7 Keys to the Care and Feeding of Parents

By Jeff Herring

Over the years I've probably written hundreds of articles on how parents can handle their teen-agers. This, I believe, is the first I've written on how teens can 'handle' their parents.

Here are seven principles of Care and Feeding along with an application for each.

The Truth. Parents have confirmed this with me over and over for more than 20 years: Mom and Dad would rather know the truth about something up front - no matter how horrible it may be - than to find out later they have been lied to and conned.

When parents know the truth, they can deal with what is real, and things don't get as confusing.

Application: Tell the truth, whatever it is. You may have to take some heat, especially if you are coming clean. The benefit is that now there are more brains working on whatever problems you are facing,

Trust: Trust in a family is like tokens in a video game room. In a video game place, the more tokens you have, the more games you can play.

In a family, the more trust you have, the more you are able to do. The more deposits you can make into your parent's 'trust bank,' the more and more you will be able to be in charge of your self.

Application: Ask yourself 'is what I'm doing going to build trust or break trust?' When trust is broken, begin the repair job right away. It's a fair bet that you have lived with these people for a few years and know what they need to see in order to build trust.

Nag, Nag, Nag. I've rarely if ever seen a situation where one person was nagging without the other person being irresponsible in some way. If you think your parents are nagging you, look for places where you may have been irresponsible in some way.

I can guarantee you this: Parents do not sit up late at night thinking things like 'OK, what can I find to nag them about tomorrow?' As anyone who has ever done it can tell you, nagging is no fun.

Application: Pick something your parents have been nagging you about. Figure out how to get out in front of the situation by taking care of it - doing the chore, whatever - before they can even mention it. If nothing else, the shock and confusion on their faces will be worth it.

Perspective: If you're 16, unless you have a very incredible memory and can remember all the way back to the womb, it's a safe bet you have about a 13- to 14-year perspective on life. Your parents, on the other hand, have been watching you your entire life and, if they try real hard, can even remember life before you.

That's why it's sometimes difficult for them to see you as a teen becoming a young adult instead of seeing you as a child.

Application: Give them some room when it feels as if they are treating you like a child. Negotiate with them. Remember, they are just showing the love they have for you.

The W's. The more trust you have, the more you can do. The more of a certain type of structure you have, the more freedom you will have.

Parents want to know the W's: Who you are going to be with. What you will be doing. Where you will be. When you will be home. Instead of seeing this as an intrusive, controlling pain, try looking at it as a ticket to more freedom. If you consistently supply your parents with this information, the more and more you'll be able to do. Application: When you approach your parents about going out with friends, supply them with the W's - as many as you know - before they ask. Surprising, even positively shocking your parents can be fun.

A Resource. Because your folks have lived longer than you have, they have had a few more life experiences. They are a wealth of information on how to do some of the tasks of life. They might even be a resource on how not to do some. Use them. Pick their brains. Everyone likes to feel as if they have some wisdom to impart.

Application: As you look for/apply for a job, buy a car, learn about relationships, etc., ask your parents for tips about what to do and not do, say and not say, etc.

Information. For better or worse, parents have this curious little habit of being interested in your life. If you are not sharing much with them, they will ask questions. Which sets up this wonderful little family scene:

Parent: 'How was school today?'

Teen: 'Fine.'

Parent: 'What did you do today?'

Teen: 'Nothing.'

Parent: 'Oh c'mon, you must have done something!'

Irritation, yelling and slamming of doors not far behind.

Application: The way to avoid this unpleasant scenario is to look for something in your day that you can share with your parents. Like the anti-nagging technique, this one allows you to get out in front of something before it becomes a problem.