A: Thank you for this letter, and welcome to the wonderful world of parenting a teen! Although I don’t believe in painting all teens with one wide brush, there are some characteristics that they tend to share, and one of those is an excited egotism. After teaching eighth-, 11th- and 12th-graders (and parenting two teens myself), trust me, I know that their “expert” views can wear on even the most patient parent’s nerves. So, what can you do?
First, to have a young woman feel passionately about politics is what the world needs right now. Wherever she falls on the political spectrum, we need young people to stay thoughtful and interested; she is our future. And although you already know that she is our future, it can still be challenging for those of us who either grew up being taught to never talk politics or are simply uninterested in it.
Even though we want to encourage her budding and passionate political interests, we don’t do your daughter any favors by allowing her to run roughshod over the family with her views and tone. Being rude and being “political” are not the same (despite what our larger culture tends to reflect), and your daughter is at the perfect age to start learning this.
It’s time to introduce her to debate. This age-old school club is still as hot as ever, and the National Speech and Debate Association (speechanddebate.org) is a great way to discover types of debate and competitions, and you can learn how to get a team started at her school, if there isn’t one already. If nothing else, the organization’s website can serve as a springboard for thoughtful discourse.
Next, find great politicians, and have your daughter study their ways of communicating. From the brash to the understated, finding examples is fun and never-ending. From President Barack Obama’s inspirational speeches to President George W. Bush’s folksy charm, from Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s recent verbal dismantling of Mike Bloomberg to the first female African American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
You need to create boundaries with your daughter. Yes, we want to grow her love of politics, but there is a line between interest and harassment, and you must draw it. Simply put, it is rude to constantly give your unasked political opinions, so call a meeting with her and say, for example: “You are welcome to share your newest political find or opinion in the first five minutes of dinner, and it must come in the form of a give-and-take. If not, we will stop talking and end dinner. After the five minutes, we will move on to other topics. We love learning from and with you, but our family also consists of more than one person.” Stick to your guns here. If your daughter cannot share her views politely or refuses to change the subject, simply say, “Dinner is over,” and end it. Don’t lecture (a lecture added to her lecture won’t fix anything), and stay steady.
Lastly, see if your spouse can do some of this emotional heavy lifting here. If listening to your teen exhausts you, ask her father to take a walk with her and help her to get it out of her system. And remember, as long as you hold kind and firm boundaries, your teen will outgrow her need to treat others as if they are stupid. Watch movies, read books and share columns about feisty, smart women and the myriad ways we can share our opinions and knowledge. Good luck.
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