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Challenge: Walking the Talk

Want to Communicate Better With Teens? Trust Them More

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The teen years are different. Even after living with your children for more than a decade, you find your relationship changes. Sure, you have dealt with growing pains and increasing demands for independence, but things change in a more subtle way as they hit the teen years, in ways that can baffle and hurt even the most thick-skinned parents. Emotionally, they seem to alternate between small children and small adults, with little to no warning that the change is coming. While nothing is foolproof at this stage, a healthy dose of trust and openness can foster closer ties.

Listen to them

They will not always want to share with you. When they do, give them your undivided attention. No one wants to feel like their opinions and thoughts are not important.

Talk to them

They are growing into young adults and you may be discovering shared interests. Talk about the things you like. Tell them your opinions. Share your passions. Let them know that you had a life before being a parent.

Share your secrets

Tell them about an embarrassing moment when you were a teen or about that awkward first date and your feelings about it and that person. Maybe even share the story of your first kiss. Let them know how you felt about rejection. Help them see that others have similar life experiences.

Trust that they will do the right thing

Let them make small decisions (it helps if you have been doing this already). If they are going away on an overnight or weekend trip, let them pack for themselves. Let them decide whether to hang out with friends or go with the family for dinner or ice cream. Help them see other points of view and point out things they may not have thought of, but let some choices be theirs alone.

Let them try things, and let them fail

If you see that they are going about it all wrong, let them (unless it is truly dangerous, then you have to step in). You may have to sit on your hands and tape your mouth shut, but you are doing them a favor. Failure is one of life’s best teachers.

Don’t rescue them from the small stuff

If they call home because they forgot something, say you feel bad and leave it at that. Don’t always run right over with the missing item. There is little that one cannot live without for a short time (or even a night or two) and it’s almost guaranteed that particular item will not be forgotten again (next time it will be something different). (Having said that, it is sometimes acceptable to bail them out, with the understanding that it will not be done every time and is being done as a favor, not an obligation.)

Let them find their own way

There is more than one path to each thing in life. You may think you have found the best and easiest way, but they may have an easier time doing it a different way. After they have met their goal, you can share your method, which they may or may not want to try next time. Meeting the goal is the objective; the way to it is frequently irrelevant.

Remember to express affection

Hugs are important. Though they seem to cringe at the thought of it, most need that physical reminder that they are valued and loved. Saying “I love you,” whether it is out loud, in a note or a private sign of some sort is a reassurance that despite their horrible behavior, your relationship is intact. More than once, I have countered “I hate you!” with “Well, I love you.” Though I don’t always like their actions and words, I can’t imagine any scenario that would make the love for my children go away. At this life stage, they need frequent reminders of this fact.

Teens are living “in between” and are struggling to find their place in the world. Remembering this and managing one’s own expectations can make it a little easier to keep the peace through these tumultuous times.

This first appeared at Sammiches and Psych Meds as 8 Secrets to a Good Relationship With Your Teen

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