Thursday, June 17, 2010

Going the Distance with your Teen

Can you remember what was like to be a teenager? It is a difficult time for many people. You worry about grades, getting in to college, what friends think, if girls/guys like you, teachers, parents, choices, breaking out, first love, first break-ups, disappointments. Many adults would never want to relive it. In the long journey of raising children, hanging in there with your teen with support and compassion in the final part of the race is so important. Even when they push back.

The job of parenting changes over time, but it is so gradual sometimes that we don't notice it. Noone announces the transition. It can feel so wonderful as the parent when your young child wants to hold your hand when you are walking with them or include you in their play. I miss playing candyland and polly pockets. It felt so close and warm when they hugged you or told you everything. One day it's different, and its a new ballgame all together. Parents have to adjust, too. When parents dream of having a family, they are not usually thinking of a teenager with their own opinions whose job is individuating and pushing away from you to define their sense of self.

What can parents of teens do to go the distance with your son or daughter in the challenging teen years? Here are some tips:

1. Listen to them. Ask for their opinion.

2.Show up for their important events. Teens notice even if they don't say anything. Show up for school and sports events. Show up for choir concerts and award ceremonies. Even if they don't
say much, they will feel your support.

3.Point out their strengths. Let them know what you notice about what they are doing right. Teens are hungry for encouragement.

4. Be an approachable parent. Think of the qualities you would look for in a friend you would open up to about a problem.

5. Help your teen find an area of enjoyment or mastery outside of school. Something they can feel good about.

6. Share your life skills with your teen. Self-esteem comes from feeling capable. Make sure your teen has independent living skills. Can they manage money? Do their own laundry? Know how to apply and interview for a part-time job? Cook a few meals for themself? Drive and put gas in the car? Know the basics of how to keep the household running? Ask your teen for other skills they would find helpful. They will thank you when they get to college and are not helpless.

7.Help your teen accept loss. Part of preparing a teen for life is helping them accept that any time you take a risk, try out for something, ask someone to a dance, etc., you may get dissappointed. BUT YOU CAN GET THROUGH IT. You probably didn't get everything you wanted either. Better to learn this lesson as a teen about needing to be resilent than waiting til later in life.

8.Help your teen construct a plan for their future. Let them know how you can help them--- or find someone to help them make a plan for what they will do after high school. They will feel less alone.

9 Be watchful for changes. A change in grades, friends, sociability, eating or sleeping patterns may signal something is wrong. Ask your teen about what you are observing and consult a counselor if you are concerned.

10. Keep looking for new, age-appropriate ways to spend time with your teen, not lecturing or grilling them. Just catching up and checking in on how they are, what's up with friends and such. Your teen will appreciate that you are trying to connect and bridge the gap. Sharing a meal out together or an iced tea at Starbucks could be a start.

11. Keep the dialogue going.

12. Get to know their friends. Let them get together at your house sometimes, and be around serving snacks.

13. Avoid entitlement. It really isn't helpful in the long run to give them everything or overprotect them.

14. Keep an eye on facebook. Consider setting one up yourself and friend them. Be watchful about skype use. Go over rules for cell phone use, hours, etc. Be aware of cameras on cell phones. Teen brains are not finished developing, and they can do impulsive things that can hurt them.Pay attention and keep talking about appropriate and inappropriate use of technology and social networking. It's a whole new world for this generation of teens.

15.Keep demonstrating your values. Teens see the way you treat your spouse, your coworkers, other drivers, servers and everyone else. Your behavior, integrity, and demonstrated character is more powerful than anything you can say.

Launching teens is harder than most of us expected. As they get ready to go, they can be our harshest critics and identify need for changes in us and in our families. The challenge we have is to stay commited, caring, and present until our teens finish the race and successfully enter adulthood. We may look back at these years and smile,too.

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