Parents Might Learn from the Words of Troubled Kids

Hank Mattimore
May 10 2013
Reproduced with Permission

Every year, the Juvenile Justice Commission of Sonoma County sponsors an essay contest for youth caught up in the Juvenile Justice System, whether residing at Juvenile Hall or in one of the group homes or alternative schools scattered throughout the county. The contest gives these kids an opportunity to share their thoughts on what went wrong for them and how they would like to change their lives. It also gives parents a chance to listen and learn from what these teenage kids have to say about the kind of parents they would like to become.

"I would like to be the parent I never had. My friends said "Your parents are cool." What they didn't know was how I hated the way my parents did not care what I did or where I was or how late I got home. I wanted more protection but I never got that and I felt abandoned." -15 year-old girl.

"Being a parent to me means you step up to the plate and make your child's living environment stable as well as healthy. I want to be the kind of parent my kids will look up to and can go to for anything." -15 year-old boy

"One of the biggest mistakes parents make is getting a divorce. In my experience my parent's divorce kept my own father distant. When I needed a male role model, I had no one to look up to. I vowed to myself to never divorce because I know the damage that it does to your kids." -17 year-old boy

"As a young father, I want to give all the support I can give to my daughter and to be there for everything she needs from her first fall to the days of motherhood." -17 year-old boy

"Parents need to step up and lay down rules. They especially need to follow the # 1 rule, be a parent; not a friend." -15-year-old girl

"I want to be the kind of parent who likes to hang out with his kid, teach him or her how to ride a bike and help him with his schoolwork. I will never spank my kid. That just teaches him to be mean." -adult

"I was told that drugs are bad but I was never confronted about my problem. My father didn't know I did drugs until I was 16. He wasn't a bad parent; he just worked too much." -17 year-old boy

The essays spoke of other teenage issues like bullying, teen suicide, gangs and other problems but most of the youth spoke of that universal yearning they had for parents who would be there for them, parents and other adults who would give them the gift of time and attention and understanding.

Just as important was their longing for a certain amount of structure and discipline in their lives. We do our kids no favor when in our striving to be "cool", we lose sight of our role as parents.