“Don’t judge me,” it’s been a common saying among teens lately. One parent recently shared and agreed that she heard it from her children quite often. Not long ago my daughter said it too. I asked her a question about her homework, and she changed the subject and tried to ease out of the room. I repeated the question and she did the same thing and said, “stop judging me.” I told her that I was just asking a question, literally waiting for the answer. She visibly looked relieved and replied “oh, I thought you would get mad at me.”
I then realized that “Don’t judge me” or “stop judging me” is not an attitude that teens have, it’s actually the anxiety about being vulnerable, and concerned about not being accepted. If they feel judged then they won’t allow themselves to be open with others, being vulnerable really is scary. Vulnerability can hurt one’s ego and it’s safer for the child to keep the information they are not sure they should share to themselves. If they need to share their thoughts and feelings, they will gravitate towards those who allow them to be free and accept who they really are.
When parents place their thoughts and opinions on their children, the child will easily learn to give the response their parents’ want to hear. My daughter felt the expectation that she should have finished something she was working on earlier, based on my question, and had fears of being reprimanded had she not finished.
Over time, I’ve noticed that people place more meaning in statements and questions asked. They form their thoughts and ideas to be acceptable to their audience instead of being themselves and answering honestly. Given the fact that I knew my daughter had a lot on her plate and was working hard, I wanted to see where she was, not yell at the fact she was still working on it. This allowed her to also feel that she can share more as my response is not to yell or be upset but to try to understand and be supportive.
“We judge because we don’t understand”
This goes for other situations too, parents’ in my office often say that they want their children to be able to come talk to them and are not sure why their children do not feel comfortable. When parents want children to be open to share, they must understand the stress the child feels. If the child is not ready and feel forced to share, the child’s response may not be authentic and instead be what the parent wants to hear, or an excuse or plan so they won’t get into trouble by the parent’s expectation. My daughter had a plan, and she felt open to share why she was not done once she saw that I was not upset. Will I always have that reaction, probably not as with the stress of other things this is not always easy, but I will be more aware to try to understand so she has the support to manage the situation at hand.
One teen shared that she feels less judged in my office. Well, that’s because as a therapist, I’m trained to have unconditional positive regard for my clients and be non-judgmental. Nevertheless, this concept can be useful in parenting as well. Yes, parents have expectations, but what expectations do children have? Can parents work with their child so the child’s expectations can be seen and valued? Are parent’s expectations because of themselves or are these expectations a good match for their children? Parents and children working together in conversation to help the child be heard, will allow the child to be more open, and this allows the parent to teach them what they need to grow.