This is the latest from our new column, ‘Dear Danni’, where Dannielle Miller shares tips on parenting kids aged 10+.
My Mum loves to complain to me (and worse still, to my teens) about how entitled this generation of kids are. How can I convince her she’s wrong; it’s really getting us all down.
I suspect there may be a number of readers who will relate to your question as sadly, viewing the younger generation as spoiled and impertinent is nothing new.
In the 4th century BC even the usually open-minded Socrates clutched his proverbial pearls in despair when he lamented: “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”
I am guessing by the fact you find your mother’s comments upsetting, her commentary bears little resemblance to what your kids, or the teens you know, are like.
I’m an educator who has worked with adolescents for the past 25 years. And I’m mother to two teens. What strikes me is that apart from being unhelpful (has there ever been a young person who has behaved more positively as a result of being shamed?), this type of discourse about teens bears little resemblance to what the young people I meet are actually like either. Although my kids are, admittedly, gifted gobblers of dainties and excellent at chatter. I suspect they may have learned both these skills from me.
How should you best mange your mother’s criticisms?
Well, I could list all the research that highlights how hard-working and civic-minded this generation of adolescents are (there’s plenty of it) so that you could share this when you’re next in battle with your mum.
If she isn’t the type of person easily swayed by data, perhaps some personal stories might help shift her thinking (these help build empathy). To kick things off, I could share with you some of the stories from the front-line of my work this week; like the teens at a government high School in Penrith, Kingswood High School, who are working together to do chores in order to raise funds for their local women’s refuge.
Or the year seven girls at a client school in Melbourne who are rallying their spirits during lockdown by doing an audit of their favourite female role models and building a shared “library” of “Sheroes” they can draw inspiration and strength from.
I am sure your own teens have stories on gratitude, fortitude and service to others they could share too.
But I suspect your kids may not feel inclined to discuss these with their grandmother as they may not feel they will be heard, or that their life experiences will be valued.
And that is a deep shame.
Studies show that many teenagers don’t feel their families listen, and grandparents can provide exactly the type of supportive sounding board they may not find anywhere else.
I am wondering if rather than trying to convince her she’s wrong, you should focus instead on explaining the impact her words are having on your kids, and how you sense they’re withdrawing from her (she may well have already sensed this herself and be saddened by it).
Biting her tongue may be difficult, but if your Mum really wants a close, loving relationship with your kids she does need to zip her lip.
Then, explain the impact her words are having on you too.
As women we may think we’ve moved beyond being little girls who just can’t say no and that the battle to finally find our own voices has been won. But how often do even the most empowered of us still actively avoid difficult conversations? It can certainly be difficult to set boundaries, those of us who are hardwired for connection may be burdened afterwards with guilt. If you’re honest with yourself, you will see that biting your tongue just isn’t working.
Be brief (long-winded conversations only open up points for disagreement) and try to stay calm and in control.
Finally, regardless of how she initially responds, don’t play at regrets afterwards.
By setting some boundaries and seeking a more authentic, respectful connection, you will also be showing your kids that they can do likewise – and that’s an invaluable life lesson.
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