Parents and teens need to take action to stay connected
Getting the Conversation Started
Many parents worry when their teenagers don't want to spend as much time with the family as they did when they were younger. This can be both hurtful and frightening.
You worry about their safety and about their future. It is normal for children to want to spend more time with their friends during the teen years, but it shouldn't mean that teens ignore their families.
Parents and teens need to take action to stay connected or to reconnect.
I used to be close with my daughter. She would talk with me about everything. Now she's 14 and avoids me. She is quiet at dinner, and then goes to her room or talks with friends on the phone all evening. Sometimes she gets moody and angry. I want to reach her the way I used to, but I don't know how to start.
Sometimes the solution is easy. Spend more time together. Suggest doing things that you both enjoy. Talk more. Dinnertime is an excellent opportunity for that kind of exchange. Talk about your day. Ask your teen about his or her day. Be sure the television is turned off and you and your teen are tuned in.
Some teens have a hard time expressing anger and upset feelings. They keep their feelings bottled inside. Parents need to draw such children out. Try to start a conversation by saying "I can see you've been upset. Let's talk about what's happening."
Some teens, however, may give parents the cold shoulder. If that happens, be patient, and be persistent until you break through. If you can't break through, there could be a more serious problem than embarrassment or a difficulty communicating.
Listening to Your Teen
Let teens know you will listen and try to understand their point of view, without putting them down or trying to control them. Being open-minded sometimes can be difficult for adults.
But to communicate with teens, parents need to do more than just talk; they need to listen, and really hear what their teens are saying. They also need to notice which issues are not being discussed and have the courage to start a dialogue about those issues.
When disagreements arise, listening does not mean that you give up your authority as a parent. It does mean giving teens a voice in matters that concern them.
Through family dialogue, parents get to know what their teens are thinking and feeling, and teens get to know where their parents stand.
Sometimes parents and teens can reach agreements when none seemed possible. Even when agreement cannot be reached, teens are more likely to do what their parents wish if they feel that their parents listened to them with an open mind.
Parents can become frustrated when they try to start a conversation with their teenager and he or she just isn't interested. There are tough topics, however, that need to be discussed.
Teenagers face pressures and temptations about alcohol and other drugs, sex, tobacco, guns, and violence. They need and deserve adult support.
Don't wait for a crisis. Ideally, parents should find times and ways to talk with their teens before serious problems occur, preferably early in the lives of their children. But it is never too late to start.
Sometimes, you begin a dialogue about these issues as part of normal conversation. Often, "teachable moments" happen during day-to-day activities. For example, you could discuss underage drinking when someone gets intoxicated in the presence of your family, or in a movie, or when you see a newspaper story about an accident caused by teenage drinking. You could discuss violence, and better ways of solving problems, after watching a TV show or movie that portrays violence as a solution to a disagreement.
If your teen doesn't want to talk, try to be clear that your purpose is to build understanding and to be supportive, certainly not to find fault or to punish. If you can't nudge your child into a dialogue, back off for awhile. This strategy can be disarming. Then, give your son or daughter some time to think it over.
A few days later, you can try again to start the discussion. Parents can be flexible in getting the dialogue going, but should not give up on the need for this discussion to eventually begin. Although it may be harder to get boys to open up, parents should engage in dialogue with their sons and daughters alike.
Today's teens, more than ever before, need to connect with adults - if not a parent, then a coach or teacher, grandparent or foster parent, clergy member, or other trusted adult in their lives.
Teens need an adult with whom they can talk openly. They should not be left to rely solely on other teens for important information, conversation, and help with problem solving about how to grow up wisely.
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