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When, How, and Why Parents Need to Apologize to Their Teens

Raising teens can be exciting and rewarding as we watch them grow older and develop all their unique strengths and personality traits.

During these teen years, our relationship shifts into a deeper bond as we help them through hard things and celebrate so many accomplishments they work hard to achieve. But, these amazing kids of ours can also be defiant, disrespectful, reckless and forgetful, stubborn and foolish, and argumentative and sassy. On any given day, their behavior can cause even the most patient parent to lose their temper. Parenting teens can be so frustrating, irritating, and downright enraging. Amiright?

There are times when I have seriously lost. It. On. My. Kids. Oftentimes, it’s the recurring aggravations that continue to push my buttons until I am just plain DONE. Although my kids have different personalities and abilities, maturity levels, and responsibilities, my rage button list includes the following:

      When they continually forget certain things, I have reminded them about a million times

      When they resist my direction or dismiss my instruction, using excuses or explanations

      When they don’t take responsibility for their mistakes/behavior

      When they have a rude or disrespectful attitude toward me or anyone else

      When they try to twist the truth for their advantage

I cannot tolerate these things.  No. No. No. No. and HARD NO.

ARG. It can be maddening some days, and boy do I let them know.

I try to understand that they are going through so many teenage growing pains with an underdeveloped brain, raging hormones, and all the overwhelming pressures our kids face today. I try to remember they have a long way to go when it comes to maturity and responsibility and they really are simply kids disguised in bigger, sometimes smellier and hairier, bodies. 

They are dealing with countless struggles on any given day, from the high academic expectations they are forced to uphold to the stress of navigating all the various social circles they are trying to fit in. Not to mention, they are still trying to figure out who they are and in the midst of it all, they are hurled into the relentless forceful push of planning their future- which, let’s be real for a minute- who on earth can figure that out at their age?

I really do try to be gracious and flexible, understanding and patient as often as I possibly can, but man, it can be hard on those really bad days.

And although there are times when I feel like I have every right to be furious, the way I express my anger can be awful, unacceptable, and hurtful. Every time I lose my temper, I immediately feel terrible. I know I went too far. I know I lost control. And I hate when that happens.

Approach my kid and apologize.

So, once I calm down, I approach my kid and apologize. They will often say, “Okay” with a dismissive shrug, but I know it’s important I genuinely own up to my behavior and take responsibility for my mistakes.

I’ll often make sure they really hear my apology, as I acknowledge everything I did wrong and I can imagine how bad it makes them feel. My kids need to know that their feelings matter to me and when I blow it and treat them unfairly, disrespectfully, or downright cruelly, it’s not okay. I want to teach them that they deserve respect and validation, grace, and honest communication. And I hope that if I can model these critical conditions, they will grow to learn how to have a healthy relationship with others too.

I mess up too.

I also want them to know that I am human and flawed, and I mess up and I will always try my best to apologize when I do. I think if our kids see our vulnerable side when we profess that we are far from perfect and we humbly ask for their forgiveness, they realize we can be fragile and flawed- just like them. I truly believe when we break down those “Adult-Child” barriers through these raw interactions, our kids will feel more comfortable sharing their own personal struggles with us too.

I’ve also learned to tune into my own faults and failings on a day-to-day basis because there are many, many times I need to apologize for other reasons too. I will forget important things, and sometimes that comes at a cost to my kids. I will snap at them simply because I’m in a bad mood and they certainly don’t deserve my negative attitude. And there are times I don’t listen closely to what they are saying when I’m distracted with other things, and I know this offends them and upsets them, because rightly so, they should have my full attention. So, I try to be aware of my own behavior- because every time I mess up, they deserve acknowledgment and accountability on my part. I want them to know I respect them and I need to treat them exactly how I expect them to treat me. Relationships are built on this reciprocity.

I actually love demonstrating this important interaction that is filled with my weakest frailties and my desperate pleas- it always deepens the relationship with my kids in new real and wonderful ways, despite the terrible behavior that caused them to happen.

Our lives are full of poor decisions and wrong turns, emotional outbursts, and impulsive words, because no one goes through life free of failing and faltering every step of the way. It’s really what we do with these mishaps and missteps, mistakes, and misunderstandings that matter most. Our kids need to learn how to handle the hard parts of relating to others and one of the most profound and powerful aspects of our humanity is discovering and practicing the healing and hope of forgiveness with another.

And the critical component we need to remember is forgiveness goes both ways.

When our kids fail, when they make mistakes, no matter how big or awful they are…

We must dig deep in our hearts to forgive them too.

There’s nothing that hinders their growth and our relationships more than our inability to forgive our kids. If we hold on to our resentment and judgment, we keep our kids trapped in shame and we sink their self-worth. And nothing good comes from that dreadful place. So, we need to forgive them, even when it’s hard, even when it’s painful and embarrassing because when we do, we open the door for them to walk through toward us, instead of being pushed further and further away.

It’s in these sometimes-agonizing struggles, where we can do our best work as parents to help them figure out how to recover from their messes and walk with them through to the other side with our guidance and support. It’s during these times that our kids need us most. It’s the best opportunity to demonstrate what relentless grace and unfailing love really mean. Because really, that’s the greatest gift in any relationship, isn’t it? And I can’t think of anyone who needs it more than our kids during these tough teen years.