First things first, please. Ask yourself…as a teenager were you your parent’s dream-come-true or a total nightmare that cost them hours of sleep and a whole lot of heartache? Well, I was the latter. Not that I’m proud of it but I want to establish my expertise on this topic here at the start. I thought that parties, skipping school to hang out at the beach and boys with blue eyes trumped anything else during high school and I caused my Mom a ton of grief.
Fast forward 28 years, and you’d be in the centre of my own daughter’s first years in university. Her dad and I divorced when she was just a baby and for the most part it has been just she and I over the years. Well, I’m proud to say that over those years that my little angel told me – I’m hoping VERY close – to everything fun and exciting and amazing that has happened to her. I can still recall her first kiss, and exactly how she told me about it. It was so sweet, and made me remember mine.
What it didn’t remind me of was my experience with my parents when I had my first kiss. My parents were divorced and I lived with my Mom. She made it very clear that everything that I thought was exciting as a hormone-driven teenager was 100% forbidden. The funny thing is that when something is forbidden, when someone tells us that we aren’t allowed to do something … well, that turns out to be the ONE thing that most us instantly WANT to do. And so was my life.
My Mom basically forbade everything. I was the only one of my friends to have a super strict curfew. I had to lie and say I was sleeping over at a friends’ house to go to parties. And I definitely NEVER told my Mom about memorable ‘firsts’ in my adolescent life like the first time I kissed a boy or danced ‘til dawn for the first time. I loved my Mom very much but the fear of punishment for my adolescent actions made her the LAST PERSON on the planet that I wanted to share my real-world adolescent life with….
Years later when I became a Mom myself and as my little angel started to grow, I remembered my teenage years and made a choice. I know my Mom meant well, and she was trying to protect me with her actions. The funny thing is though … her squeezing hold on me only made me rebel faster and HARDER than I imagine I would have done under other conditions.
So here are my tips for raising a wonderful child who doesn’t keep secrets:
1 >> DON’T FORBID ANYTHING!
For the love of all things holy, do NOT straight up forbid things!!! At least not using those terms. Nothing makes a teenager want to do something more than saying it’s not allowed. Honestly, it’s the biggest flag my Mom waved. Having a parent say something is off limits is like a jungle call to do the most primordial of all instincts! You are honestly just inviting your kids to do all the naughty you fear in one breath.
Now… INSTEAD, ask questions. REAL questions. If there is something that you don’t feel comfortable with, TALK to your child about it instead of laying down the law and simply saying NO. Explain why you might be concerned about it, ask for their thoughts, and TALK. Period.
2 >> BE AN ENABLER!
There are certain first experiences and ‘rites of passage’ that we all go through in our teenage years. Refusing to acknowledge that won’t stop those things from happening either. At times I put myself in dangerous situations and lied a bunch to my Mom to experience them. Half the time I was caught and paid a price, which was reasonable given that I was sneaking around.
INSTEAD of that, I wish certain things had just been OK for me to try or do. Making it OK for a teen to experience those ‘firsts’ falls outside most of our comfort zones because we had to hide so much from our parents out of fear of punishment. However, if you’re already having honest communication with your child then it’s not as big of a stretch as you might think. From making sure there are condoms at home and discussing the importance of safe sex, to making the topic of sex something normal so your child feels comfortable talking about it in case he or she ever needs to), to allowing them to throw a party, or tell school they’re unwell to enable a fun-filled ditch day (because everyone needs a break at some point, even kids) … you’ll control it to a certain extent instead of being the wet blanket trying to wreck all the fun. They are going to do it anyway, and this way they stay safe.
My daughter always knew that she could talk to me about anything. Her dad never heard the tale of her first kiss, the first night she danced ’til the sun came up or any of the other ‘firsts’ because he weighed more alongside my Mom on the parenting scale and I always felt he sadly missed out. By talking to her about her REAL life, and not forcing her to lie to me or keep secrets from me, I really got to know my daughter on a deeper level than I would have otherwise. Best of all, it made us closer. We shared so many touching, funny and enlightening conversations … moments that I still cherish today.
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