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Young and Stupid
Photo: Slavomir Ulicny
You’ve been busted—by your teenage children. When you were their age you did something foolish, something you are not proud of, something you warn them against doing. It may have been driving recklessly, experimenting with drugs or alcohol, promiscuity, or involved the courts. Today you look back at that younger you and wonder how you ever could have been so stupid. 

It is there in your past though. Now your kids have learned about it. They want to know how you could possibly be so hypocritical. You did something that you now tell them not to do.

Transgressions vary in seriousness, but most parents have something in their past they prefer would stay hidden. What do you do when they come out, especially when your children learn about it?

1. Don’t Lie and Don’t Deny. Be honest about what happened. Denial will cost you in credibility—especially when the evidence falls strongly the other way. Running away from the truth does not help either. You can only change the subject for so long before losing credibility. Credibility is the gold standard of parenting. Your children have to be able to trust and believe you.

2. Keep Things Low Key. Don’t make a big deal about what happened. Skip the dramatics. Lay it out with “just the facts.” Tell them that you did “such and such,” that it was not smart, and it was not right.

3. Do Not Romanticize What You Did. Looking at your past through a lens of nostalgia makes it easy to confuse being stupid with having an adventure. Present it as an adventure, as an experiment, as something that was wrong (but kind of fun), and you encourage your children to emulate the behavior.

4. Do Not Advertise. Does your past holds something you would rather your children not know about? Do not bring it up. Ditch the memorabilia from the incident, whether an incriminating picture of yourself or that county jail identity bracelet. If your kids ask you why you never told them before, tell them the truth. You were not proud of what happened, and you did not want them to get ideas from your example.

5. Treat it as a Learning Opportunity. Yeah, it is like taking lemons and making lemonade, but we parents are good at that, right? Explain why you did was dumb, and why you should not have done it. Tell your children you want them to do better than you did. You do not want them making the same mistakes.

A final thought. Your most powerful hammer for shaping their behavior is the conversation you are now having with your children. Make sure they realize the choice they have: learn from your mistake—or have the same conversation with their children down the road. 

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By Mark N. Lardas, copyright 2007, Mark N. Lardas, all rights reserved. Copyright © 2007 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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