As parents, we tend to look towards the teenage years with a sense of dread. We are aware that this is the age at which our children begin the painful process of separating themselves from our families and strike out on their own. They develop friendships with people whose families we don’t know, and they begin to drive themselves to all of the places that they previously depended on us to take them.
Adolescence is not an easy time for kids or their parents, but it’s a necessary part of development. The best thing that you can do for your teen is to give them room to grow and figure out their own place in the world, while remaining a consistent source of support and encouragement. Although most teens would be reluctant to admit it, they need to know that you will love them in spite of their sometimes questionable choices, and that they can come to you for advice regarding any issues that come up. So how do you manage to hold on to a relationship with a child who no longer wishes to be treated like one? Keep reading; we’ve gotten some great suggestions from parents, teens and even mental health providers on how you can foster a new type of relationship with your adolescent.
It usually begins in junior high. Suddenly your kid has become more involved outside of the home than in previous years. She has friends whose names you’ve never heard, and she may be reluctant to invite them to your house. What’s a parent to do? It’s tempting to play the enforcer, to demand answers about where your child is spending her time and who she’s with. However, research has shown that taking that tactic could backfire. Some suggest that parents use their adolescent’s friends as a buffer to reconnect with her. In other words, don’t go straight to your teen with complaints of not spending quality time together, just schedule some, invite other kids, and let the fun blossom. Host a sleepover, stock up on pizza and popcorn, and try to get a feel for this group of kids. Chances are the other teens will be respectful of you and grateful for a safe, welcoming place to spend their time. They may even encourage your child to appreciate the blessing of a supportive relationship with their parents. Imagine that you bring out a movie that you know he is dying to see. In front of his buddies, he scorns your choice and says he doesn’t want to see that stupid movie. One of his friends, who maybe doesn’t have a great relationship with his mom and dad, tells him that he should be thankful to have a parent who cares enough to invite his friends over and provide them with food to eat and movies to watch. Your son will probably look at you in a new light, knowing that not everyone is as lucky as he is.
Dr. Amanda Boeke of Pinnacle Pointe said “I think that it is important for parents to do their best to become self-aware. I see a lot of parents struggling with fear and misunderstanding, when it comes to relating to their teenagers. It’s important for you to help them figure out a way to solve their own problems.” She went on to explain that one of the best ways to get involved with your teenaged children is to find out what they are interested in and get involved with them.
I had the pleasure of speaking to Jennifer Sellers, a local mother who practices martial arts with her entire family. I asked her to speak with me about why her family, which includes two teenage girls and a preteen son, has chosen to study martial arts together. “Our entire family signed up for taekwondo after our son started. We decided it would be great exercise for us all. The biggest benefit for me as a mom was gaining a common link with my daughters, who are now 13 and almost 16. Most of the time I am the typical mom of a teenager – I know absolutely nothing! On the taekwondo floor, we are all on a level playing field. We’ve found a common ground.” Mr. and Mrs. Sellers get the benefit of regular exercise as well as knowing exactly what their kids are up to and who they’re spending time with. In addition, the girls are seeing their mother gain valuable skills in self-defense, which is providing them with a strong, influential role model to look upon as they ease into adulthood themselves.
Many teens and pre-teens would be embarrassed by mom or dad wanting to spend time with their friends. For those kids, you might think about planning a special night in which the two of you can do an activity that you both enjoy, and possibly squeeze in a conversation as well. Ideas for this type of night are unlimited – try to choose an activity that you know your son or daughter is already interested in trying or enjoys. It should be something that you can do together – popular ideas in my home for nights like these are boardgame and movie nights, a trip to a museum and a nice lunch out, and taking a friend or two to the bowling alley for a few frames and a pizza. The important thing to remember is to not focus on the activity, you’re trying to build a relationship and that cannot be done in a couple of hours. Your teen’s life is rapidly changing and she needs to know that you are available for her to come to when she has a problem. This isn’t an assurance you can give with words, you need to back it up with actions.
According to Dr. Boeke, adolescence is sometimes referred to as “the time of turbulence.” She said, “It’s normal for teens to be really moody and to challenge authority. I think that’s hard for a lot of adults to accept and contend with, but kids have to go through that process to form their own identity.” If we, as parents, can gain a better understanding of what our teens are going through and can be there for them as
a confidant and a support system, it will help to guide them through this difficult period while preserving the close relationship you’ve spent years building.