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Teenagers are an interesting group. They are in a version of an adult body, but they are still kids. Research shows that most brains aren’t fully developed until we are 25, so even though teens want to be treated like adults and do their own thing, they aren’t ready for that. They still need their parents.
The problem is teens don’t like to talk to us, and we tend to take it personally. It can be frustrating when answers to “how was your day?” range from “fine” to “I don’t know,” or even the dredged shoulder shrug. We tend to give them their space and privacy and move on to the other 20 things that need to get done that day.
We need to find ways to change that. The combination of teen hormones, depression, suicide, bullying, and social and school pressures is too much for them to bear on their own. Teens may no longer run to us every time they have a boo-boo like a scraped knee, but they have emotional boo-boos every day whether we realize it or not.
So how do we work on that?
First, don’t wait until you notice a significant change in your tween or teen before starting to check in, but don’t go the “sit down, let’s talk” route, which never works. It’s awkward for everyone involved. Instead, try doing what their kids want to do and when chatting: Share their experiences, whether it’s about what life was like when you were a teen, what challenges you faced, what dramatic events top your memories, whatever. The goal is to open up to your kids to begin to create that tween-to-parent open relationship. This will help facilitate normalizing the tough conversations to be had down the line.
Tips for connecting with your tween or teen
- If schedule allows, get up with them in the morning before school to help them set their day right and be there when they get home to talk. Take them to school, if possible.
- Know who their friends are in real life and online.
- Talk about the tough stuff. Built-up emotions will explode in one way or another. Creating a family culture where everyone can talk about anything will help children stay emotionally healthy through the challenging teen years.
- Make sure your teen asks you for permission to do things instead of letting them tell you they are doing them. This helps maintain a level of respect and may help them be more likely to make better choices.
- Make sure parties have parent supervision.
- Know who is sliding into their DMs (direct messages on social media). In other words, know what kind of dating and sexual relationships they are having. Instead of just making sure they are using protection, make sure they are protecting their hearts as well.
- Check in on their happy meter. How are they doing mentally and emotionally?
- Make sure they care about kindness. We were aware of how our children were treating others and how they were being treated when they were little. We’d get teacher emails if our child wasn't kind. Character education continues and grows into the teen years and gets extremely important with a digital presence.
- Remember that family dinners, vacations, and weekends are just as important as when they were little. They may say they want to be alone in their room or stay home but would feel left out if not included.
- Set screen time and alone time limits. You would never let your child watch their iPad all day or stay in a room with the door closed so why do we let our teens? Alone time is necessary for adolescents, but too much breeds isolation.
What’s your list? What are some things that you did with your 10-year old that you don’t do now that you feel like needs a comeback? The way we implement these things will change throughout the years as our child matures. Letting our children grow in independence is vital, but it’s gradual and comes with a lot of education and healthy parent-child relationship time. If something isn’t working, don’t stop just readjust. Being a parent of a tween and young teen takes a lot of humility on our part. It doesn’t feel good to have eyes rolled at you or be yelled at or disrespected, but we need to stay strong rather than retreat and we will make it to the other side.
Kacee Bree Jensen is the founder of Let's Talk Teens, a place parents and teens can go to ﬁnd resources and tools to navigate the modern world we are living in. Kacee is a youth advocate, speaker, contributor, parenting coach, and mom of four including a teen, who has spent the last 16 years helping families, schools, and communities across the country navigate the ups and downs of the teen years.