Raising a teen or preteen may often seem more like a battle than a blessing. If you hear more “whatevers” in your conversations than anything else, it might be time to work on getting back in touch with your kids.
With all of your adolescent’s homework, afterschool activities and part-time jobs, it’s easy to feel disconnected as a family as they spend more time out of the house and with friends.
“Chaperoning events and school trips and volunteering at the student’s school can help parents understand the social dynamics the students face,” says Heather Ashby, a guidance counselor at University High School. “Many schools have plays, concerts, and sporting events that parents and children can attend together.”
Peer pressure is a part of life for all ages but especially for adolescents in the teen years. But, studies suggest that parents have greater influence over their kids, especially teens, than they might think, SAMHSA: Center for Health and Human Services says.
With so many staggering statistics available on teenagers and suicide, sex, pregnancy, drug use and underage alcohol consumption, parenting a middle school or high school student can be a scary thing at times.
The center suggests nurturing strong self-esteem and teaching youths to avoid undesirable situations where they are more likely to succumb to peer pressures. It also advises encouraging them to confide in other trusted adults who can offer advice as well.
To close the gap between you and your teen, communication is key. Ashby recommends parents talk to their kids more whether it’s during dinner, car rides or any other available free time.
“I like to use the time going back and forth to practices to have some uninterrupted time talking with my daughters,” Ashby says.
She says parents should remember that communication is more than just speaking — it’s listening, too.
“People need to listen more and not be so quick to interrupt wanting to tell their own story or opinion,” she says. “Also, people open up more when they feel they are being supported, not judged.”
Parents of teens can really learn a lot from anthropologists in that you should learn to ask better and different questions, says Michael Riera in his book “Staying Connected to Your Teenager.” Asking open-ended questions about the process can be an effective approach, regardless of the activity or subject. This type of questioning will help engage them while strengthening your connection at the same time.
Give your full focus to your teen during conversations: “I think people just need to remember technology does not run you. For example, just because someone sends a text message does not mean you have to read and reply immediately. When spending time together, commit to giving the person in front of you your full attention,” Ashby says.
While you can’t force your kids to spend time with you, here are some ways that may help you get a little closer:
- Disconnect from electronics. Power off cell phones and remember that calls and texts can wait.
- Understand their interests. Find a shared interest whether it’s sports, shopping or video games.
- Volunteer together. Giving back presents a way for you to offer positive feedback, which is especially important if your teen has been hearing a lot of criticism.
- Prepare and share meals as a family. Turn off the TV and other distractions to focus on the family during dinner a few times a week.
- Plan a summer vacation. Get the whole family involved in selecting a destination getaway, road trip or campground for your next vacation spot.
By Aimee Hoyt