Any parent with a teenager will tell you that those four to five years of personality changes between a child and a young adult can be quite difficult to manage. Not only are teenagers raging with a variety of hormones that they have no clue what to do with, their bodies are changing, their interests are changing and it all seems to be happening in the blink of an eye. To help sort through the proper do’s and don’ts for communicating with teens, experts Ann Morgan James (author of How to Raise a Millionaire: Six millionaire skills parents can teach their kids so they can imagine and live the life of their dreams), and Thomas W. Phelan, PhD. (Author of Surviving Your Adolescents: How to Manage and Let Go of Your 13-18 Year Olds) have shared some tips to help ease parents through that crazy teenage transition!
Be cautious of your approach… As Dr. Phelan shares, nagging, arguing and even lecturing can have an adverse effect on teens causing them to close up even more and want to share less. Instead, Dr. Phelan recommends sympathetic listening, spending quality one-on-one time with your teen and offering them meaningful praise. Ann Morgan James recommends having conversations with your children in the car. She says that many teenagers have problems looking parents directly in the eye during serious conversations and that being able to speak freely without the forced eye contact could help them to feel comfortable enough to really open up.
Avoid distractions… James also recommends that you make every effort possible to avoid distractions during conversations. Make certain the television is off, talk somewhere where there is no noise, turn off cell phones and blackberries and really take time to focus on your child and what they have to say. Letting your teenager know that they are truly more important than another email on your blackberry or your friend’s latest Facebook update, may give them the confidence they need to actively participate in the discussion.
Set the rules…When it comes to teenagers, the house rules should be set early on. Dr. Phelan suggests making sure your teenagers are aware of all rules from curfews, to hours they can use the car to chores and even what grades they are expected to get. Setting these rules and more importantly sticking to them, allows your child to know the guidelines ahead of time leaving less possibilities for them to make mistakes and fewer incidents that you’ll need to reprimand.
What about social media? When it comes to sites like Facebook and Twitter, most parents are dying to know what their children are up to. In an effort to get the scoop, many resort to sneaking on their teenager’s sites without permission. Dr. Phelan warns against this behavior. He says that snooping behind a teen’s back will only backfire, again causing them to close up even more or go out of their way to create new accounts that you never know about. Instead he recommends talking to your teens about social media sites. Ask them how many friends they have, what things they discuss with their friends on the sites and what they might be posting. If you’re lucky, you may even be able to build up enough trust to where in no time at all, you’re finding yourself accepting a “friend” request from your child!
Work on the relationship first… Bonding with your teenager will never be as easy as it was when he or she was a child. They now have different interests and more than likely will always choose to hang out with friends over you. Don’t be bothered by this. Of course it’s sad to watch that little girl who made you play dress up with her every day of the week, now close her door when you walk by her room and instead spend hours on the phone with friends, but remember this is normal behavior. Time with your teen will now have to be more about quality and less about quantity. Ann Morgan James says that relating to your teens is what’s most important. Take time with them, when you both have it free, and focus on really listening. Sometimes it’s even good to share stories about how you were as a teenager in an effort to relate to what they are going through. It’s funny how much easier it is to connect when you think back to what you did when you were their age.
While every child is different and no tip will work every time, the key to communicating with teens is remembering that they aren’t kids anymore. Yes, they will always be your baby and yes you will always struggle to see them as an adult; however, struggle or no struggle they are rapidly approaching adulthood and there is nothing you can do to stop it. The best you can do is listen when they want to talk, be there when they need a shoulder and make sure that no matter what, you are always setting the best examples for them to follow.