Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Resolutions Parents Would Love Their Teenagers To Make

December 30, 2007

In the best of all possible worlds, parents would enjoy family life with sensitive, cooperative teenagers. A few parents are lucky, the rest experience normal adolescent development in which self-regulation, autonomous self-assertion, and adolescent self-centeredness help teens prepare themselves for the day when they need to function independently.

I’ve prepared a list of eight resolutions that, if followed, teens could improve trust and family relationships and still be on that journey of independence.

Dear teenager, a well-meaning parent has probably handed you this. Generally my column is more of an advice column for adults. I've given out my share of advice on how adults can live better lives.

What happens in your family doesn't depend completely on your parents. You have a great influence on how things go in the family. Your presence and attitude strongly contribute to the peace and well-being of your parents.

What you are about to read may seem like you are being asked to act like an adult when you are not. These are really steps to learn while you are a teen so that you can step into adult life as a well-functioning adult. These steps are not easy, but growing up isn't easy.

Let me appeal to the teenage part of you. If you follow these ideas, you will get more of what you want. You’ll have more freedom and trust than if you try the willful, lazy or self-centered routes. Those will trigger parental concern, control and resistence.

1. Eliminate unnecessary fights and conflicts. As a teen, your biggest impact may be not to detract from a family atmosphere that is generally calm and peaceful. Your ability to give unselfishly of yourself is not fully developed. That will come, but for now you can help keep the peace.

Right now you can learn how to handle your anger, not respond to provocations from your siblings, not escalate fights, or not argue or endlessly debate points when an answer has been given. Learn to be easygoing and good natured when things don't go exactly your way. Learn to go with the flow.

2. Develop an attitude of respect. Use respect when communicating with parents and siblings. Use common courtesy and consideration. The "Pleases" and "Thank you’s" go a long way. Don't use labels, putdowns, name-calling or sarcasm in your interactions with family members. Be pleasant, friendly or reasonably positive in your day-to-day relationships.

3. Take responsibility. Do your part in doing your assigned family chores. Take responsibility for doing your homework without parental pressure or control. Clean up after yourself. Don't leave messes for others to deal with.

Plan and communicate your schedule and needs ahead of time so you aren't creating a last minute crisis for your parents. Save your money and pay your own way as much as you can.

4. Be dependable. Relationships are built on trust. Be on time. Tell your parents of your whereabouts. No lies. Phone home if you are having a problem or a change of plans.

5. Live according to family standards of conduct and morality. That, more than anything else, will make them feel good and not worry about you. If you are not messing your life up with alcohol, tobacco, drugs, sex, stealing and fighting and show you care about yourself and your future, your parents will be pleased with you. They care about what kind of human being you are turning out to be and want you to use good judgment about the risks in your life.

6. Learn to negotiate. Mom and Dad can be reasonable if you give them a chance. Figure out how you both can be happy with the solution. Find middle ground that is acceptable to everyone. Don't throw tantrums and be so stubborn that they can't deal with you.

Be willing to give up something to get what you want. Think through your request and surprise them with a plan that might work. Then live up to your agreements.

7. Make family a priority. Take part in planned family activities and celebrations. Your presence is important. You can be there for them like they are there for you. Parents really appreciate it when you volunteer to help - without being asked.

Give gifts and cards for birthdays and other occasions. Get involved. Don't allow a negative attitude to spoil the occasion for others. If you want to make your parents feel really good about you, take a special interest and be a friend to your younger brothers and sisters.

8. Share your life. Your parents want to know what is going on in your life. They want to know about big problems and how you are managing. They want to get an idea of who your friends are and what you are doing.

It makes parents feel good to share in your accomplishments and the excitement of your life. This doesn't mean you have to tell your parents everything - just enough so they know you and can guide and support you at the right times.

You are probably good at some or most of these points already. If you want to know what you can do to help the family the most, ask your parents what they would like from you. Concentrate on one or two things from this list and see how your influence really does make a difference.