made me. There were actually a few times when I would lie on my bed and sob because I didn’t want to go (my parents would make me go, no matter how much I cried). There was one time where I was only slightly sick, a small cold that could have been fixed with some Motrin and a box of tissues, but I didn’t tell anyone for days so that my condition would worsen and that I would be pardoned my weekly torture. Finally, when my symptoms escalated into a 104-degree fever and a stabbing headache, I told my parents. I would sometimes inflate the amount of homework I had in order to convince my parents into letting me skip a day of karate. I’m 17 and applying to colleges, and my parents still make me go to karate. Karate made my life a living hell, not only because I didn’t like it, but because of the opportunity cost of going. In economics, opportunity cost is/are the opportunities you forgo in order to take one opportunity. For example, the opportunity cost of going to the movies the day before an exam is ~2-3 hours of study/cramming time, and the money you paid for the ticket. The opportunity cost of going to karate was a number of extracurriculars I enjoyed: speech and debate, the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards preparation, Science Bowl. Karate didn’t let me do those. And there isn’t a day I don’t regret not accepting those bags of chips, not throwing a tantrum on the dojo floor. Don’t do this to your kid. Don’t make their lives the hell that my parents made mine.
Don’t force your own beliefs onto your kids. This one is probably the toughest pill to swallow for most people. If you’re conservative, you’re hoping that your kids will share your beliefs. If you’re religious, you’re bent on making your kids religious, too. When your child is too small to make their own decisions, take them to church/the temple/the synagogue/etc. For me, I’d say that this is before the age of fourteen, but it does depend on the child. But after that, if your child would rather not go to a place teaching him things he doesn’t believe in, then don’t make him go. My parents were steadfast Catholics and I am an agnostic theist. Eventually Sundays became less glorious to me. Church wasn’t a highlight, it was a mood killer. Forcing kids to “believe” in something—whether it be God, Republicanism, etc.—is useless. Kids won’t believe in something just because you tell them to. Remember, they’re humans too, not just extensions of yourself, and they have their own opinions and beliefs.
Make the focus on health and not appearance. When Junior reaches for an ice cream, don’t say that “it’ll make you ugly and fat,” say that “that ice cream has 22 grams of sugar—that’s a lot. Eating too much sugar is bad for your body.” My parents always focused on appearance, and that caused me to have body image issues and bouts of depression and anorexia.
This is probably the most important: Realize your worth and value as a parent and as an individual. You are the protector of another person. You shape their minds, thoughts, actions. Is that not important? But even more important is this: though your kids may be the most important thing in your life, you are not your kids. You are a wonderful, amazing, talented individual, unique in plenty of ways. Always remember how important you are to the world and your kids, which for some people may be the same thing. ♥