What’s Right for Your Teen Might Not Be Right for Mine

My daughter asked me if a friend could come home with her after school years ago. After I agreed, she asked me to please not ask too many questions — something I have a habit of doing apparently — and I decided I’d try.

mom with teens
My biggest parenting lesson has been to learn that what’s right for one teen may not be right for another. (Twenty20 @aFloridaMermaid)

This friend was very forthcoming with information, though, and the three of us had a friendly chat on the way to my house. Thankfully, my daughter didn’t give me that “Be quiet or I’ll hurt you” look in the rearview mirror.

As we chatted, her friend mentioned her track meet. I asked her how long she’d been on the team, and she said, “This is my first year. I didn’t want to do it, but my mom made me. I’m so glad, though, because I love it so much.” She had practice every day except Sunday and didn’t even mind getting up early on Saturday mornings to run with her team.

I thought I wasn’t pushing my kids hard enough

It was a pivotal parenting moment for me. Hearing how much this girl loved track and how much better she felt, both physically and mentally, made me realize I wasn’t pushing my kids enough. My oldest had gone from being on the basketball team, baseball team, kickball team, and ski team to wanting to quit all sports.

I let him quit after he had an epic meltdown one winter day before a basketball game. He had been up late the night before skiing with the ski team, and getting up the following day to make the 8 a.m. game was too much for me. I bribed him with everything I could think of, and when that didn’t work, I told him he had to go.

He cried the entire way home from the game and didn’t want to go out to our usual Saturday lunch. I almost felt like I’d done some permanent damage. I still don’t know why I was so adamant about him going to that game, but maybe if I’d let him stay home and recharge, things would have turned out differently, and perhaps he wouldn’t have wanted to quit everything thoroughly.

So I started making my teens join teams an activities

Even with my son’s earlier fiasco in mind, shortly after the talk with my daughter’s friend, I decided to push my kids to do more things in hopes that they would end up loving the club or sport I made them join.

First, I made my youngest join the kickball team. He’s never been into sports, and I thought this would be casual, fun, and he’d be happy because all his friends were playing. He told me many times that he didn’t want to play, but I thought for sure he’d change his mind. That didn’t happen. I got a call from the coach letting me know that my son didn’t participate and that he had tried and failed to get him excited. 

Then, while I had the coach on the phone, I got the bright idea to volunteer my older son to be a coach’s assistant. The coach was happy to have an assistant. My oldest son was not pleased with me. He said, “I don’t want to do that as I dropped him off! I don’t want to coach those little kids.” Since he didn’t want to play sports any longer, I told him he’d enjoy coaching. 

Forcing my teens to do things was a disaster

It was a disaster. My younger son did not want to be there, and neither did his older brother. My vision of them running out to my car when I picked them up was smashed when they told me they’d gotten into an argument on the field. I made them go back for the next practice, and I’ll spare you the details, but I got a call asking me to pick them up. And that was that.

The following fall when my daughter let me know she’d no longer be playing basketball I told her to at least try out. “You may find you miss it, honey,” I told her. “Aren’t all of your friends playing?” They were all playing and my daughter had already decided that she didn’t love the sport enough to play it again and didn’t care if her friends were playing. 

I made her go to the tryouts. When I picked her up, she was in tears because she “didn’t try very hard, and the coach announced who could come back to the second round of tryouts in front of everyone.” She was so upset because she hadn’t wanted to go, and I’d made her, and now she was embarrassed.

I realized I had to let my teens take the lead in their own lives

After that, I realized I was zero for three. My kids seem to know what they want to do and I wasn’t willing to force them to do anything sports-related again because it was ending badly for them and for me. And it was affecting the other kids on the team and the coaches.

When my son was a sophomore in high school he was failing his history class. I was constantly reminding him to hand his work in and just pass so he wouldn’t have to take it again. I took his phone away and wouldn’t let him go out with friends until his work was done.

I tried everything I could short of doing the work for him and he failed and had to take it again the following year. When he didn’t pass I did something he wasn’t expecting: I didn’t take away his phone, I didn’t ground him, I didn’t tell him I was disappointed in him. I knew having to take the dreaded class over again with kids who were younger than him would be enough punishment. Besides, those tactics didn’t work on him before so why keep doing that?

My friends and family thought I was too lenient. They told me if their kid had failed a class because they hadn’t tried, they would have grounded them for most of the summer or taken their phone away for a few weeks. Their opinions rocked me a little, and I wondered if maybe I was doing the wrong thing. 

Then, I reeled myself back in and listened to my gut. Every time I don’t do that when it comes to my kids, it backfires. That doesn’t mean I don’t hold them accountable, encourage them, or let them know if I think they could be making a different decision.

In this case, though, I told my son if failing and taking the class over again was okay with him, there was nothing I could do about it. I told him that it was up to him to pass or he could continue taking the class over and risk not graduating. He took that class over again and never failed another class.

It’s easy to be influenced or second-guess yourself when it comes to parenting. Many times, a fellow parent has given me great advice, I’ve taken it, and it has worked. But every time that happened, deep down, I felt good about what I was doing and knew it aligned with my parenting and my kids’ needs.

There is no parenting handbook and often we need to follow our gut 

As parents, we all know there’s no handbook, and our kids react differently to situations. My teens are now 18, 17, and 15. The biggest lesson I’ve learned through my parenting journey is that what is suitable for your child might not be good for mine.

If I try something that doesn’t feel suitable for my family, even if every other family in the world is doing it, it’s not ideal for us, period. While it’s great to hear success stories from other parents, it doesn’t mean you have to parent the same way they do. It’s hard enough to be a parent today and learn to read your own child’s individual needs without comparing everything you do to what other parents are doing. 

Remember, you and your kids are the ones who get to decide what’s best for your family, and it’s okay if what helps your child isn’t what helps your neighbor’s child. THINGS GOT A LOT LESS COMPLICATED once I realized that I had to think about what I needed to do to make my home a safe, peaceful place and not compare my parenting to my friend’s parenting. 

More Great Reading:

“It’s Not My Job to Make You Like Me:” My Parenting Mantra Now and Always

About Katie BinghamSmith

Katie Bingham-Smith lives in Maine with her three kids. She is a Staff Writer at Scary Mommy, shoe addict and pays her kids to rub her feet. You can see more of her on Facebook and Instagram .

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