Having been a teacher for the best part of 40 years – yes, it sounds very odd to write that now that I've retired – not to mention a parent of four children and grandmother, I have always tried hard not to judge other parents.
But I couldn’t help but be disturbed by a recent television interview I saw while on holiday of Kate Gosselin, American reality TV show personality, with her twin teenage daughters, Mady and Cara (main picture).
Kate brought the girls on the show after the girls did a recent magazine interview - at their mother's behest - about their 'normal' life and what a great mum they have - the more so because of the very public break-up of their parents’ marriage.
However, on live TV, they were asked a fairly straightforward question: what they wanted to tell the world about how they’re doing. The reaction? Both the girls clammed up.
I wasn't surprised. When I was a 13-year-old girl, there’s no way I could have gone on national television to talk about how I felt about my life.
What did Kate Gosselin do? She snapped her fingers at Mady telling her to hurry up and speak. I was appalled. The television host tried to gloss over it and say it’s okay if Mady couldn’t put it in to words, but Kate looked shocked and said “No, it’s not”! Again - this wasn't all happened on national prime time television!
But it went from bad to worse because Kate then decided to give her explanation of how she thinks her daughters feel. Kate finished by asking Mady if she has anything to say to which the teenager replied “No, you just said it.”
In seconds, Mady went from shy to overwhelmed to embarrassed to extremely annoyed. Her mother caused it.
This gets me to the point of this blog. In my experience, Kate should have been understanding in this situation. Even if a teenager clams up in private with friends and relatives, let alone on a national TV show, it is wrong to belittle them for whatever it is they're feeling or reacting to at that moment. Belittling feelings and an inability to express them is the worst thing a parent, teacher or other adult can do to a child.
It can be very difficult to get through to teenagers but it’s also important to give them the space to release their feelings when they're ready. It's also important to respect their feelings, their attitudes and their opinoins. Let them think for themselves and speak for themselves.
The most important thing you can do with teenagers is listen; ask questions about what they're thinking, as well as what they're doing; let them know you value and respect their input and opinions even if you don't agree with them; explain calmly and rationally why you don't agree with them. It is a time when they are churning through so many issues in their mind, pushing boundaries, having their values tested.
Watching teenagers grow and develop is a wonderful experience, and if you maintain a good and positive relationship with them, you will be rewarded with a friend for life.