Sometimes Parent’s Can be Know-it-Alls, Too

Getting real with David T. Bruce

About the time children reach puberty, and for the next several years thereafter, they adopt the notion that their parents don’t know anything. They tell us that we, as parents, cannot possibly know what they are going through. We often insist that we’ve been there and that we understand what they are going through. But do we? As a full-time parent and a pParents_just_dont_understand_gag_thumbart-time teacher, I often notice those flabbergasted looks that suggest we are clueless.

Maybe they’re right.

I think parents and teachers, in their efforts to remain relevant and appear worldly, often forget much of their youth. We may recall people we knew and activities we enjoyed, but I do believe that we often forget where our heads were at and why. We are lost in today. And even if we do recall the world that we grew up in and have an understanding of the circumstances that shaped the people we turned out to be, we certainly do our children a disservice by trying to apply our cumulative wisdom to their world – a world that is so completely different that ours was.

While we may recall growing up in a world in which two super powers waged a cold war, I wonder: can we fairly compare that to what the next generation will recall growing up in a world where terrorism was a persistent threat? One generation understands the concept of pen pals; another generation cannot conceive of a world that they are not somehow connected virtually every moment of the day. One generation found yesterday’s news on their doorstep; another finds news instantaneously in the palm of their hand.


I am living in today’s world and have witnessed the growth, and I am still stunned at how much has changed over the past couple of decades. What hasn’t changed is how children and young adults feel about growing up and finding their place in their world. And we can’t necessarily tell them how to navigate their world, because we don’t have the same frame of reference. How can we? Odds are that they wouldn’t listen anyway. So I can see why our children and students become exasperated with adults.

Our children do need our guidance and our insight from time to time, though. Many times, however, what our children need most is for us to just listen to them and try to understand their concerns about the world in which they must live, without trying to define their angst in terms of the world we remember. Our world is in the past and has been redefined in countless ways. We can’t always understand what our children are going through, but we can still learn and give them the benefit of our courage and our resolve. As parents, we can do our children and ourselves a greater service by admitting to them (and to ourselves) that we don’t know everything.

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