What’s the best thing you can offer your child; health, enrichment, hope, joy, confidence, success in work, partnership, and self-management? These are things we want to offer, naturally, instinctively. Yet, it can be quite a challenge to feel as though we are making consistent headway toward these objectives.
Nowhere is it harder to feel appreciated for these intentions than during a child’s adolescence. A teen child naturally begins to pull away from parental guidance, relying more and more on their peers and culture for ideas of the best way to be in the world. Ofttimes the messages from peers and culture are misguided and shallow, making it frightening for parents as they watch their teens drift away towards independence.
There are some things that you as a parent can do to make it more likely for your adolescent child to have access to your guidance and wisdom. Here are 15 actions and attitudes that can contribute to the possibility of having your child hear you and your message, in spite of the fact they are pulling away.
- Keep dialogue open. Ask frequently how they are doing. Don’t judge them or offer them advice (unless they ask).Listen more than you talk.
- Encourage them to look at and listen to their inner world. This is a way to balance the time they spend looking at their outer selves and the outer world. Help them to know the rich landscape of their own thoughts, feelings, needs and values. Ask, “How do you feel about that?,” or “What do you think?” as a way to invite them to reflect and talk about their own experience.
- Create time for one on one contact. Turn the radio off in the car. Ask for no headphones when in the same room. Offer to drive them wherever they want to go (when you are available) and use this as a time to listen (and sometimes talk).
- Remember this too shall pass. Tell yourself over and over, “This phase will pass very quickly and this child will soon be gone. This is my last chance for impact.”
- Find material that speaks of your values and leave it lying around. Books, CD’s, magazines, movies, etc.
- Don’t force anything but speak openly about your values and beliefs. Many things break when they are forced. This is true for your values and ideas. Forcing these things often causes rebellion and disengagement.
- Give the message that your children are free to create their lives the way they want. Be curious to see what they will make of their “one wild and precious life” (see Mary Oliver’s poem, The Summer Day). Help them understand that they are responsible for their choices, that it’s okay to be imperfect, and that they can experiment to see what works and what doesn’t.
- Share your concerns and limits freely. Ask that the annoying music, TV junk, swearing, etc., not happen within your ear shot. Let them know that you know you can’t control their behavior out in the world, but you can ask that shared space at home supports the way you want to live.
- Invite their friends to your house often. Make your house comfortable for friends to visit. Offer sleeping space, make good breakfasts, eat meals in the same room, ask questions, know when to back off. Don’t be embarrassed to share your values and beliefs openly in front of their friends, just don’t demand compliance of your guests.
- Talk with your child with the same tone you would talk with a respected neighbor. Don’t talk down, order them, or act superior – your neighbor would see this as rude.
- Know when you’re not welcome. Feel the vibe of parental annoyance. Interpret this as their need for independence and differentiation rather than a message about your inadequacy. Freely give them space for their own private lives. Don’t snoop.
- Encourage lots of socialization. Talk about their friends kindly and directly. If a friend doesn’t appear to have a vision for their future, mention this and give some evidence. If a friend is showing investment and success, comment on this. Do not compare your child with another if that comparison is done with any judgment – show curiosity instead.
- Comment on the media messages. Balance the input. The media has very loud and persistent messages about what is right, cool, important, etc. Make sure your voice and values are equally as loud.
- Take them on adventures. Keep showing them new things, parts of the world, ways to create comfort, what makes a good vacation, new social events, etc. Ask them to reflect on what they thought and experienced.
- Help them listen to their thoughts so they can see if they are speaking the truth to themselves. If they exaggerate, talk of hopelessness, judge themselves, etc, point it out and offer a quick “hit and run” alternative perspective. Help them see that thoughts lead to feelings and beliefs that are not always valid or rational.
Your children have learned a great deal about life from you. Trust they will take your lessons and wisdom with them as they are launched into the world. They may not always act as you would and this is a great challenge to accept. But do what you can to help them remain open to your influence, your support, and your wisdom.