Another example of a surprise is that I asked adults whether they liked their
work, and I asked young people whether they thought their parents liked their
work. And I found a big difference. Adults say that they like their jobs a lot
more than young people think that their parents like their jobs. Two out of
five kids said that their parents like their work. Three out of five adults
said that they liked their work a lot.
That's because we come home and we talk about the boss who's a jerk or the
co-worker who's new who we're suppose to train and that person isn't so smart,
so how could we possibly train someone so stupid? And we come home with some of
the negative stories. Or if our kids say, "Don't go to work," we say, "Oh, I
wish I didn't have to go." We mean that, "I wish I didn't have to leave you,
but I also like where I'm going," which kids can get that subtly, particularly
teenagers. They don't want us to love our work more than we love them, but they
can get it.
And so, what this study did I think is much more important than the individual
answers. It tells us that we're stuck in a series of debates that don't fit the
data -- not only from my study, but from other people's studies. For example,
the quality time/quantity time debate. I found in this study, by listening to
young people, that not only is the amount of time the parents spend with their
kids important, but what happens in that time is also important. Our dichotomy
[of] is it one or the other is just wrong. And particularly important to young
people is that there's time to hang around together. It's not always planned;
it's not always schedules. It's not always rushing to this activity to another
activity. But there's just time to be together. ...
And in your study, did the teenagers still want this time with their
I found a big surprise, which is that it was teens more than younger children
who felt that they didn't have enough time with their parents. And in one
sense, it makes sense, because parents of teens spent a lot less time with
their teenagers than parents of younger children do. So you can see that
there's a difference in the amount of time spent so, yes, OK, they want more
But then, the parents of teens will say, "Now, wait a minute. ... I've hung
around all weekend waiting for them to do something and they're busy, busy,
busy." So I brought together some young people and I asked them what's going
on, particularly with teens. In a video that I made of them, they said, "Well,
you know when we're teens, we're so busy pushing our parents away that when we
want them, it's hard to ask." One girl said, "I'm more comfortable if my
parent just notices that there's something wrong and says it, because I find it
hard to break that barrier. But I really do want them." And another child said,
"Your friends can be there for you, but it's really your parents --
particularly when you're older, you have a little bit bigger problems -- it's
your parents who are really important to be there for you." So that really
To parents of teens who maybe think, "OK, now I've launched this kid somewhat
and they're pushing me away," the message from young people, from teens is
"Hang in there." Even if they push us away, they want to be with us. ...
Tell me what the teens scored their parents worst on.
Teens scored their parents worst on "knowing what's really going on in my
life." Only 35 percent of kids gave their mothers high marks for that, and 31
percent gave their fathers high marks for that. They also scored their parents
not well on controlling their tempers when they did something that made their
parent angry. Both fathers and mothers didn't do so well on that one.
"Raising me with good values," things like that, parents did rather well on
that one. Young people felt that parents are trying to communicate values,
which is a little different than the public thinks. The public thinks that
there is a real gap in values. I found between 9 percent and 43 percent of
young people did not see their parents as doing very well, so there are clearly
problems. But you know, some parents are doing well on things that we don't
think that they're doing such a good job on.
How did the parents rate themselves on knowing what's going on in their
I'd have to look it up, but parents rated themselves more highly on knowing
what was going on in their children's lives than children did.
When you say that teens said they actually wanted more focused time with
their parents, under what circumstances? What were the issues they wanted to
raise with their parents?
There's a feeling sometimes among parents that when your kids turn into teens,
that you've done your job in a sense, that it's the peers who have the greatest
influence, and that your influence is a lot less. That's not what I heard from
teens, particularly if they have a halfway decent relationship with their
parent; which doesn't mean that you don't fight or disagree or they don't make
your life miserable. It doesn't mean that. But if they feel like they're
respected, if they feel like they're listened to, if they feel like they're
valued, they really want adults to help shape their views about world. They
want adults to tell them about the world and how it works.
One of the criticisms that I heard from kids was that [parents] didn't share
about the world of work, that they came home with the negative stories, that
they didn't say what they had learned. [Teens] don't want a long lecture. They
don't want, "OK, this is what I learned today from work." But just dropping it
in every once in a while or if you've got a friend over who's got an
interesting job, have them talk about it, because the teens whose parents
talked about their jobs in a way that had lessons learned in it, those young
people could tell you that, and it mattered a lot.
... If they pushed their parents away and their parents hung in there, they
really appreciated it, because they knew that they were being difficult. That's
the developmental task of the teen, to begin to separate from the parents in a
new and different way. But it's also the developmental task of the teen to
reconnect in a new way, in a more adult way. And so it's not just separation.
We often thought of development as kind of a straight line toward independence.
But all through development, there's separation and connection, and they go
hand in hand.
The teens also, or the kids generally, seemed to worry about their parents.
It was a real surprise to me, and I think it's a surprise to parents whom I
talked to -- how often kids worry about their parents. We think about our
worrying about our kids. But the kids actually worry about us, and they
primarily worry because we're tired and stressed. One out of three worries
about his or her parents often or very often, and two-thirds worry some of the
When you ask the kids whom do they admire, whom do they say?
When you ask children whom they admire, they often talk about their parents. If
they have a good relationship, they talk about their parents.
Another surprise was I asked kids what they were going to remember most from
this period in their life, and I asked parents to guess what the kids would
say. And parents almost always guess the big event, the vacation, the wonderful
family reunion, you know, the five-star kind of family thing. And kids talked
about the very small, everyday rituals and traditions that say to them "We're a
family." So those everyday things that we do really matter a lot.
One child talked about that when she came down the stairs to go to school, her
dad said, "You go, tiger, you go get them," and that was what she was going to
remember most from being a young person. Another child talked about being in
bed and the wake-up song -- this was not a little kid. But his mother always
sang a wake-up song, and that's what he was going to remember most. ... That
says to parents, "Have those rituals, have those traditions. Those are
important, even with teens."
What came out about fathers in the survey?
... They were more likely to feel that they didn't have enough [time] to be
with their fathers, to yearn to be with their fathers more than their mothers.
Fathers spent less time with them than their mothers, although that time is
increasing, [as] we've seen in our own research and we've seen in other
people's research. Dads in the teenage years are particularly important.
And did the teens say that to you?
Did they explain why it was important to them?
They are beginning to get the sense that this is a time when they're going to
be leaving home. There is one teen in the video who says, "I've been pushing,
pushing, pushing, pushing, and now suddenly I realize that I'm going to leave
them. I wish I hadn't been quite so pushy. I do need my parents. I want to be
with my parents. I may not live with them, you know, forever. I may not be home
forever, and I want to know them as people. And I want them to join my
One of the things that I've done a lot of focus groups with young people and
they're really interested in having an adult who's curious about you. They want
you to care what happens. One young person said, "I want my parents to ask me
about my day and care about what I answer."
And really that's one of the lessons, is the idea that they seem to want
someone to listen. Just tell me a little about that.
Well, communication is central. If you look at how people learn, all of us --
from babies to teens to adults -- learn through relationships. I was recently
with a group of teens who talked about what made the difference in their caring
about school or not caring about school, and having one teacher or even the
janitor who cares about how you're doing made that difference.
Central to relationships is communication. One of the questions that I ask in
focus groups is, "If you were making a movie about what it's like to be a
person your age for an adult who didn't get it, what would that movie be like?"
Some of these kids in my video look tough. But what they say is that people are
really prejudiced against them, that if they walk into a store, people look at
them as if they're going to shoplift. If they're walking down the street, they
see people jump to the other side. They don't think that adults like them very
There have been surveys that have shown that adults like their own children,
but they're not so positive about other people's children. And yet research
that's been done by Tony Earls at Harvard found that, when the adults in
children's lives, in a community, feel that other people's children are
important and make that well known and communicated, there's much less
violence, even in communities where there's a lot of poverty and the things
that are associated with violence. ...
Another thing that I hear from young people is that they feel stressed. They
feel like no adult really knows about the whole part of their life. The
teachers in school know about the subject that they teach, but they don't see
them in their other classes or know what else is put on them in those other
classes. The coach or the gym teacher knows about you know doing well in a
sport or the drama teacher wants you to do well in the play, and that's
everything to that teacher, but that's not your whole life.
And then your parents only see you at home, with your homework, often at the
end of the day when it's arsenic hour for everyone. You don't know what we've
gone through in school. And sometimes we have a daybook and a calendar and
pressures on us that rival the pressures that you have on you.
And do they ever tell you what those pressures are? I mean, what would the
top three pressures be on a teen?
In the next survey that I do, I'm going to ask exactly that question, so I
can't answer it from a research base yet. But it varies in the groups that I've
asked. With some kids, it's just having enough money. For some kids, it's
schoolwork and getting the right grades, so that you can go on to the right
high school or college and get a good job. They feel like that's a bit of a
treadmill, too. Sometimes it's your friends and being popular. Those are some
of the things that I hear. ...
It's also a very interesting point you raise about support from the
community playing a big part in the lives of teens.
... I think that we're at a turning point. It's been clear to me, in talking
about this book since it's been published, with so many parents and young
people around the country and internationally, that we're at a turning point,
where we're going to pay much more attention to teens. And we're at a turning
point where we're wanting to hear their voices. It's not as scary as it has
I went to the Millennium Summit that the United Nations held last year, and
there was a session by first ladies. One of the major messages from that
session was that we need to hear from young people and communities every day,
all the time; that we need their voices, because if they're part of the
solution, then the problems can begin to diminish.
It doesn't mean that adults should abdicate. That's really important; adults
need to remain adults. But I think that we can use, we can develop the
leadership of young people more than we have been doing, and I think that this
is a turning point. I think that communities are going to begin to mobilize for
teens in the way that they have been mobilizing for young children.
We have been working at the Families and Work Institute with a number of
communities that are getting together the people from schools, from churches,
from the town government, from the United Way, from other organizations that
affect some of the agencies. They've been saying, "What do we need to do in our
community to promote positive youth development?" And I believe that we're just
at the beginning of a movement where we're going to look at having more
constructive things for young people to do, where they have more of a chance to
be leaders and develop their leadership capacity in their communities and in
And how important do you think that is?
I think it's critical, just critical. We're so focused on what's wrong with
teens. If you go talk to teens, they will bring out magazine covers and they
will show you the menacing pictures of themselves on magazine covers, or the
way that they're portrayed in such negative ways.
My son, when he was a teen, kept a tally by the television. And every time a
teen was mentioned and it was positive, he put a check in one box, and if it
was negative, he'd put a check in another box. He particularly looked at how
teen boys were portrayed, and there were a lot of negative checks and very few
positive checks in the media about young people.
And yet I happen to know -- because my daughter works in the area of youth
leadership, and she's been giving awards to teens and young people who've been
doing things to improve their schools or their communities -- that there are
amazing examples around the country of what young people are doing in their
schools and their communities, with their families, to really bring about
change. We need to hear about more of those stories and I think that we're at a
point where we could begin to turn around some of the negative things that
we've been seeing happen.
Our film is called "Inside the Teenage Brain." In light of your experience
and your work, what do you think is inside the teenage brain?
There are a number of ways to look at what's inside the teenage mind, and one
way is neuroscience. The advances in neuroscience are very exciting. But
another way is to ask the children, and I have so many questions. I want to
look at things like how they feel about learning. I want to look at how they
feel about violence or conflict. I want to look at how they feel about the
diverse world that they live in, the consumer culture, peer pressure. We
are going to go on and do a series of studies that continue to ask the
I hear what you're saying about listening to children. But of course one of
the big stresses that we come across is issues of discipline or curfews,
phoning in and not being able to go out with certain people, dating and all
that. What is the advice from your work on how parents handle these thorny
thorns in the way of teenage life?
The word "discipline" really means to teach, and I think we've ended up
thinking about discipline as punishment or punitive -- stopping behavior,
rather than what we're really doing is teaching children, teaching teens. We're
really teaching them how to deal with conflict. So they want us to be involved.
If the parent says, "Phone [home] all the time," they hate it. But they also
like it, because it means to them that, "You care about what happens to me."
There is going to be conflict between parents and children; there just is.
Let's just take that as a given. But within that, there are ways of handling
that conflict more constructively. Perhaps the best way is to use a
problem-solving approach, which is that you say the rule, that is, "I need you
to be home and safe at a certain time." And then you say, "Let's come up with
six different ways that we can make this work for you and work for me." Ask
them to generate solutions, and lots of them. Don't have them just come up with
And then ask them to evaluate what would work and what wouldn't work about each
of those solutions. Ask them to look at it from your perspective as well as
their perspective, so that they're learning the skill of problem solving, which
study after study shows is critical to adult success. Then pick one solution to
try and say, "We're going to have a meeting to talk about this in two weeks to
see if it's working better than what's happening now."
In that way, you can get over the kind of we/they conflict. You're in it
together. You've set the rule because you're the adult. But you can begin to
teach them how to deal with things that they're going to have to deal with when
they're out there on their own later on.
When you look at families, you sometimes see a relationship that isn't
working, and not because anyone is being particularly malevolent or evil, just
Yes, you just get into a bad way. Right.
Tell me about your feelings when you see these sorts of relationships go
It's very sad, because no parent ever wakes up and says, "I want to do a bad
job as a parent," you know. We want the best for our children. We want to do a
good job as parents, we want them to remember us kindly when they're grown up.
Yet we can get into a box where we feel hurt or wounded or not appreciated. And
we just get trapped in a debate, in a war, in a battle that's going to lead
So the best thing to do in those cases, maybe is even getting help. I don't
mean necessarily getting professional help, but just talking to a friend who
seems to have good relationship with his or her teenager at that minute. ...
And you can say to your kid, "Look, we're stuck, we're just in such a bad
situation. I want to get out of it, you want to get out of it. Let's think of
ways that we can get out of it." They won't trust you at first, because they're
used to being at war with you.
But if you really mean it and you engage them, it's just like having a boss. If
your boss tells you what to do in a negative way all the time, you feel
rebellious. All of us, even as adults feel rebellious, and if we can, like a
good boss, engage them -- not in making the rules, because I think that you
know we have to remain the adults -- but in coming up with solutions that can
get out of this trap, then all the better. ...
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