Sunday, November 21, 2010

Communicating Effectively With Your Teenager

When people plan to have a child, most picture a sweet little baby who fills your heart with love. Most people aren't prepared for the teenager they become a decade or so later. If we knew in advance that they would be moody, or push the limits, or talk back, would we cancel our order?

To be a good enough parent of a teenager, it helps if you can recall how it felt when you were a teen yourself. It's a tough in-between age, where you are no longer a child, but you don't yet have the freedoms of being an adult. Can you remember feeling really self-conscious about your changing body, and the current state of your complexion? Teens worry about whether they have enough or the right friends,rejection,popularity,getting a boy/girlfriend,grades,getting into college, growing up, and about handling the future. That's quite a lot to worry about. Many teens also worry about family problems more than parents realize---a parents' drinking,arguing and unhappiness between parents,financial stress,illness,divorce,parents' dating and affairs, and more. Perhaps you can connect with the things you worried about in your family when you were growing up.

To communicate effectively with your teen, the adult needs to see past moodiness or difficult attitudes, and remain loving and kind. The adult needs to show the maturity not to be reactive and hostile back. It is important to build on your teens' strengths, take an interest in their activities and friends, and actively listen more than you talk. The adult needs to take the lead in setting a warm, friendly tone at home. Smile. Greet them. Welcome their friends gathering at your house. Set reasonable limits, and enforce them consistently. Teach and empower them to learn to do as much for themselves as they can, knowing this will help them feel more capable.(Think part-time or summer job,learning to do their own laundry,and how to cook basic meals.)Be interested in their future dreams, and help them work towards them.

If you are a step-parent, you need to try even harder. You don't have the built-in biological advantage, and there is all of that horrible "step-parent as ogre" imagery in the Disney classics. Be nice and be loving, and don't be petty or critical. Let the biological parent, your spouse, be the heavy and provide the discipline as needed. You just love them up, and provide support and encouragement.

Here are some other tips from Active Parenting of Teens. Avoid these common communication breakdowns:

*commanding, ordering, directing
*giving advice
*distracting/storytelling about yourself

All of the above behaviors will make your teen shut down and give up on you. Don't push the teen you love, and live with, away. Open up the communication by being a beneficial presence in their lives. If you want them to trust you and open up to you, you will need to earn it by demonstrating love, optimism, hope, and belief in your teen even at the hardest times. That sweet,vulnerable child is still in there, just struggling to make their way through the turbulent teenage years. You will be so glad later that you didn't give up, and hung in there to go the distance until your teen makes it safely into adulthood.

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