Parenting Resources

3 Reasons to Apologize to Your Child or Teen Today

Delaney Ruston, MD
September 12, 2023
Illustration of 2 cute people, a man and a woman with hats on and eyes closed and hands together with the word sorry above

Cold shouldering, yelling, phone snatching, laptop pounding — you name it, it happens. We parents, at times, lose our cool when trying to manage tech time with our kids. We are far from perfect angels, and we act in ways we sometimes regret, be it a situation with tech, running late to pick them up (guilty as charged), or saying something that comes off as very judgemental (again, guilty as charged). 

So ponder this: When was the last time you can recall apologizing to your child or teen?

Apologizing to kids can have multiple positive effects. And, if you are not in the habit of doing this much, today is a great day to consider offering one out of the blue.

If you are already good at apologizing, how about trying a more challenging apology? For example, you didn’t intend to glance at their laptop and see an open email. Still, you did, and you learned some things that you need to discuss with them, but you regret and want to apologize that you didn’t stop yourself from reading the email (yet again, guilty as charged). 

Today, I review a few reasons why apologies are such a powerful part of parenting, a key part of nurturing a stronger relationship and teaching communication skills. I also share an apology I gave my daughter not that long ago. 

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3 key reasons why apologizing to our kids is beneficial: 

  1. Awareness:
  •  A major foundation of emotional intelligence is awareness. Awareness of when our actions don’t go well or our inactions cause problems is a skill. When we stop and become aware of something we weren’t happy we did and apologize, we are modeling this awareness skill.
  • With back-to-school, our kids are re-engaging with all sorts of relationships. Talking about how we wish we had handled a situation differently can help our kids become aware of repairs they want to try and make happen with their friends, peers, or even teachers. 
  1. Anti-perfectionism:
  • Our children are constantly exposed to a culture of perfectionism, epitomized by the relentless chase for straight As. (In fact, no longer is it the magical 4.0, but now it’s crept up to 4.5, with all the AP classes). Authentic human experiences and interactions are inherently imperfect. Where is the room for “imperfection” in all of that? 
  • Forget perfectionism! Being human is messy. When we apologize, we model real life. As humans, we do many things that we then regret. We scream at our kids, we are on our own devices, and we miss picking up on moments when they want to talk with us about something. The list goes on. 
  • Stopping to say, ”Hey, I don’t like how I acted. I want to apologize,” shows them that being human is not about trying to be perfect. It is much more complex and important to have the guts to try and repair things when mistakes are made.
  1. Apologizing is a major mental health resilience move:
  • Psychologists have long studied the healing power of being able to make amends for things we have done that make us feel crappy. This puts the control in our own hands — the control of expressing what we wish we had done differently. (Of course, we don’t control how the other person will respond, but we exert agency when we work to make amends). 
  • Being able to approach a person and talk about how you want to try and rectify a misdeed is an important component of interpersonal effectiveness, which is all about forming connections that are key to mental wellness. This is why teaching the skill of doing repairs is a core part of DBT therapy. 
  • When we apologize, we increase the chance our kids will do so in their lives. Thus, we are paying it forward in helping their future mental health and providing in-the-moment benefits when we apologize to them.  
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An Apology I Made to my Daughter

Not long ago, Tessa, my daughter, called me upset about a summer job issue. I could feel all her emotions transfer to me, and my empathetic response wanted to problem-solve. Yet I know she prefers that I don’t chime in and start doing this, but rather, she prefers that I ask her if she wants any suggestions. 

Before I could stop myself, I started chiming in. I said, “Look, it's not fair that you don’t get even one break at work. Just tell him you have to get a break.” Immediately, Tessa went silent and said, “I didn’t ask you to problem-solve!” She was upset with me and said goodbye. 

I knew I wanted to do what I call a “Repair and Retry” — inspired by “Rinse and Repeat.”

I waited an hour to let her have space. And then I texted, “I would love to call when you have a sec.” When we spoke, I said I recognized that I went to problem-solving quickly. I was sorry and would be more mindful next time to ask if she wanted help brainstorming solutions. The call went well. 

One thing I know for sure: if you were to ask my kids if I did a good amount of apologizing over the years, they would say a resounding “Yes” right away. They would be smiling when they would say it because they have told me over the years that they really appreciated and learned from my habit of doing this.

This apologizing practice has been influenced by my time as a researcher in human communication in the health field. A long line of data shows patients highly appreciate being apologized to by medical providers when warranted. When warranted, I do this with my patients. 

Questions to get the conversations started:

  1. When do you (you = a child) recall the last time I apologized about anything?
  2. How about anything related to my parenting around screen time issues?
  3. How often do all of you apologize to friends over email, text, or Snapchat?

Here is a video from the Screenagers YouTube Channel that talks more about this subject

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Parenting Resources

3 Reasons to Apologize to Your Child or Teen Today

Delaney Ruston, MD
September 12, 2023
Illustration of 2 cute people, a man and a woman with hats on and eyes closed and hands together with the word sorry above

Cold shouldering, yelling, phone snatching, laptop pounding — you name it, it happens. We parents, at times, lose our cool when trying to manage tech time with our kids. We are far from perfect angels, and we act in ways we sometimes regret, be it a situation with tech, running late to pick them up (guilty as charged), or saying something that comes off as very judgemental (again, guilty as charged). 

So ponder this: When was the last time you can recall apologizing to your child or teen?

Apologizing to kids can have multiple positive effects. And, if you are not in the habit of doing this much, today is a great day to consider offering one out of the blue.

If you are already good at apologizing, how about trying a more challenging apology? For example, you didn’t intend to glance at their laptop and see an open email. Still, you did, and you learned some things that you need to discuss with them, but you regret and want to apologize that you didn’t stop yourself from reading the email (yet again, guilty as charged). 

Today, I review a few reasons why apologies are such a powerful part of parenting, a key part of nurturing a stronger relationship and teaching communication skills. I also share an apology I gave my daughter not that long ago. 

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for more like this, DR. DELANEY RUSTON'S NEW BOOK, PARENTING IN THE SCREEN AGE, IS THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE FOR TODAY’S PARENTS. WITH INSIGHTS ON SCREEN TIME FROM RESEARCHERS, INPUT FROM KIDS & TEENS, THIS BOOK IS PACKED WITH SOLUTIONS FOR HOW TO START AND SUSTAIN PRODUCTIVE FAMILY TALKS ABOUT TECHNOLOGY AND IT’S IMPACT ON OUR MENTAL WELLBEING.  

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