Let’s face it. Life with teens is challenging. They are busy establishing their own identity, which often conflicts with parents’ wishes. During these turbulent years, kids are terribly concerned with their friends' opinions, while trying to separate and become independent. The news isn’t all bad. Children in teen years need their parents more than ever. According to the American Psychological Association (APA) Reference for Developing Adolescents, “The truth is that adolescents, despite occasional or numerous protests, need adults and want them to be part of their lives, recognizing that they can nurture, teach, guide, and protect them on the journey to adulthood.” Here are some well-thought-out strategies that can help you develop and keep good communication with your child.
Always listen, but rarely speak
Everyone wants to be heard, but adolescents have a special need to be seen as independent. A parent can foster these feelings by really listening when they open up. Sometimes this can be difficult. Your child may talk about issues that concern you. They may tell you about risk-taking behaviors that their friends are involved in--or even that they, themselves, may be. The best way to keep the conversation going is to keep from being judgmental. While you are in the conversation, avoid ‘why’ questions as they usually make someone feel defensive.
Simple methods help a teen see you as empathetic. If they are sad, then appear sad. If they’re happy, reflect that. Mirroring their mood allows them to feel understood. Keeping questions open-ended rather than allowing a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer fosters conversation. Above all, hear what they are trying to say. Your teen will have more trust in you for the effort.
Spend time with just your child, but know their friends
Bert Burns and his wife Joy have twins, Emma and Will, who are heading into their senior year in Atlanta, Georgia. When they took a vacation to Hilton Head, they brought their children’s friends to enjoy the fun. Bert values getting to know who they spend time with. “We go on trips with them and take their friends. Our house is where all the friends go, and we know exactly who they hang out with and who their friends are.” At the same time, the couple takes time to have ‘dates’ with their children one-on-one. Bert says, “I think that helps with communication a lot. You talk about deeper things than you would otherwise. We don’t take our phones in with us, it’s just one-on-one time.”
Find common ground
Is your child involved in music? Do they love sports? Even if you don’t share the same hobbies, taking an interest in what your child loves shows that you support and care for them. Even if you aren’t interested in sea turtles or couldn’t care less about crafts, nothing says ‘caring father’ more than knitting a sock. Try it!
Have dinner together
According to the APA, “Families today can take many forms—single-parent, shared custody, adoptive, blended, foster, traditional dual parent, to name a few. Regardless of family form, a strong sense of bonding, closeness, and attachment to family have been found to be associated with better emotional development, better school performance, and engagement in fewer high-risk activities, such as drug use (Resnick et al., 1997; Klein, 1997; Perry, 2000).”
One of the most common ways of family bonding is family dinner. Simply stopping and taking time to sit with each other, while listening and paying attention, reinforces that you think your teen is worth the break from busy life.
Be a good example
Of course, no one wants their children to make the mistakes they’ve made, but asking kids to ‘do as we say’ instead of ‘do as we do’ makes a parent look hypocritical. Teens can’t trust a hypocrite, so often rules are thrown out the window. Want better teen behavior? Model it, the first step toward showing your child it can be done.
Adolescence is often a rocky time, full of confusion for the child and the parent. By staying close to your teen through family experiences and simple strategies to make them feel valued, you can avoid some of the pain of the teen years.
Jessica Farthing is a Savannah freelance writer and mom of three. She often looks at her children being almost grown and wonders how it happened so fast!