Parenting a teen doesn’t come with a book of instructions. Unfortunately!
Just imagine if it did! Life with them would be so much easier don’t you think?
In all honesty, the teen years are often dreaded by parents. I see it, and hear it all the time. Just for example, I’ve a 10 year old daughter and already people are joking with me saying, “just wait for the teen years!!” (insert their nervous laughter here) Luckily I’ve already raised two adult sons – the boys are now 23 and 21- and work with teens three days each week. Yep, my eyes are wide open and I’m not expecting a walk in the park. No parent of a tween or teen should.
Connecting and communicating with your child changes as they travel through the teen years. And as your child goes from toddler to youngster to tween to teenager, something in what you say gets lost in translation. Open your mouth and they can give you that blank stare…. you know the one, just like the blah blah blah sound of the unseen teacher in the Charlie Brown cartoons. Remember Charlie Brown?
Building and maintaining the communication bridge between you and your teen takes considerable effort, and the workload rests heavily upon you, the adult. The relationship with your child will always be a work in progress but here are a few strategies you can keep front of mind that should help….
Being mindful of your body language.
How you move says a lot about you and what you’re thinking. When someone is tired, they tend to slump. When angered, jaw muscles tighten and eyes narrow. Believe it or not, teens are pretty good at interpreting body language and your body language, if you’re not aware of it, might betray you when talking to them. Sitting with your arms crossed, looking away from them or squirming in your seat are just a few unconscious mannerisms that may disrupt communication.
Make eye contact with them.
Talking with someone but not looking at them implies you’re either hiding something or you’re not at all interested in the conversation. Your teenager will shut down emotionally if they suspect you’re not invested in the moment with them. Try to make the time for giving your teen undivided attention with consistent (not eye-balling) eye contact. It lets them know that you care and are committed to communicating with them.
Keep your emotions in check.
Stop for a moment and remember way back to your time as a teenager. Some of the things you said to your parents would have undoubtedly been aimed at pushing their buttons, so expect your teens to push yours when and if they can. Getting overly upset and taking it personally won’t do you any favours. Once they’ve discovered what makes you mad, that’ll become their target…. a bit of a sport for them in some cases. Instead of losing your shit at them, try taking a deep breath and ignoring the wind up. Doing the opposite of what they expect will throw them and maybe give you the opportunity to see through their ploy and find out the real issue.
Check in with them daily.
Each evening, asking them how their day was is an important connection strategy, even if you only get back some mumbled grunts or the obligatory, “It was okay”. Ask them anyway. This show of caring will go a long way to letting them know you’re interested in the what they do and how they feel.
Be honest with them if you’re not getting it.
If you don’t understand what they’re talking about… say so and then give them the chance to elaborate. Kids know when you are being insincere and brushing them off without really hearing them. Ask questions and seek clarification until you get an idea of where they are coming from. Your teen probably wont mind explaining as long as they know you’re listening.
Respect their privacy.
This one can be tricky but since you know your child better than anyone else, you should be able to draw that fine line between privacy and secrecy. Teens value their time alone and a certain amount of solitude is a crucial part of them growing their independence….. however just remember that secrecy is something to be watchful of.
Parenting a teenager takes a tough skin, a willingness to be vulnerable and lots of love. Bucket loads of love. You will make mistakes – we all do and it’s to be expected – but whatever you do, don’t ever stop trying to build that communication bridge.