Gum in Your Hair

A blog for parents under the big sky.

Raising Teens: Not for the Faint of Heart • Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid

By Jennifer Roberts

100,000. This is how many times someone has offered me parenting advice or opinions over the last 25 years. From pregnancy to young adulthood, it doesn’t stop. Much of it has been appreciated and I have carried it through with all of my children. But some advice is not only unwarranted, but also downright wrong. I usually try to smile and nod my head, thank people for their concern and move on… but then there are those days.


Some of the best advice I ever received was from more experienced moms. “What’s cute at 3 may not be cute at 13.” “Keep poison control on speed dial.” “This too shall pass.” “The days are long but the years are short.” “Your children will not remember your worst days as a parent.” “Grounding doesn’t work for everyone.” “It’s OK to hold your baby all the time.” And my favorite, “Being fair is not giving each child exactly the same thing, but giving each child what they need.”


Friends, family and even strangers have the greatest of intentions. Perhaps, though, there are times when it is truly best to say nothing. When our daughter was diagnosed at 4 years old with aggressive leukemia, a friend asked us if we had considered a second opinion for natural treatment options. We were told we should give her organic vegetable juices that we made ourselves to cure her. Someone asked if her cancer was the result of her being vaccinated, because she ate fast food occasionally or perhaps from the cleaning products in our home. Not helpful.


Also not helpful: Giving parenting advice when you have not had experience with the stage of parenting you are discussing. I know it is well intended. I know that you may have something valuable to add to the conversation. I know that perhaps you were recently a teenager and wish your parents had handled the situation this way. And I know that your parents were fantastic. But don’t. Just don’t. Whatever you do, please do not tell me that your adorable toddler would never do what my teenager is doing. I know you’re wrong because I said the same damn thing.


It was a beautiful summer day and our backyard was full of guests for a BBQ. Teenagers and toddlers abounding! Parents varied in age from early 20s to mid 40s and everything in between. I heard my son before I saw him. His language caused the hair on the back of my neck to stand straight up. A well-intentioned 22-year-old had taken it upon himself to correct my 16-year-old son. As the parent of an infant, he certainly thought he had the authority, but to my son he was a peer and in no position to tell him what to do. I am not excusing my son’s disrespect, but this young man should not have lectured my son. Instead, he could have brought the behavior to our attention, and no one would have been in immediate danger.

This person was a guest in our home and, even if my son was angry, he should have refrained from being an ass. All eyes were on us as we headed into the house to discuss the incident in private. As I turned and walked away, I heard, “When my son is 16, he will never talk to an adult like that. He should be punished!” I sighed and closed my eyes as I headed for the door. I was embarrassed and not all that proud of my son in that moment, but I also understood his perspective. His peer, someone he did not respect, was in his home correcting him publicly and this person was not his parent. He was angry and embarrassed too. I got that. It did not excuse his outburst but it did explain it.


Returning to the BBQ to make peace with the offended party, I heard again about how their child would never behave that way as a teenager. With my defenses in overdrive, I took a deep breath. So many things ran through my mind. I had known this couple as teenagers. I had heard stories and seen firsthand their teenage behavior. It would have been easy to lash out with anger and hurtful words in retaliation. I could have defended my son. I could have attacked her husband’s behavior towards him. I could have criticized their parenting skills. I didn’t.


I took another deep breath and, with all the calmness I could muster, turned to her and said, “I hope that he doesn’t. I hope he’s everything you imagine right now. And when the day comes that you have a teenager, I’ll be happy to discuss my children’s behavior with you but not before then.” 

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Jennifer Roberts is the mother of a blended family that includes her husband of 22 years, stepson, nephew, son, daughter and countless teenagers who love to hang out around her kitchen ranging in age from 15 to 25.  On any given day, you can find her mopping mud off the kitchen floor, breaking up wrestling matches or trying  to figure out where her mascara disappeared to!  Find more stories about raising teenagers at raisingteensnotforthefaintofheart.blogspot.com.