In many respects, the teenage years mirror a lot of the intellectual, social and emotional development that takes place during toddler hood. During both stages of development, children are learning exciting new skill sets, but are also testing boundaries in new and sometimes inappropriate ways. As teenagers assert their need for both freedom and independence, they may begin to make decisions that can have real long-term consequences. As teenagers’ brains grow and develop, they may have the tendency to take risks, make impulsive decisions and respond to parental guidance in seemingly irrational or emotionally charged ways.
Parenting during the teenage years can be especially challenging as caregivers attempt to help their teens navigate serious issues like school, friends, sex and drugs. Cultivating an open and healthy relationship with your children during the teenage years can be difficult but necessary in keeping the lines of communication open between caregiver and teen. While teens may not necessarily seem receptive to caregivers’ attempts at open and honest communication, it is important for caregivers to remember that communicating with children, especially during this developmental stage is important for their children’s healthy growth and development. Although your role in your teenager’s life may have changed in their eyes, your job as a parent is still as important as it ever was before.
Here are some ways you can work on keeping the lines of communication open between you and your teen:
Practice Active Listening
Teenagers tend to reveal certain details about their life when their caregivers least expect it. While teens tend to feel threatened by direct questioning from their caregivers, teens will often open up in more indirect, and even cryptic, ways. A sudden mood swing, or an offhand comment about how the day went, could be your teen’s way of reaching out to you for assistance. As a parent, make sure you stay open and receptive to these cues, and you are listening to not only words but also body language and tone.
Validate your teen’s feelings
A caregiver’s tendency to minimize feelings, solve problems or downplay a teen’s disappointment during communication can be counterproductive to maintaining an open and honest line of communication. Instead of replicating these common communication roadblocks, try empathizing with your teen by showing that you can appreciate what he/she is going through. Reflect comments back to your teen to show that you are listening. Reinforce your attention, care and concern by demonstrating appropriate body language and tone.
Manage Your Feelings
It can be tempting to respond to your teen’s attitudes in kind but resist the urge to reply to your teen in an equally negative way. Try to remember that your teen’s mood swings are an expected part of his/her brain development. If you are too upset to respond to your teen right away, it is OK to take a self-imposed time out until you both have had the chance to calm down.
Spend time with your teen
Just because your teen is busy with friends and school that doesn’t mean that you two have to stop spending time together. Open yourself up to their interests by listen to the music they like, keep up with the latest in pop culture and/or organize outings that you can both enjoy together. Show loving kindness to your teen whenever you can. Praise his/her/their efforts whenever it is appropriate.
Pay attention to what is not being said
It is completely natural for teens to change as they grow and mature but pay special attention to extreme changes in mood; significant changes in behavior; curious changes in appearance; and problems with sleep, energy level and/or appetite. Take note when your teen stops doing the activities that he/she/they once enjoyed doing. If you notice these changes, or any changes in your teen’s speech and/or ability to function, these may be a sign to seek professional help.