• To: William McCormick, age 44
• From: William McCormick, age 14
• Re: Memo to myself when I’m the father of a teenager thirty years from now
I’m writing this memo to myself thirty years in the future, when there is a good chance I might not only be a parent, but the father of a teenager. Since I just turned fourteen, I thought it might be helpful to give my future self some advice about being a parent from a teenager’s point of view.
First, as a parent, the most important thing you can do is see things from your son or daughter’s perspective. For example, let’s say your teenager gets poor grades in school, and doesn’t seem very motivated to improve them. Instead of being frustrated or believing your son or daughter is being lazy, keep in mind they might be handling something stressful in their social lives. Don’t forget that a teenager’s social life is pretty important stuff (at least to a teenager), so please be patient. Your child may be as disappointed with her grades as you are, and she might just need a little time to straighten things out.(Of course, if your son or daughter is just being lazy, then you’ll need to make sure they see things from your perspective. Good luck with that!)
You should also give your child more freedom as they get older. Now, when I say freedom, I don’t mean anything too extreme. For example, you need to have more trust that they’ll finish their homework on time and remember to hand it in the next day. Trust that they will not stay up too late talking with friends, or playing video games too long (more on video games in a moment). And it is really important to establish this trust early on, especially through the childhood and pre-teen years.
I’ll admit, you might be saying at this point: “Whoa, hold on just a minute. Establishing trust is easier said than done!” I recognize that having a trusting relationship with your child is not always going to be easy during the teen years. They might get frustrated with you, or simply not want to be around you. But as in any relationship, you have to be nice to the other person. Do fun things with them [things that teenagers think are fun, not just your idea of fun!], and be respectful of them and their personal space. The last thing is very important for teenagers. Once these basics are established, trust and a good relationship will come.
May I also give you some specific, practical advice about one area where I sometimes clash with Mom and Dad—video games! Thirty years in the future, I have no doubt video games will still exist, but be much more technologically advanced. (I predict 3-D hologram games. Cool!)
In my experience, especially if you have a teenage son, the chances are he plays video games, and most likely really enjoys them. You probably also know of a few video games containing mature content that your son might want, but you don’t think are appropriate.
Now, you’re probably thinking, “Oh, this is a teenager talking about video games; he’s going to say ‘let your son have all the video games he wants, regardless of the bad language or violent play’. I don’t think so!”
Well, no. You should definitely put a limit on the video games that your son is allowed to have. But you must also realize that he can handle games with some mature content. Instead of judging the game from its cover, play it with your teen and see for yourself whether it’s appropriate. Again, it comes back to trust. If your teen is doing his homework and chores, it might not hurt to let him have a little down time with a game that helps him relax and deal with the stresses of being his age.
I think that about wraps up all my advice about parenting a teenager. I hope that I do a pretty good job of it myself in the future. And remember, if your future teen argues that you don’t have a clue about what it’s like to be his age, just show him this letter. That ought to convince him that you once acted and thought like a teen!