I know we’ve all heard this before, but it is really important to be careful when you’re angry. Twice this week I’ve sat with teenage clients who have cried over things someone in their family said out of anger. In both situations the teens had completely exasperated their families, but the teenagers still took the resulting comments to heart.
We’ve all gone through this. In a fight with our spouse they might say some awful thing that cuts to the core, or you might throw out a phrase that you know you’ll be sorry about later. With our kids though, it is essential to stay a bit calmer and be more mature. I sat in my office with one girl who had said truly horrid things to her father during an argument, but when he finally was pushed far enough to call her a curse word, she fell apart. She sat and wondered for a few weeks whether he really thought that of her.
As a parent you have to be intentional. You have to keep the end goal in mind, which is to raise your child into a well-adjusted adult. You have to keep in mind that each year brings new phases, and new ways your child will learn to mature. Sometimes in that learning process they will resist you. If you get caught up in these instances where your child is resistant, you will forever be struggling with them. You will find yourself acting at their maturity level, or will find they have more power in the relationship than you. Know ahead of time what character traits you’re aiming for. It’s a lot easier to arrive at a destination if you know where you’re going than if you meander. This in turn will help you to be calmer. It will prevent you from saying useless, blaming things like, “You’re the reason this family fights all the time!” How do you think a kid/teen will feel after that?
So, it is extremely important to control your tongue. You are the example to your children. If you’re rude to them, you’ll get it right back. Do not let their vision of how they want to conduct their life, or what they think is the most important thing cloud your judgment as a parent. A teenager will tell you that what college they are accepted to is the most important thing that will ever happen to their career. As a parent, you have the wisdom to know that where they go to school is a small piece of the puzzle. The bigger pieces are work-ethic, networking ability, work experience, drive and motivation, integrity, and fiscal responsibility. If you buy into your teen’s vision then you will be overly focused on SAT scores, and not spend enough time helping them develop the rest of the necessary character qualities to succeed.
How do we best sum this up? Watch what you say out loud to your child. Make sure it is congruent with the person you are trying to help them become. Remember that extremely rude comments made in the heat of the moment are not easily forgotten by children. Know how to have grace, and know when to say you’re sorry.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT