09/07/2012 10:56 am ET Updated Nov 06, 2012

Why We Try to Forget Our Teen Years

Over the years I have been asked by both teens and parents why parents seem to forget their teen years. I have given this question lots of thought and believe that most parents do not actually forget their teen years, but are instead trying instead to forget some of the unpleasant and embarrassing memories associated with those tricky years.

I've polled a number of parents on this specific issue and have come up with a number of recurring themes that may help explain why parents try so hard to repress memories of their teen years. And, yes, I am going to to fill you in on what I've learned.

Many parents reported feeling embarrassed about the hairstyles including perms and big hair that they loved during their teens. They also described feeling embarrassed by the "horrible fashion trends" that they proudly wore back then. Hey, our teens will likely look back at their own teen photographs with a similar level of embarrassment. After all, fashion changes over time. What is contemporary today is unlikely to be fashionable in twenty years, right?

Parents were even more upset about some of their own behavior during their teen years. They remember unnecessary emotional outbursts and the general emotional instability that is often part and parcel of the adolescent years. They recall screaming at parents, being defiant, lying and being ashamed to be seen with their parents. This sounds familiar, doesn't it?

When it came to their teen social lives, friendships and boyfriends and girlfriends, parents expressed even greater regret to me. The parents reported doing the very things that they now tell their teens not to do. This list included bullying, teasing and being cliquey and exclusive. They remember getting drunk and getting a little too intimate with the wrong partners. And yes, they remember spreading rumors and being the subject of rumors.

Parents worry that if their teens find out how they behaved then they will, in the words of one parent, "get ideas." They don't want their teens to do the things that they did wrong. Guess what, though? They are likely to get into some sort of trouble whether or not they find out about their parents' teen behavior.

Keep in mind that when your teens mess up that you did, too. I am not suggesting that you not address their impulsive and sometimes misguided behavior. I am suggesting instead that you remember your own teen years and tap into your wellspring of empathy as a former teen yourself.

Perhaps our parents were indeed onto something when they used those phrases that seemed so meaningless at the time. Remember hearing "wait until you have kids," or even "you'll appreciate me when you're older?" We dismissed these comments. We may now be getting a taste of our own medicine or the karma that our parents seemed to be alluding to. And yes, you will lose your patience with your teens one day and say the things that you swore you'd never say like "you'll understand when you have kids." You may even have used a phrase like this already.

It's funny how things change over time!