Friday, December 27, 2013

Talking to your Teenager

Teenagers face the challenge of making sense of an adult world with only the experiences of childhood to guide them.  As parents we're trying to help our children navigate a world of rapidly developing technologies that we have little experience of. 
The best resource we have to help our children is our love for them.  Here are some guidelines to help you maintain connection and keep communication flowing.

1.  Create a strong parental partnership.
Working on your relationship with the co-parent helps to create a solid platform from which your child can step out into the world.  It also prevents them playing one parent off against the other!  It lets your child know that regardless of the status of your relationship, your mutual love for him/her motivates you to overcoming differences and building a supportive parental partnership.

2. Take a Gentle Approach
Teenagers are incredibly sensitive – they can sniff out insincerity from adults in an instant. Find ways to let them know that their feelings and the challenges they face are important to you. Take things slowly at first, don’t try and become best friends, or adopt a new ‘personality’ to gain their attention.  Don't try to force the relationship but allow things to change naturally.

3. Create a Guilt-free Space
Make it safe for them to share, if they know that you will love and accept them no matter what, they are more likely to come to you about their fears and concerns beforehand.  If they tell you something that causes you alarm or concern, it is best not to go into reaction. It is important to respect the trust they have in you and maintain the connection by not judging their actions or the information. Resolve to find a time later on to talk about it when you are both feeling calmer. 

4. Don’t use their Honesty as a Weapon
Honesty and trust in a relationship creates powerful bonding that can hold things together in difficult times. Learning to create shared agreements before events take place can help a child feel safe to call out for help if they feel compromised or unsafe. Knowing that a caring adult is in the background will help a child to learn to make intelligent choices. If they tell you about experimenting with sex, drugs or alcohol listen with an open heart. Don’t use the information later to punish and enforce new laws, but to open up discussions about the concerns you both may have.

5. Keep it Real
Don't be afraid to share your own insecurities, vulnerability and challenges.  It shows that you are human and, when you share your experiences, your child learns about the process of cause and effect and (hopefully) triumph over adversity. We learn best from modeling and if a child only sees a ‘perfect’ image, they may be afraid to reveal their mistakes, or even to take a risk. Greater bonding comes through honesty, trust and authenticity.

6. Stay Calm
When faced with upsetting information, remember to put your focus on the relationship. An extreme reaction will shut them down. Your ability to stay calm and be less reactive is your responsibility, not theirs.  If you're not handling it well, get the support you need in order to help them.

7. Don’t Rush to Fix the Problem
Let your child know you are listening, that you believe in them and they have your love and support. This will help them to find solutions much faster – and your relationship will grow as a result.

I hope you have some great chats with your teens over the holidays.

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