Why do many teenagers act differently in front of their parents and their friends? Do they adopt the cool behaviour of their friends, which might involve doing and saying things parents don’t agree with because they don’t have the confidence to be themselves? Maybe most teenagers don’t even know who they are. Could parents prevent their children from discovering who they are by insisting they have the same opinions as them? Is it dangerous to do this?
I was discussing this topic with my daughter Sophie (16) in episode 110 of my unschooling podcast: An Interview with a Radical Unschooler.
Here’s a short excerpt:
Sue: You were saying that some young people act differently in front of family than they do in front of friends.
Sophie: You can never quite know your children until you have seen them in front of people when they don’t know you’re there. That’s generally a rule you can live by with teenagers. Strangely enough, it doesn’t apply to us. I’m the same person if I’m with my mum, if I’m with friends, and if I’m with my mum and my friends.
Sue: So you talk using the same language?
Sophie: The same language.
Sue: You have the same opinions?
Sophie: The same opinions. (I’m still highly opinionated!)
Sue: So you don’t have to pretend to be someone you’re not (in front of family)? And you don’t have to act cool and try to be different in front of friends?
Sophie: No, I have confidence. Mum has let me develop my opinions and voice things and get my own personality at home. I’m myself at home because Mum doesn’t shout me down. She doesn’t say, “That’s not how I think. You must think this.” She lets me be myself at home so that when I go out into the world, I have the confidence to be myself around other people.
But this is often not the case with other families because they do set the rules: “You have to think the same thing as I do. You have to talk like this.” Yes, they set down the rules. The children have to basically be duplicates of their parents and their parents’ minds.
And so when they get out into the world they don’t really know who they are. They basically copy the people around them.
It’s not cool to be their parents and they don’t have the confidence to be themselves because they don’t know who they are, so they copy the people they’re with and pretend to be the cool kids.
At another point in this podcast episode, Sophie laughed and said she’s turning into a ‘mini-mum’. So maybe we don’t have to insist our children accept the beliefs, values and behaviour that we feel are important. If we give them the freedom to voice and discuss their opinions, they’re very likely to end up adopting everything we want to pass on to them, even though they’ll also be different people, in many ways, to us.
Sophie and I talked about lots of things in episode 110: friends, trust, rules, right and wrong… If you’ve ever wondered what teenage radical unschoolers are like, perhaps you’d like to listen!