One of the most challenging things to say to your teen is “I was wrong.” Apologizing makes some parents feel like they’re giving up power, or losing respect, but it can actually improve your relationship with your teen in more ways than one. Here we outline a few reasons you should apologize to your teen, and the associated benefits.
Makes Teens More Respectful
Saying sorry boosts mutual respect. When you apologize to your teen for a misstep in parenting, you are showing your teen that you respect their feelings. When you prove that you only hurting their feelings on accident, and that you don’t want them to feel bad as a result of your parenting, your teen might respect your parenting style more. When your teen sees that you want to find ways to be better at parenting, they will respect your efforts to improve.
When you apologize to your teen, it creates a safe space to tell the truth. When you say sorry, you are opening up to your teen about mistakes you’ve made and you’re being honest even when it’s difficult. By showing your teen your own honesty, you are providing them an opportunity to be honest with you. Apologizing also shows your teen an example of how to act when you’ve made a mistake. This can help your teen feel comfortable admitting their own mistakes to you, such as their experience with underage drinking, even if they would rather keep such mistakes to themselves.
They Will Listen to You
If you apologize to your teen, they will listen. Sometimes teens don’t listen to advice from parents and end up making their own choices. However, teens will listen to an apology because you aren’t talking down to them or telling them what to do. Instead, you are giving your teen something that they want to hear. Telling them what they would like to hear through an apology might give you an opportunity to connect with them as they are listening intently and taking in what you have to say.
You Become More Relatable
You can use an apology to connect with your teen by sounding more relatable. A lot of parent-teen relationships can feel like the parent knows best and the teenager is clueless, which is not true. You can break down this social hierarchy and help your teen see you as more of a peer by admitting that you aren’t perfect, you don’t always know best, and you make mistakes. Use your apology to show that you and your teen are both human and both have these common struggles. When your teen can relate to you in this way, they will be more willing to listen and ask advice in the future.
Models Good Behaviour
By apologizing, you show your teen how to admit when they have made a mistake too. Teens like to keep embarrassing information to themselves, like when they forgot to study for a test, or accidentally hurt someone’s feelings. When you show them that it’s totally normal to admit mistakes that can make you look bad, you are teaching your teen that it’s better to talk about their missteps than to keep them inside. Studies show that instilling core values like apologizing can reduce teen defiance in general. Your teen might start apologizing to you and to others more often if you normalize that behavior.
Makes Them Feel Seen
When you apologize to your teen, you are making them feel seen. It’s easy for a teenager to feel like no one understands them, how they feel, or what they think about. It can be isolating and frustrating for your teen to feel like their parents don’t understand. By saying sorry, you are showing your teen that you see how they feel and that you feel you made a mistake in way that you parent them. This can have a huge positive effect on your teen and they might open up to you about how they feel after you admit how you hurt them. Making your teen feel seen is an important part of being present, and that can start with an honest apology.
Try It Yourself
The next time you feel that you made the wrong choice as a parent, try having an honest conversation with your teen and admit what you did wrong. You’ll be surprised at how much your teen opens up and finds ways to connect with you.
Andy Earle is a researcher who studies parent-teen communication and adolescent risk behaviors. He is the co-founder of talkingtoteens.com and host of the Talking to Teens podcast, a free weekly talk show for parents of teenagers.