High School 2 College

September 13, 2010

My Second Rant: If I Could Parent Every Teenager

Filed under: Uncategorized — highschool2college @ 8:12 pm
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My first rant allowed me to vent a little, but the steam is building up again.

Day after day, I have students — college-bound, middle-class students — who don’t know whether “peril” is a good thing or a bad thing.  (Even when I sing, “…through the perilous fight, o’er the ramparts…” they don’t have a clue.) In fact, 90% of my students haven’t read a book for pleasure since Harry Potter.  And in 23 years, I haven’t had more than one or two students who know what “gubernatorial” means.  So they’re not reading books, and they’re not watching the news.

They have no thoughts in their heads but their own, no ideas to ponder, no issues to mull over, no concerns but their own.

Whose fault is it?

It’s the iPod’s fault. Remember when your mom drove you to practice, whether it was sports, dance, drama, or music?  Remember how she’d ask you from the front seat, “How was school today, honey?”  And remember how sometimes you said, “Fine” and clammed up, but sometimes you burst out with something that had been on your mind or heart for days, how Jimmy didn’t say hi that day in class or how your best friend was talking about you behind your back or how the teacher wasn’t fair.  When we were in the back seat and mom was in the front, we talked to her.  And she talked back.

Now, most parents glance back at their child in the back seat and say, “How was school today?”  And the kid, ear buds firmly in place, says, “Wait,” as she unplugs.  “What?” she grunts.  “Nothing,” says mom as she goes back to her own music or her own thoughts.

If I had my way, I’d forbid not only cell phones but iPods, iPhones,  and anything that gets between a kid and his own thoughts or a kid and a conversation with his parent or — heaven forbid — a friend’s parent. Kids learn to speak from listening to and interacting with their parents. The process doesn’t stop when the child says his first sentence.  It doesn’t stop when he enters first grade.  Children who talk to adults frequently have superior vocabularies and mastery of English.  Their sentences are more complex, they have a better grasp of verb tenses, they use idioms more frequently and more accurately.

Parents, please don’t let your kids text when they’re in adult company.  Don’t let them plug in. Talk to them.  Ask them open-ended questions.  (“Why do you think your Spanish teacher this year is better than last year’s teacher?”  “What do you do with your lunch period?”  “Who sits next to you in math class?”  “What do you think of [name of the latest controversy in the news]?”)

It’s also the cellphone’s fault.

Remember when a boy called the house?  He had, in all likelihood, been screwing up his courage for half the day. When he called, he had to use his best manners, just like in the musical Bye Bye Birdie:  “Hello, Mrs. Miller, this is Harvey Johnson.  Can I speak to Debra Sue?”  After a few calls, your parents were likely to ask, “Who is this Harvey who keeps calling?  Is he a nice boy?  Would you like to invite him to dinner?”   Your parents knew who your friends were because they called the house.  Once again, the friend and the parents talked.

Now, most parents have only a vague idea of who their children’s friends are.  Admit it, if your child had a secret romance, would you know?  How many conversations have you had with your children’s friends?  If you are one of those very tuned-in parents (and clearly you are because you’re interested enough to read this rant), you’re in the minority.

Parents, don’t be afraid of embarrassing your child by talking to his friends. Invite them out for a pizza and sit there with the kids.   Listen to them talk.  Add your thoughts.  Invite your friends and their children over for a adults-vs-children game night.   Your child’s language skills and his world will be so much better for it.

It’s also the parents’ fault. Not very popular or politically correct, but it’s true.

If you want your children to read, make sure they see you reading. If you want your children to know about the world around them, discuss your political views with them.  Tell them whom you vote for — and why.  If you want your children to be kind, do some charitable work with them.  Don’t send them off to collect community service hours.  See if your local food pantry needs helpers and go with your children.  Let them see you checking on an older relative.  If you want them to be generous, ask them to help you decide which charity to donate money to. And if you want your children to let you into their lives, let them into yours. Children shouldn’t have to deal with adult problems, but they can handle more than you think.  If money is tight, tell them.  If you’re worried about grandma, tell them.  If your boss is driving you crazy, tell them.  Share your life with your children so they can share their life with you.   Follow-the-leader isn’t just for toddlers.  It’s how kids learn.

Most people who know me know that I prefer the company of teenagers to the company of many adults.  There are, unfortunately, lots of adults I don’t like.  There are very, very few teenagers I don’t like.  To be a really rotten person, you have to be mean.  And to be mean, you have to wield power.

Teenagers don’t have power.  They can’t decide where to go, when to wake up, what to read.  They have to go to school, like it or not.  They have to live where you tell them to live, wear what you allow them to wear, go where you take them or where you allow them to go.  Anyone who says that adolescence was a great time doesn’t remember it well.

But you can help a teenager become an adult by ignoring the slammed doors and the earphones and the rolled eyes.  Listen to what they say, not how they say it.

And when you can’t stand them any more, pretend they’re someone else’s kid — and treat them that way.

Thanks for listening.

Wendy Segal


  1. Amen sister! I was just talking about this with my kids at dinner this evening.


    Comment by Susan Safranek — September 13, 2010 @ 8:51 pm | Reply

  2. This is why my kids like you so much!!!


    Comment by Laura — September 13, 2010 @ 10:08 pm | Reply

  3. As I high school teacher and a parent of 2 who have “survived” being teens, I applaud your point of view. I see it everyday. KIds who are “unplugged” have the ability to formulate and articulate a point of view and it’s easier to engage them. Thanks Wendy!


    Comment by Debbie — September 14, 2010 @ 5:16 pm | Reply

  4. I believe that most of this is true. Alot of children and teenagers have disconnected part of their world, such as conversating with their parents once in a while, or blocking out things that are important. iPods, iPhones, and any other kind of electronic have a huge effect on teenagers. I don’t exactly believe that they will change the student because I have the ability to have conversations with my parents even if I have an iPod. Great job on this post. (:


    Comment by Sabrina — October 5, 2010 @ 2:50 pm | Reply

    • Even though you think you’re not being distracted by your iPod, try talking to your parents without having your iPod on to see if you feel more connected. For parents, it’s like talking to someone who is looking out the window instead of looking at the person talking. Both people feel like the other person is really listening. (And there’s no such word as “conversating,” believe it or not. You can HAVE a conversation or you can CONVERSE. That’s the teacher in me — I just had to say that!)


      Comment by highschool2college — October 6, 2010 @ 1:11 am | Reply

  5. i agree with most of this. parents must tell teenagers what not to do or what they cant do we have too be always listening to our elders. and i think its nessasary for a teenager and their friends to go out and eat with their parents. and i dont think phones are a distraction tho it depends how and when the teenagers are using them. and i also believe that the teenagers should see the parents reading as well. it will show the kid a positive direction in life(: Thank you wendy!


    Comment by Marissa Alvarado — October 5, 2010 @ 2:54 pm | Reply

    • I’m glad you spent time reading and thinking about my blog entry. I hope you have a very successful year in school and in life!


      Comment by highschool2college — October 6, 2010 @ 1:08 am | Reply

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