When you hold a baby in your arms, you envision its whole life ahead. You look at that relaxed, sleeping face and you imagine how they’re going to grow up into this amazing child who is curious about the world. You think about the evenings you’ll spend baking gooey cookies together and choosing bedtime stories to giggle over. It’s easy to imagine them in their first school play and on the first day of their high school career. It’s easy to imagine this amazing little human you’ve made from scratch turning into a smaller version of yourself. You don’t think about how this growing up has to mean they turn into teenagers one day. It doesn’t occur to you that there will be any ‘lasts’ among the firsts that you are excited about right now. It won’t occur to you that there will be a last time that your baby climbs into your lap for a cuddle and a story. The thing is, children grow up from being dependent on us to being tall, mature and independent teenagers. They grow up and they grow away from us, which is exactly what we prepared them for in the first place. All they need is a happy home, and it’s up to parents to give it to them!
The biggest challenge that parents of teenager’s face is keeping connected with them. This isn’t just about getting a boost with internet providers when college time comes around. It’s about keeping the lines of communication open for everyone even before college. The problem is that teenagers crave independence and social interaction away from their parents, and the more that they pull away, the more that parents cling on. It’s totally natural. We have children and we raise them to leave us, but that doesn’t mean we are ever ready for that day when it comes. The idea that we have to detach ourselves from our children, whatever their age, is inconceivable. Even though we know it has to happen. Allowing yourself to let go and give your teenager some breathing space doesn’t mean that you are abandoning them. It just means that you are letting them have some freedom to discover the world for themselves. Parents spend an awful lot of time keeping their children close and making sure that nothing hurts or harms them, as they should do. There’s a phrase about cutting apron strings and allowing children to roam, but we tend to wait until they are teenagers before doing that. Letting go of a teenager doesn’t mean handing them full responsibility over their lives, it just means that you give them freedom while remaining an essential player in their lives.
Growing up is a process of trial and error and as a parent, you’ve already gone through your teenage stage. It’s now time for your teenager to be allowed to go through theirs. Keeping the lines of communication open isn’t always easy, though, especially when a teenager doesn’t want their life to be micromanaged. You can still communicate effectively with your teen without being a helicopter parent and without demanding to be privy to every piece of information in their lives. We’ve got some amazing suggestions about how you can keep communicating with your teenager as they move towards adulthood, without descending into arguing and chaos.
Get interested in what your teenager is interested in. There is a big gap between parents and their teenagers sometimes, and teenagers are developing an individuality while they develop their independence. That means that it can be a struggle for parents to keep up and keep current with the trends that their teenager is following. Instead of being aggressive, or upset about the lack of information that you understand about what your teenager likes, you should make a point of asking them about their interests and what you could do appreciate their interests a little more. Start a conversation about the differences between the music they love and the music that you used to love, and find the common ground. They may love music that has an instrument that you know how to play, and once you find that common ground, you can begin to develop a mutual bond over it. You also give your teenager the chance to teach you about something instead of it being the other way around.
Judgement has to be something that you keep to yourself. A parent will always judge the choices of their teenager, but you don’t have to tell them about those judgements. Mistakes and misunderstandings are part and parcel of growing up and we’ve all been there and made those mistakes. They’re not easy to deal with when you’re the teenager, so to be in the position of a parent you are in a valuable one. You could choose to do things two ways; you could listen and advise on a situation without making judgement comments, or you can fly off the handle. The first option means that your teenager can feel like communicating with you is a safe thing to do, that they will be guided to the right path but not feel like they are ‘wrong’ for making a mistake in their life. The second option will instead ensure that you close the door of communication for good. It can be difficult for a parent not to indulge in criticism when they watch their child make a mistake, but engendering discouragement instead of encouraging reform doesn’t work. When you’re correcting behaviour for a teenager, go for guidance over a reprimand. Correction points are your opportunity to shape character, not attack it and you can communicate far more effectively if you are letting your teenager know that you are there for them regardless of mistakes made.
Teenagers argue to get their point across. It’s not always about trying to make you feel angry or to purposely make you feel antagonised. Arguments are valuable communicative tools, and while your adolescent can be resistant to your rules and your teachings, it’s about working together to find a compromise rather than pushing the rules. Hormonal teenagers tend to fire up when they feel challenged, and arguments are a good way for you to harness communication efforts rather than disconnect. A teenager who never argues with you can be very hard to get to know and even harder to learn how to handle. Ask them to help you to understand what they need, what they want and why they feel the way that they do. This can diffuse the argument and turn it into a conversation instead, where you can both learn from each other. Use positive words instead of negatives and ask questions to help you to understand how they feel and what they want from the situation at hand.
Friends are a large part of a teenager’s life. As a parent, you may not always approve of their friends, but you need to bite your lip a lot of the time and welcome them in. Parents can feel set aside socially when their teenager shuts away with their friends, but parents have to encourage this! Their friends are a huge part of their identity and how they want to be perceived in the world, so learn about their friends. Ask questions when they talk about them, so that it doesn’t come across like you are interrogating them about their lives. If you make the time to get to know their friends as much as you want to get to know them, they will want to be more open with you. They’ll trust you more to keep their secrets and guide them through difficult situations.
Communication begins with you being accessible. If you are spending all your time at work, concentrating solely on younger siblings or simply immersed in your own life, you’re never going to get to know your teenager. You need to be able to listen to your teenager and understand their point of view. If you aren’t around enough to do that, then they will not confide in you. Teenagers need to be in the mood to open up and talk to you, and they can do this by feeling like you are ready and willing to listen to their concerns and their worries. If they don’t feel that way, it can easily be mistaken that you aren’t going to be around to listen. It’s a vicious circle that can very much be avoided by all parties involved.
Communication is probably the most important thing that you need to have with your teenager. If you are communicating properly, you can have a close bond where everyone involved is happy with each other and relaxed. A relaxed family environment is one where happiness can be fostered, and if you can create that atmosphere, you can keep an open, trusting relationship the cornerstone of your family. Teenagers are not the most communicative bunch, but with a good guidance from their parents, they can be open and honest with you from the get-go. Take your time to get to know your teenager. You won’t regret it.