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summerlover's avatar

Should you share your past mistakes with your teens hoping they will avoid the same problems?

Asked by summerlover (476points) November 19th, 2009
16 responses
“Great Question” (4points)

Recently a question was asked regarding how you get over your past mistakes. Well, I have often wondered if it is beneficial to your kids to discuss how you may have messed up when you were younger. Will this help your teen avoid the same pitfalls? Most people I talk with (every person I have talked with) thinks it is better to not talk about.

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debzilla's avatar

It’s always a struggle to think about ways to better the lives of your teenagers!

Personally, I would not share my background unless it was asked. I would advice my teenager of the things he/she might be encountering at such an age, and how to deal with them safely and sanely.

When I was growing up my parents rarely talked to me in my teenage years. I grew rebellious and hateful towards them. I felt extremely alone during those years, and I wonder if it would have helped to have more guidance. Or are teenagers prone to disregard EVERYTHING parents say?

hearkat's avatar

I was honest with my son about the choices I made, and why I regret them and hope that he will not repeat them. My ex-husband died of liver failure from alcoholism and drug abuse at the age of 39, when our son was 7. I told my son even as early as 5 years old that he was born an alcoholic. He is now 18, and many of his friends have been drinking for a few years already, but he does not. He has been honest with me abouth other things he’s tried, and I explain my concerns with that as well.

I think that parents who try to give their kids the impression that they never did anything wrong set up unrealistic expectations in their teens’ minds as they face the challenges of adolescence. I think kids need to know that we’ve all been through what they are facing to some extent, so they will feel more comfortable reaching out for advice and support.

dpworkin's avatar

I talked with all my children, the two grown ones, and the 12-year-old twins, very frankly about a lot of problems I thought they could avoid by not following my example. I hope none of them is still trying to get an education at 60 years of age.

fireinthepriory's avatar

GA @hearkat. Unfortunately (well,sort of) my mother was actually perfect as an adolescent. She probably would have told me of any stupid things she’d done that had bad consequences, but she really didn’t do anything bad. She was going to become a nun actually, but then she met my father and decided against it (and instead she became a priest). The only reason I think she actually did do nothing wrong as an adolescent is that she did move in with my father before they got married, and she’s told me multiple times how bad of a decision that was (I interpret this to also be a speech against pre-marital sex). Despite her telling me this, I’m probably going to move in with someone before marrying them anyway. But then again I’m gay, what choice do I have in most states? And the pre-marital sex thing is already a wash. I think she knows that, though. :)

Judi's avatar

I was honest with my kids without getting into gory details. I told them that I knew that they would make mistakes in life, but that I hoped they would benefit from the lessons I learned and make their own set of mistakes.
They repeated a few of mine and made a few of their own, but in the long run, I am happy I was honest. My mistakes are such a big part of why I am who I am, and I don’t think I would have as good a relationship with my kids as I do if I had not revealed myself to them. It will be interesting, now that I have grandchildren, to see how honest they are with their kids.

ParaParaYukiko's avatar

Having not too long ago been a teenager, I can say with a good deal of confidence that most teenagers still aren’t at the age when they view their parents as real people who went through adolescence too. This, I think, is accentuated when parents don’t talk about their past mistakes very much. My parents were pretty open about some things, but it wasn’t until I was 20 years old that my dad told me about a year where he experimented with way more drugs than I would ever expect from him. Of course, it was the early 70s, so I should have guessed, but…

My parents otherwise were pretty frank about a few other mistakes they had made. But they didn’t exactly warn us against it. I think they realized that my sister and I would probably learn from our own mistakes, and they would support us through our tumultuous teenage years. Interestingly my sister and I had very different experiences as adolescents: I went through high school without touching drugs or alcohol, and I still don’t. My sister became rebellious and by her senior year was drinking and smoking almost all the time. Luckily she doesn’t have an addictive personality, otherwise she’d be in pretty bad shape…

So, I don’t know. I think it’s important for kids to understand that their parents aren’t flawless, that they dealt with the same things as teenagers. Warning them against doing certain destructive things is good, but parents also have to realize that most teenagers will end up trying things out and learning the hard way no matter what.

noraasnave's avatar

I would share the wisdom I learned on the other side of the mistakes.

CMaz's avatar

Of course. Always give them the been there done that speech.

But then again, youth is wasted on the young.

mowens's avatar

Depends. Some things, especially as a teenager, need to be learned from experience.

Psychedelic_Zebra's avatar

Naw, teens think they know everything already. Let ‘em learn the hard way, like I did.

mowens's avatar

I’m not young enough to know everything.

debzilla's avatar

Sharing the experience is one thing and sharing details is another thing.

debzilla's avatar

@Psychedelic_Zebra : Some never grow up! : /

janbb's avatar

I’ve talked with my kids about my mistakes and let them know about many of the issues I have dealt with in the context of their own growth and challenges. Occasionally, I wonder if I have burdened them with a few things they may not have wanted to know.

KatawaGrey's avatar

Like @ParaParaYukiko, I have not been long out of the ranks of the teenaged and I think it depends entirely on the parenting style. My mother was never one to tell me that I couldn’t do this, that or the other thing. What she would tell me is why she had done something not so great and let me decide whether or not I would do that. She wasn’t the kind to get drunk in high school or do drugs or get into fights but she was a terrible student. The only reason she graduated high school on time was because my grandfather was the president of the board of trustees at her school and so her teachers were told they couldn’t fail her. No, really. Once, a teacher failed her and he got yelled at and had to change her grade. She told me this was because she was the youngest and hated hearing, “Now, are you smart like sister A or hard-working like sister B?” and just said fuck all to the comparisons.

There were a lot of times in school that I resented my mother for being angry at a bad grade I got because I was always one of the best students in the school. I think I maintained my grades, despite her academic failure, because she never told me that I would be in big trouble if I failed. Her response if I did badly on a test was, “Why?” If, for example, she had seen me studying for hours, then she wouldn’t get very angry and would instead try to pin down why the test was so hard for me to do. If I just slacked off, well, then she got angry.

Basically, if you’re not hypocrite, then telling your kids the stupid stuff you did when you were younger shouldn’t be too big a problem. If, however, you’re the kind of parent who says, “You can’t smoke pot!” and then you tell your kids that you smoked in high school, they’re going to think, “Huh, well, it didn’t kill mom or fry her brain or do any of the stuff she says it will do so i bet it’s actually okay.”

sliceswiththings's avatar

I became a lot more cautious with random hookups after my mom told me about that time in college that she didn’t use a condom and got herpes, and how it’s plagued her for the rest of her life.

Although it’s a detail I’d rather not know about my mom, it was a better warning than any PSA or health class.

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