Your teens can teach you a lot of things—if you let them.
In my private practice, I work primarily with teens and young adults, but I also do a fair amount of marriage and family therapy. I am fascinated by relationships and the underlying challenges that folks face in interpersonal relationships.
Along with being a therapist, I am also a husband and father of two teenage daughters.
As a parent, there is a lot to stress over when thinking about the state of our world. In my work, I’ve seen many parents who have become overrun by parental fear. They tend to over-parent and over-stress. They believe their primary role is to prepare and teach their children.
Although I agree that preparing children for the real world is an important part of my parenting role, I’ve also found that allowing my daughters to influence and teach me is just as crucial. When I allow my daughters to influence me, I am challenged, I grow, and I see what they have to offer to others.
In essence, I get out of the way. Here are some of the ways that my daughters have taught me to be a better version of myself:
They’ve Helped Me Not Feel so Needy to Get Credit
I think most people appreciate being noticed for their kind deeds. I know I do. But I also know my children couldn’t care less about my fragile ego. And that’s been liberating for me, to simply love them without an insecure need to be lavished with praise as the best dad in the world.
They remind me to love them without strings attached or emotional manipulation.
It’s nice to be acknowledged and appreciated, but I know my daughters love and appreciate me. I don’t need credit for everything I do for them. And I certainly won’t withhold love and affection if I don’t receive that credit.
They Teach Me About Being an Ally and Advocating for Others
It can be easy to care about many issues, but take no action.
Without a personal connection, it’s easy to feel remote and detached from the threats and ills that plague our time period. But my daughters won’t allow that to happen with me.
They prioritize advocacy and being active allies for others.
Alongside my daughters, I have walked in Pride parades and attended the Washington, D.C. March For Your Lives immediately following the Parkland shooting in Florida. Instead of only offering my thoughts and prayers, my daughters inspire—and expect—me to take action.
They’ve Helped Me Admit My Wrongdoings and Apologize
My daughters might accuse me of never apologizing or admitting I’m wrong, but I’m certain I have… because I know how hard it is for me to admit I’m wrong and to apologize.
Just being honest here.
But I’ve also recognized the absurdity of a grown-ass man not apologizing to a child when they are clearly in the wrong. I’m sure I’ve justified my wrongdoings. I’m sure I’ve intellectualized my behaviors.
But I also know that I’ve flat out admitted to my daughters that I was wrong and that I was sorry. I remember this because I remember how powerful it was for them to hear that from their dad.
They’ve Helped Me to Trust Them to Figure Things Out on Their Own
We are all fragile in some area of our lives.
I know firsthand all the fears and threats that our children face in these tumultuous times. But my daughters are vocal and assertive about the spaces and places in their lives where they want to opportunity to figure things out without parental interference.
They demand respect and opportunity to learn and grow.
They’ve Helped Me Be More Sensitive, Enlightened, and Considerate of Others
I like to joke around a lot. Sometimes my humor can be callous or insensitive, even if it’s designed to provoke others with shock or objection. Sometimes my daughters join in on the joke.
Other times they remind me that words have power, and just because my motive isn’t to hurt or denigrate others, doesn’t mean it doesn’t occur.
They’ve Helped Me to Be Optimistic and Hopeful for the Future
If I only focus on the piss-poor job that adults are doing to set up the next generation of leaders, I could become very cynical, hopeless, or nihilistic.
However, I observe the strength, maturity, and advocacy that is exhibited in my daughters.
This builds my confidence that this next generation of young people have what it takes to tackle the great ills of our era—and to succeed where my generation and generations past have fallen short.
Parents, but especially fathers: allow your kids to teach and influence you. Don’t limit yourself in their lives by only pouring into them. Let them change you.
Give them credit for how they enrich your life and make you a better person.