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The A to Z's of Teenagers: A Is for Advice

Photograph by Getty Images

I'm not stupid. Or at least I'm not as clueless as my teen daughter sometimes (often) thinks I am. I know—before I open my mouth to say what I am apparently compelled beyond my powers to prevent myself from saying, before whatever I am compelled to say is met with eye rolls and deep sighs and snark—that the astute, insightful, perceptive, sage and oh-so-helpful piece of advice I am about to offer will be considered unwelcome, unwanted and, above all, lame.

I know because this is exactly how I felt when my mother delivered mini (but somehow, also, to my teen ears, interminable) lectures on the moral imperative of making one's bed every morning; how spelling always counted and why I should look up words in the dictionary because I might actually learn something; how boys didn't respect girls who showed cleavage (not that I had any to show); and how good table manners were a passport to social acceptance.

Blah, blah, blah, I said to myself then. Get out of my face.

So why can't I help myself now, as a mother, from being so free with my advice to my own daughter?

It's because, dammit, I do know some things that just might come in handy. That's why. I do know how to put together a résumé, for example, or how to address a teacher in an email note. I do know that Cheez-Its and Coke Zero do not equal a powerhouse snack. But I also know—unlike my mother—when to butt out, when to stop micromanaging (usually) and when to respect my daughter's growing maturity. I know that sometimes she does know, and doesn't need to be told by me. And I know that experience—her personal experience—is the only way she will learn some things that need to be learned.

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On the other hand, I also know how to operate behind the scenes, work the angles, plant the idea, camouflage advice as punchy texts, tell her brothers to drop hints and otherwise get my point across without seeming to.

When I asked Lizzie yesterday to come up with one piece of useful advice I've given her, she thought for a long time, a very long time. Too long a time. Then she finally said, "Once you told me to carry a tampon in my purse even if I wasn’t expecting my period."

How sage of me.

Of all the pieces of advice I got from my own mother, here's the one I keep coming back to: Always double the garlic.

And now, a word from the teenage daughter:

Mothers are constantly giving advice to their teens. Well now it's my turn, so listen up!

First of all, let me tell you why teens hate to get advice from their mothers. It's all about power. You have it and we don't. When you give advice you're showing how much power you have and how little we have. We don't like that. And then there's the fact that there is a limit to how many little lectures we want to hear in one day. I mean we just got home from (or are about to go to) six hours of school where teachers give us lectures all day. Let me also point out that we hate to be told stuff that is just common sense. It makes us feel stupid. And we hate to be told stuff that just feels wrong, like old—like from another generation that really doesn't get what’s going on in our heads or our worlds.

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If you are going to offer advice to your teen, here's my advice about what to do: First, think about whether the advice is wanted. Shoving advice down your teen's throat will make her gag! Then, when you do give advice, say that it is your opinion, not the word from above like some huge thing that can't be argued with; this way, your teen feels like she has a choice and might be part of the decision. And here's an idea: Sometimes ask your teen for advice. You never know. Maybe you'll learn something!

Now here's my secret ... I want my mom to believe that I don't take her advice and I can solve my problems on my own. But really, I sometimes listen to what she says (without her knowing).

Check back with the mom.me blog to get more fab insight from this mom and daughter duo in the A to Z's series.

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