This article was co-written by the former chair of our Youth Advisory Board, Sarah Hinstorff, with contributions by Youth Advisory Board members Ranen Miao and Maria Marungo. It was reviewed by Dr. Ken Ginsburg.
Look for Your Parents’ Strengths
Sometimes, our parents can be frustrating. We are forming our own ideas about things, and they may not always agree with us. And we may not always agree with everything they are doing as they parent us. While they make mistakes they also sacrifice a lot for family. We must allow our parents to miss the mark occasionally but still see what good people they are.
We don’t like it when we are noticed for what others think we’re doing wrong. If we want to be viewed for our strengths, we have to be willing to see the strengths in our parents.
We should focus more on what our parents are doing right instead of what we think they’re doing wrong. It’s easy to judge our parents more harshly than others in our lives. We expect a lot of them. But it is unfair to expect perfection. When we recognize our parents’ strengths, we are reminded of their good intentions. Shifting the focus towards strengths, lets us see our parents for who they really are.
Relationships work best when they are honest and allow room for each person to grow. The best way to build strong relationships through open communication is to start by recognizing what is already good and right about the other person. Nobody wants to start a conversation by focusing on everything they’re doing wrong. Not you. Not your parents. Not anybody you will ever work with or love in the future.
Focus on the Positive
Try to focus on the positive aspects of your time with your parents and not to dwell on the little things. When you are frustrated with your parents, think about how much they do for you, how much they’ve already done for you, and how much your relationship with them means. If we are lucky, our parents will be with us through so many parts of our lives. Perhaps they pack your lunch every day for school. Maybe they attend all of your soccer games. Or they comfort you when problems arise at school or with friends.
Everyone has strengths and limitations — it’s part of being human. That includes your parents! Consider the traits or habits you may have inherited from them. Are you good at reading others? Are you a loyal friend? Are you sometimes short on patience? Many of these habits and traits tend to run within the family, even if we don’t immediately realize it. Before you criticize your parents for something, ask yourself — do you ever do the very same thing? You might find that you are more easily angered when people share a bad habit with you — it somehow makes you more sensitive to it. Take a breath. You may want to give them some slack. They deserve patience, just like you do.
Build Relationships Where Everyone Grows
People grow when they know they have potential and they’re appreciated.
Consider, for example, when you disagree with your parents about something. Or, when your parents might not be giving you the support you need. If you start by arguing with them, you’re only going to put them on the defensive, and you’ll likely get a fight back. Imagine starting a conversation like this instead:
- I really appreciate how you’re always there for me and I know that you’re really trying. Right now, I feel _______ and need _________.
- I know how much you care about me and about supporting me through tough times. I remember when you __________. I really need you now because ____________.
The strengths you point out have to be real. If your conversation seems like it is filled with false compliments, it will not feel genuine. You might find that just the process of thinking about your parents’ strengths will put you in a better place to have a meaningful, productive conversation.
As with any conversation, this strategy of recognizing others’ strengths is a two-way street. Share “Helping Teens Become Their Best Selves: Building Success from Strengths” with your parents.
See the Big Picture
The base of any healthy relationship comes from being able to look past imperfections and build upon the other’s strengths. Above all, remember that your parents are your allies and that they are more than what they may seem. Take a step back and acknowledge the big picture of who your parents really are and all of the strengths they possess.
Thoughts From Members of the Youth Advisory Board
“I remember the times I’ve cried over petty things or angrily ranted to my mom, and where she sat patiently, listening. I remember how she patiently explained again and again how addition worked, even though it just didn’t seem to click back in 1st grade. I remember the times I lashed out before, many times for no reason, and the kindness and patience she showed me then. Of my mother’s traits, the one I respect the most is her patience. She is always there to listen, she doesn’t hold grudges, and she’s someone who will always be there when I need it. In essence, she’s the best friend you could ask for.”
“Parents are just as fallible as the rest of us; they are prone to making mistakes too. It is for that reason that as the children of these parents, we must not be so harsh when they do not get it right. As young adults, we want others to not just view us for our weaknesses but we must also be willing to do that for others. During times of anger between you, it might seem impossible to stop and take a moment to breathe. It is not an easy task but it is a necessary one. During those moments, try to remember that your parents are not your enemies and that they are more than what they may seem at the time.”