What Nagging Our Teens is Really About (It’s Not What You Think)

Among the many hats that I wear these days – wrangler, cook, driver, colleague – there is one in the mix that has claimed top spot in the pile. Yes, it is three-letters short, but no, it is not mom. It’s NAG.

I am quite good at being one. Just ask any one of my four teenagers. I did. What a mistake that was. Apparently, I excel at harassing them more than I do at most other household things; baking, dog-walking, doing laundry and planning vacations.

My ability to annoy my kids to GET OFF THE PHONE, PUT YOUR WET TOWELS IN THE DRYER and WALK THE DOG THAT YOU BEGGED FOR, is quite extraordinary.

red coffee cup
I am rethinking why I nag my teens. (Twnety20 @reinasierra)

I convinced myself that I nagged my teens for their sake.

For the longest time, regardless of what I was hounding them about, I would tell myself that it was for the betterment of the kids. That worked until recently when I opened my eyes to the fact that my nagging is less about the kids and more about me and my own judgmental voice. Not to mention the cutthroat culture we swim in.

If I am not acting as the iPhone, mental health and good citizen police I am not doing a good job parenting my kids and SHAME ON ME.

That is really what drives my nagging. This underlying sense that it is my fault that my teens show frequent displays of self-absorption and laziness. As if their attitudes are problems that need to be fixed and that I am the person that must do the fixing.

That is not the case, though. It is more a matter of bad storytelling on my part. As if I naively typed “Why Parents Nag” into Google and believed the first result that popped up.

Up until recently, I would justify every nag as coming from a place of good intention and for my teen’s own benefit.

After all, “good” parents teach that:

TOO MUCH SCREEN TIME WILL RUIN YOUR EYES.
NOT ENOUGH SLEEP IS BAD.
CHORES NEED TO BE DONE.
HOMEWORK NEEDS TO GET DONE BEFORE YOU RUIN YOUR EYES.

I never really took the time to wonder why I was doing it, but I spent enough time harassing my kids that I became really good at it. After one especially unpleasant pre-breakfast phone battle I found myself looking into my own tear-filled eyes in the mirror when the reality stared starkly back at me: my nagging was doing bad things for all of us.

For starters, it leaves no one in our family feeling especially pleased with themselves. Even though what I say out loud often goes something like: “More than 2-hours a day of screen time is too much.” What remains unspoken and gets unintentionally rolled-up into the message is a shameful addendum along the lines of: “You know better. What you are doing is not okay. You are not okay.” It may seem like an interpretive stretch. It’s not, though. I can tell by the exhausted looks that get thrown in my face.

My nagging ultimately just pushes my kids away.

The only thing that I am ultimately doing with my harping is pushing my kids away.

They feel like criminals caught in the act of committing a horrible crime and then I feel terrible about myself for making them feel badly in the first place. Next thing I know, it is off to the races to see who can retreat behind the safety of a closed door the fastest. But no matter who wins the race, we all keep losing. Big time.

I need to get over the fact that, my teens are, well, teens. Which means that for the time being and near future, they are likely to be more into themselves and what is happening in their worlds above and beyond anyone and anything else.

No, they do not want to read the headlines in the morning. Nor do they want to do the dishes. Yes, they would like to binge-watch “FRIENDS” for five-hours on a Saturday. It is not easy to let any of this happen or not happen, while keeping my mouth shut. But it is futile and toxic, to fight with my teens over every bit of trivial stuff that they do repeatedly, that bothers me, repeatedly.

My challenge is to figure out what is worth nagging for and what isn’t.

HELP WITH DINNER AND LAUNDRY. I am an immovable wall.

BEING ON YOUR PHONE BEFORE 7:00 AM. I don’t like it. How about weekends only?

THE FLOOR AS A LAUNDRY BASKET. Ugh. It’s your room. I guess.

Like most things in life, it is all about finding balance, even with my nagging. For my part, I won’t pretend that any amount of yoga-inspired thinking will make me a Zenlike Elsa from “Frozen” who can let it go. I can only promise my kids that, on this one, my anti-nagging goals apply to everyone in our family, myself included. I will KEEP TRYING. Otherwise, I risk losing them before they even leave our house for good.

The next time I hear that hounding voice in my head, I will, first ask it to LEAVE ME ALONE. And, then, I will remind myself to be patient and accepting. Of my teens and me. That growing up and evolving never stop, no matter how old or young you are; that it is inside work that takes time. And, NAGs, especially this one, are not required to get the job done.

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Melissa Milsten lives in Westchester, New York with her husband, their four teenagers and Ruby the dog (who is sometimes the best behaved member of the family). Her background is in publishing and marketing. When she isn’t working or parenting, you might spot her on a yoga mat or lacing up a pair of sneakers. You can read more about her here.

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