Of all the behaviors parents tell me they’re annoyed by, I’m most confused by the “backtalk” complaint. I think this generally refers to kids smarting off and giving parents a hard time, often over simple requests. I get that. This behavior is very annoying to deal with, but I think we need to find a better way to label it. It is very ironic and very typical that parents who complain about their eleven year-old talking back are also frustrated that they’re teenagers don’t really talk to them.
Much development is involved in the years between eleven and fourteen, but parents need to remember that their children are moving out into the world. Away from their parents. This tends to freak out us parental types because we love our kids and don’t want them to face the really scary stuff. Not long ago, my husband and I visited our nearly-thirty year old daughter who is an ER resident at a hospital in Brooklyn. For the first time since high school, she doesn’t have a car, using the subways to navigate. When we were there, the three of us had a scary encounter on a subway platform with a man who was threatening and mentally unstable.
After the incident, we talked about what she can do if this occurs again, but Roger and I left there even more nervous about her safety. Several weeks later, she asked in one of her frequent phone calls if her father and I worry about her. It was a speaker call and we both answered in chorus, “Yes! All the time.”
We love our children and when they’re young, they’re little connected tag-alongs, we naturally tend to see them as extensions of ourselves–our kids. But our kids are growing into adults with minds and lives of their own. As parents, we need to remember this even when they’re young. It is important to treat them as individuals, even when they’re in diapers or are smart mouthed middle schoolers. Yes, they are annoying and parents get both overwhelmed and tired. We still want our kids to talk to us.
There are unacceptable things–mostly name calling and hitting, but I’d even recommend not getting too worked up when kids yell. (Unless this is frequent.) In general, we raise our voices when we’re upset and don’t feel heard. This is true for kids, as well. You want your children to feel heard and if they don’t, you want to know.
In fact, most parents really want their kids to talk to them–they just get more nervous about kids choices as they get older.
We don’t want to be the kind of parent that our children dread being around. You know, the kind–the ones your friends can’t wait to get away from. You want your kid to talk to you–even if they smart off to you sometimes, even if they are clueless about the reality of life and have a lot to learn. We can’t and shouldn’t try to prevent them from growing up. Sometimes that’s difficult and scary to watch, but give them the gift of listening. And believe in them.
Those are parents’ greatest gifts to their children.