The fluctuating emotions of parenting can be trying and wondrously ever changing. It may seem like your child tiptoed into this new phase as it sneaks up on some parents. It can be a tumultuous time for all. It’s a beautiful thing to watch our babies become toddlers then kids then tweens then teens then dare I say it? Adults! Navigating through the developmental shifts and their newfound independence is an experience we are blessed to have. That being said, it’s not always easy.
So, how do we stay connected or “ get connected” to our teenagers?
1. Validate their feelings. This is new and scary territory for them and they need to feel supported. They will not come out and ask for your validation, but they need it now more than ever just as we all do. Even if they want to hibernate because of a pimple, sleep until 5 minutes before they leave for school or change a class because it’s boring, we should respect their feelings. This does not always entail giving in to irresponsible demands.
2. Encourage them. Just as we advise to encourage children (specifically and thoughtfully), we need to be mindful to continue this with our teens. Good self-esteem is critical and delicate at this age as they experience peer pressure, new relationships and a biological need for independence.
3.Communicate. Don’t “helicopter” but be involved and keep talking. The more you model honesty and communication, the more comfortable they will be developing those attributes. Know where they are, what they are googling, how they are performing academically and who they are choosing to socialize with, but don’t get too involved either. Here’s that “ balancing act” again as you give them space to fail and problem solve while still being aware of their struggles and strides. You can’t get there without communicating with them ( not with their friends, siblings, friend’s mothers, doctors). Converse about peer relationships, friendships and their feelings about their life’s happenings. Speak openly, directly and with open- ended questions ( rather than ask “ how was your day?”, ask “ what was a positive thing that happened today?” Or “ how was your math test?”. This invites them to share and allows you to gain some perspective. Ask the hard questions once in awhile. The ones you are hesitant about because you may not like their answers.
4. Keep things fun. Try not to get caught up in the serious, parental, disciplining role 24 hours/day. Allow yourself some space to relax, laugh and be spontaneous. Ice cream for dinner once in a long while will not kill anyone. Let down your “mom or dad voice” and converse on their level. This is not being best friends with your child, it is creating a two-way, mutually respectable, fun loving relationship.
5. Teach them. Don’t change the tire for them, teach them how to change it. Warn them about safety, awareness and good decisions, being careful not to create anxiety. After all, making good decisions requires clear thinking. When was the last time you were overly anxious about something and could make a solid, informed, well thought out decision? Teach them to schedule their own doctor appointments, show up for them and speak to the doctors during the exam. As a physician, I expect teenagers to converse with me and answer my questions. They are the only ones who know how they feel physically and emotionally. I personally speak to every teen alone at each well check up for this reason. They need to have an open forum to ask personal questions. We need to teach them in a language they understand on their level.
So many more…to be continued.