As I type this it’s about 5 p.m. and I’m driving with my teenage daughter to decorate cookies at my sister’s house a bit more than an hour’s drive away. On a school night. Despite a Christmas to-do list a mile long. (Yesterday it was 5,285 feet long, so, progress.)
I came with her at the last minute because otherwise it would have been the third time in as many days I’d decided not to do something with her in order to wrap and bake and clean. Why? The baking she needs for friend and teacher gifts. But the wrapping? It can wait. And the cleaning? It can definitely wait. Way, way too soon this daughter of mine will be in college, and these day-to-day opportunities won’t exist anymore. (And, yes, I get the irony that I’m with her right now and I’m blogging. But once we arrive, it’s all about decorating cookies!)
Was she begging me to come with her? Is she even acting like she’s happy I’m here? Hell, no. She’s a teen after all.
But, because I’m lucky enough to know Ellen Galinsky, president and co-founder of the Families and Work Institute, which is known for its insightful studies into parent and kid behavior, I’m lucky enough to know that appearances are not what they seem. Even as a teen—in fact, especially as a teen—my daughter really does want time with her parents. Despite their utterly consistent cues to the contrary, most teens and tweens do.
The Institute’s studies show that “teenagers are more likely than younger children to want more time with their parents,” writes Galinsky in her chapter “Engaging with Your Kids” in the new parenting anthology, "toughLOVE: Raising Confident, Kind, Resilient Kids." "Although the image of the bravado teenager wanting to push away—even get away from—their parents is well rooted in our culture and experience, these data paint a very different picture.”
Some of this could be that we naturally need to spend more time with little kids, who can’t be alone. But assuming that’s the whole story would be unwise. Galinsky goes on to say that when she asked teens to explain why they thought older kids were even more likely than younger ones to want more time with their parents, they said it “had to do with the dawning realization that someday—in fact, someday in the not-too-distant future—they would be on their own, which made them yearn for time with their families now.”
Particularly illuminating was a statement from one teen boy who told Galinsky’s team that he thought teens have been “so busy pushing our parents away that it is hard to reach back to ask for time.”
The kids noted, too, that they’re not talking about doing-special-stuff time—just hanging out works. And talking. One 14-year-old boy wanted to tell parents that he thought his fellow teens “may act like they don’t want you talking to them, but …talking to your kids is great and they want you to whether you think they do or not.”
Knowing this helps. I need to remind myself of it more often and try to go for the time rather than the stuff. Also, I’m glad to have an excuse to not clean the bathroom.
Find more about these studies in the book "toughLOVE: Raising Confident, Kind, Resilient Kids" and at familiesandwork.org.
The former editor of Disney's parenting magazine Wondertime, Lisa Stiepock edited the new parenting anthology "toughLOVE: Raising Confident, Kind, Resilient Kids."