So my cute little girl has morphed into a sarcastic teen who rolls her eyes and says, “Good job,” every time I drop something. Instead of regaling me with details about her school day, she plugs into her iPod and chats with three different friends on three different screens on her computer. How can we parents survive, even enjoy, this new stage of parenting? What happened to your little darling, and how can you talk to him or her?
I have a 16-year-old daughter, and I’ve taught hundreds of teenagers over the years. As such, I’ve had to adjust my expectations in the area of communication. Teens are so wrapped up in their own heads, figuring out who they are and what it means to be cool, that talking to parents easily slips to the bottom of their list. Nowadays, I don’t have lengthy conversations with my daughter about her school day, or who said what to whom at the movies. But, I do keep the lines open, and let my daughter know I’m still interested in her life.
When I want news or information, I ask specific questions. “How was your day?” might get “OK,” and a shrug. (Isn’t it interesting how much body language a teen can pack into one shrug?!) But “What are you doing in biology class this week?” might get a longer response about the project she just started or what lab they’re doing. “How is that new iPod working out?” might bring up what she’s learned to do with it or which songs she’s into lately. You might ask your teen questions about movies, sports or other things they’re interested in.
Teenagers are also starting to notice what’s happening in the world around them. So we talk at the dinner table about current events or things that are happening in our community, and my husband and I ask her opinion about what’s happening. It’s exciting to watch your kid become a young adult with his or her own views and preferences. We’re enjoying that process.
Now that she’ll talk to me, how do I get my own two cents in? When I talk to my daughter, I give my own observations about things, but I don’t lecture. Short comments or a few words of advice will go over better than long lectures or “yelling” at a teen. I could give a talk about “When I was your age…” but I’d probably see her eyes rolling towards the ceiling and know that I’ve lost her by the second or third sentence. I find that short and sweet keeps her attention better.
For example, I take advantage of the opportunity to reinforce my values by making short comments on the bad choices a character makes in a TV show. “She shouldn’t go to bed with him. That’s a big mistake,” I’ll comment. Or, I’ll note how well a person in the news handled a difficult situation: “She really kept her head and helped those people.” I try not to go on and on, but just drop a comment or two and stop before I get tedious. I feel better by saying something, and she’s got a good idea of my values after years of listening to these remarks.
I also pick my battles carefully. I keep things as positive as I can. I know I wouldn’t want to go to work every day if my boss did nothing except criticize me. And my daughter won’t want to be around me if I spend all our time together nagging her. I only nag (or “remind”) when I think it’s important. I let a lot of the little things go. I do tell her when she needs to get her backpack out of the living room, or talk to her about the bad grade on her math test. But I also thank her for doing the dishes. And, as you see from the above paragraphs, we also talk about other things, so our conversation isn’t always about what she’s done, right or wrong. Sometimes it’s about “stuff,” as she might say. It gives us a stronger foundation to build on if we’re relating in positive ways on many different levels.
Parenting a teenager can be tough as you help him or her make the transition from kid to adult. But there’s nothing more satisfying than watching your little boy or girl turn into a grown-up right before your eyes. It’s a pretty special thing to be part of, too. And it only happens once for each person. Enjoy that transformation!
image: Dwayne (Creative Commons BY-SA)