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Tips for a constructive dialogue and how to be heard

Relationships between parents and their children can be very confusing and tense. Parents often criticise their children for being “insufficient”, they don’t listen to teenagers who are trying to say that they fell pressure and anxiety about their marks, appearance and hobbies. Psychologist Rūta Žiaunienė from the Erudito Licėjus says that most conflicts are invoked by differences in the values of parents and children. This time she’s on the side of young people and gives some tips for talking to parents. At the same time, she reminds the parents that the greatest gift that the parents can give to their children is freedom to be who they are and be appreciated for it.

Being a teenager

You are a teenager. Most likely you have some difficulties with your parents. They often criticize you for your marks being not good enough, that you don’t put enough effort when learning, even if you outperform most of your classmates. Sometimes parents are not happy with what you look like, they compare you with the children of their friends because they look like “normal children”. Sometimes you hear them saying that you are lazy because you spend much time in front of your computer and spend too little time outside.

When parents want you to “raise” your marks and you work on that, you hear them saying that you exercise too little and your physical activity is low. Sometimes they don’t notice that you have a lot of hobbies (you create videos, you have your own YouTube channel, you dance, sing, play football and do a lot of other things). You want to talk to your parents about the pressure your feel but you’re afraid they won’t understand you and will be even more angry with you? So, what should you do?

Why do parents act like that?

Parents truly believe that they just do their job – they are parents. If you ask them why they behave with you like this, they would probably say “because we love you so much”. Parents are convinced that good marks and physical activity are the foundations for your great future and happier life. They even think that their actions which you call pressure is well-wishing help and they would be confused if they find out that children don’t appreciate the parents’ attention they get. But they don’t realise that you don’t like this kind of love and affection, that it causes anxiety and keeps reminding you that you didn’t do enough. Instead of respecting your desire to do exactly what makes you happy, parents underestimate it and call it a waste of time. Sometimes you find yourself in a vicious circle: if you spend much time doing your homework, you don’t exercise enough, and if you move and do sports, you spend too little time for your homework.

Good news is that you don’t have to please your parents

You don’t need to get the highest marks and your body doesn’t have to be slim or muscular, your haircut doesn’t have to be perfect. A healthy person needs to learn how to like themselves rather than to be liked by their moms, dads, teachers and society which says what people should look like. You need to find out what’s important to you and refocus your energy. You need to care about balance rather than anxiety, you need to care about learning instead of marks, improvement instead of pursue of perfection, and beauty – the way you understand it and not how you’re supposed to understand it.

If you face similar difficulties, you need to know that maybe your parents experienced similar pressure. Your grandparents kept encouraging them to learn more and perform better instead of spending time doing “nothing”. Or maybe they kept ignoring them and your parents’ dream is to have had someone who had invested at least something in their success the way they invest in you by showing interest in your life.

If you feel anxious and stressed about scoring good marks, if you keep thinking that you are not enough, this won’t be the beginning of your successful life. If you always feel tension about your appearance, if you are always on a diet or, on the contrary, overexercise and feel exhausted, this isn’t what you wish for yourself.

A real conflict between you and your parents is not that you don’t stick to their rules but because your values are different. If you find it difficult to talk to your parents without voices raised or without interruptions, try to write them a letter.

How should you start a conversation or letter?

  • You may say or write down that you appreciate their efforts when they care about your future, that you understand all this being for your own sake. You may explain that even if their goal is to bring you up and make your life full, the ways they are trying to do that won’t help achieve this goal.
  • Tell them that you’re anxious not because you are underperforming, but because of their constant attention and pressure – this is exactly what makes learning difficult.
  • Don’t be afraid to cite some studies which say that it is inner motivation (finding sense, inner desire to learn) and not external one (marks, parents’ acknowledgement) which has a greater impact on good results.
  • When you speak of the comments about your appearance, tell them that you are happy about the way you look, you like your style and body, whereas their comments hurt you. You can also share that sometimes you feel that their love depends on what you look like, that you can earn their love only by looking the way they want you to.
  • You may end your letter or conversation by explaining that the greatest gift they may give you is freedom to be what you are and be appreciated for it. You do the best you can, you have other activities and you value your free time. If you get your parents’ support, your relationships will only be stronger.

Let’s hope that your letter or conversation will help your parents understand you better and pay attention to the difficulties you deal with. If this doesn’t happen, you can always talk to a psychologist or another adult you trust. They will help you communicate with your parents. In any case, discovering your values and defending them is a great experience which will come in handy later.