September 28, 2013

Raising Teenagers: The Art of Staying Connected.

Those early years seem like a breeze in comparison.

When they’re children, we are their world. They engage with us. They allow us to guide them. They want to spend time with us. They value what we say. We are all the cool things to them about being Mom and Dad.

Of course these time are not without their own stress and troubles, but things make a bit more sense to us as parents during this stage.

The teenage stage is a different kind of animal for us to navigate.

With the endless information and changes to keep up with in order to have some understanding of their world—from technology, friends, school, driving, parties and planning for their futures. They begin to pull away, communicating less with us, experimenting with independence, dipping their toes in problem solving and sometimes they are successful—building confidence along the way—and sometimes not.

It’s not uncommon to find out late in the game that “things have gone awry” for them. They really do not want to disappoint us. So, a common strategy for them is to avoid a situation altogether—hoping it just goes away. But, as we know, it doesn’t just go away.

Yes, raising a teenager is still a full time job.

And the reality is—as adults, it is our responsibility to create an environment where connection, communication and understanding is available—it’s not up to them to create it or to be who we want them to be. This is so important if we want to stay connected to our teenagers, which in my experience, is true for the majority of us.

Teenagers want to feel as though they belong to something—something bigger than themselves.

And, parents, please know that they will find something to fit this need—whether it’s positive or not, whether we like it or not. Whether it’s an online community, a particular group at school, sports teams, leadership, etc. This works beautifully if the group they choose provides healthy and positive influences—not so much, when the group is at risk, negative, or toxic.

Either way, provide an opportunity for this need to be met in part within a family setting, even if it’s a small family setting—a single parent and the teen, themself. They really do enjoy being a part of a family where their individual talents, gifts and strengths are noticed and celebrated.

They need to hear praise—they need to hear you say what you like about them and what you are proud of.

These words help them to develop a sense of who they are. Remember that saying that goes something like “it takes ten positives to outweigh one negative?” Whether it’s scientifically true or not, doesn’t really matter. The point is that what teenagers hear will create their own reality. Those words will be played over and over again in their heads as they make sense of their world and decide who they are.

Let those words heard be the positives. The strengths. The more negatives heard—the increased chance of negative self image development. And we all know how difficult it can be to erase that negative self-talk once its set in there.

Model, guide, teach and demonstrate.

We want them to have confidence and to be able to develop life skills, such as communication, assertiveness, creativity, problem solving, ability to love and have healthy relationships. They need to see all of these modeled and performed at home, in order to integrate into who they are. We do not know what we haven’t been exposed to.

Respect them no matter what.

Respect them as the curious, caring, and open creatures that they are. It’s all there—they are showing it to their friends because they feel accepted and valued by them. A foundational respect—one that mirrors unconditional love—is a key component in our relationships with our teens. Never sacrifice that.

Let them make age-appropriate decisions for themselves.

Resist trying to control their lives. We do not need to fix everything for them. Guide them in this. Give suggestions. Offer choices. Provide a structure. And, let them follow through. Make sure they do. Revisit it. And, offer praise. Highlight where they are successful and observe what happens to their faces and body language when you do. This is my favorite part.

Love them, believe in them and support them.

Let them know that you are their rock until they can be their own rock for themselves. Life presents challenges, but the simple knowing that we are never alone is a strength that can almost get us through anything.

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Ed: Sara Crolick

{photo: via Alex Alex}

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