“She’s so different from me. I never would have dared to say that to anyone,” my friend said the other night at dinner. We were talking about our teenage daughters who are both 17 years old. My friend was explaining how well her daughter handles her boyfriend’s mother who, from what I hear, is quite involved in their relationship and can be a bit much for her daughter.
“She’s always respectful but she has a way of telling her to back off. She’s not afraid to leave their house if things get too much for her.”
When we were teens we didn’t dare speak up to adults
I thought about what my friend said as I crunched my nachos and sipped my margarita. The two of us went to high school together and she was right– we never would have dared to speak up to our boyfriends’ parents even if they were doing something we didn’t like. Honestly, we didn’t speak up to adults much at all. That’s not how a lot of Gen-Xers were raised. We were taught to listen, look up to our elders, and respect them with zero gray areas.
No one said, ”They have to earn your respect first.” There wasn’t a caveat stating if they were taking a stance on something we didn’t agree with, we were allowed to speak up and give our opinion. I saw a few kids do that growing up and they were labeled as troublemakers.
Teens are now more comfortable questioning adults
Things aren’t that way now and if you ask me, it’s a good thing. Kids now question adults. They challenge us. Whenever I make comments to my teens about cleaning themselves up a bit more before we go out (they love to wear pajamas and slippers in public) they ask me why it matters. I’ve learned to do this a bit less but old habits are hard to break.
My kids are right, though. Why does it matter? It matters because I often stress about what other people think about me and my kids. And my kids are right, what others think should has little impact on my life and it shouldn’t be an issue or something I focus on.
Strangers have come up to my kids to ask them why their hair is a certain color, why my son painted his nails, and why my daughter has a nose ring. “Why would you want to put a hole in your nose?” an older man asked her once.
“Because I like it,” she responded respectfully, staring back at him while eating her french fries.
As a teenager, whenever an adult commented to me about how I looked, how much I ate, or what I put on my body, I clammed up. Sure, the thoughts were on the tip of my tongue but I was brought up to keep my mouth shut.
I could hear my parents telling me I was being disrespectful which is very much how the stranger’s comments felt that day when my daughter told him she got her nose pierced because she wanted to. Wasn’t he the one being disrespectful? He went up to a young girl he didn’t know and was publicly shaming her for something she had done to her own body. And when my friend’s daughter leaves the table at her boyfriend’s family dinner, it’s because she knows what she needs to do to protect her mental health.
I was taught to stay silent no matter how I felt
Growing up, I was taught to sit in silence and not say anything if it was going to ruffle feathers. It’s the reason so many of us have gone to therapy. It takes a long time to unlearn certain habits, and this is a big one.
I’ve heard people say that kids these days have no respect, they are too outspoken or But, not staying in an uncomfortable situation, or speaking their opinion on something isn’t the same thing as disrespect. Our teenagers don’t think adults know everything, which is good because they don’t.
My teens teach me something every day
I’m much older than my kids and have lived more life than they have, but they teach me things every day. My daughter reminded me last week I need to take my advice when it comes to trying to control something over which I have no control.
Our kids feeling free to speak up and not merely going along with everything that comes their way is powerful. They feel confident and empowered enough to not only speak out when something is wrong, they know how to do it when something feels wrong to them even if it’s okay with everyone else.
This is something I had to learn to do later in life. I am going to be 47 this year and I feel like I’m just getting comfortable with the concept of not saying “yes” when I want to say “no” and listening to that inner voice when I’m not okay with the way someone talks to me. I’m much happier living this way and I’m thankful my kids are much further along in this journey than I was at their age.
More Great Reading:
To My Daughter: Don’t Apologize For Being Who You Are