Working with teens for 20 years, I asked them a simple question, “What do you wish your parents knew more of to improve your life?” Here are their answers.
#1. They Love you.
Even though teens rarely say it, they love you, and they care what you think of them. Unfortunately, when love doesn’t find its way to your teen, they’re willing to take a kick just for the sake of attention. If your teen is acting out, take a look at yourself and how well you’re paying attention to them.
Don’t take it personally when they put distance between you and them. It is their way of finding their identity. If you’ve built a good relationship before this ‘walkabout’ time, relax, they’ll come back to you as they enter adulthood.
Give them space to experiment, try and fail, and try on new personalities, hopes and dreams. As long as things are not fatal or illegal, allow them the experiences. Failure at home where you can help redirect them is better than failure in the adult world where consequences are far greater. Sometimes we learn more from failure than we do from success. Practice often saying, “What do you think?” and “You’re very smart, you’ll figure it out,” along with, “Oh my, what are you going to do about that?” Those kinds of comments move the responsibility into their hands and signals that they are maturing. Let them.
#2. Teens hate when their parents fight.
Don’t be fooled. Teens are measuring relationships around them daily. Your relationship is foundational as to what they will learn to value in their relationships. They need strong role models. They need strong examples of how to speak to a spouse, how to fight properly, how to say openly you are wrong, and how to come to a compromise with each other. Conflict, rude comments, leaving in the middle of a fight rather than working at communicating, slamming doors are setting examples of how your teen will respond not only in their relationships but how they communicate with you. Be careful.
#3. Never compare your children to each other or other teens.
Find something positive to say to them about them. Avoid compliments that are superficial like: You’re beautiful, you’re such a great student, you’re an excellent athlete, etc. These compliments aren’t lasting. Anyone can have a bad grade, hurt themselves and not be able to play a sport, or lose their beauty. Don’t build their self-esteem on things that could be taken away, or you’ll build their confidence on shifting sand.
Instead, compliment them on character traits such as: I admire the work you put into that project, I appreciate how loyal you are to your friends, I love your laugh, you have such a great sense of humor. These traits are lasting qualities.
Teens spend every day comparing themselves to everyone else and finding themselves wanting. They don’t need another critique, or coach, in their lives. What they need are more cheerleaders. If you cheer them on, they’ll ask you to critique or coach them.
#4. Teens need time to relax.
There’s a tough balance to being a teen. They can be so busy they never relax. And they can be so relaxed, they never get out of bed or off the couch. The sleeping late things is common to their age and rapid growth rate, but it might be more than that. By everyday standards, there’s a great deal of stress on teens. They’re finding their place in the world, keeping up with studies, dancing to the tune of peer acceptance, and walking the tight-rope of child versus adult. The A-Type teens may be overly committed, between academics and after-school activities, home chores and all the other things that go with being teens. They need to be allowed to enjoy personal time with things they like. When monitored, downtime can be beneficial.
#5. Even Good Kids Act Out Once in a While!
Adolescents push boundaries. Even teenagers who get straight A’s, come home on time and treat their parents with respect…occasionally push boundaries. Teens have a need to explore their worlds, try on their ideas and test what you’ve told them is what they believe. Within reason, this is a way of becoming an individual. Pay attention, but don’t label them ‘good’ or ‘bad’ because they don’t conform 100% of the time to your ideas.
Strive instead to have an open conversation rather than a ‘my way, because I said so’ lecture. If you have an open dialogue, you can interject ways of thinking that allows them their way of getting there. I suggest (unless it’s dangerous) you end each of these conversations with, “You know, I’ve seen you maturing, you’ll make the right choice. If you need help, let me know.”
You know the old saying, “You get what you expect,” I guarantee they’ll hear your voice in their head saying, “You’ll make the right choice” just before they do. If we listen more and talk less, we might earn more opportunities to direct their paths.
Photo: Flickr/ Carol VanHook