IT’S MIDNIGHT, WHERE’S MY SON? How can parents insure their teen’s safety while also allowing the teen the freedom he or she needs to learn to make appropriate choices on their own?
Answer: Effective communication is the key. In the summer, teens have more unstructured time to manage. Most adolescents like this time to just hang out, and be available to do “whatever.” This creates anxiety for the parents who feel more secure when they know exactly where their teens are, with whom, and when they will be home. There is no specific formula that will guarantee effective communication with your teen. Just as each child is unique and different, communication with each child has to be geared toward what that individual child’s personality. With kids, there is no “One size fits all.” However, there are some general guidelines that are helpful with almost all children. 1. Listen. This means really trying to hear what your teen is saying. Pay close attention to both the words and the body language, don’t interrupt, make corrections and or offer advice unless specifically asked. Your main goal in listening is to understand, and for any teen, being understood is one of the strongest building blocks for self-esteem. Kids who feel good about themselves are less likely to engage in behaviors that will be detrimental to themselves. Use reflective listening to simply reflect back what you hear them saying, without evaluative comments. This makes the teen feel heard without being judged, and makes it likely the teen will continue to share. 2. Be available when they are. Here’s where there are great differences in kids. Some like to talk as soon as they walk in the house, some only late at night, and many like to talk while engaging in another activity. Often kids are more open in the car or during a walk when there is less face-to-face contact, which can feel intimidating. It is helpful to plan time to be with your child doing something he/she likes to do without being parental. Just being together builds positive bonds that help your child feel comfortable in your presence, and therefore more open. 3. Negotiate differences. Teens are developing cognitive skills and the ability to reason, and respond much better when brought into the decision making process. This is a time when your approach should be less authoritarian and more collegial. Let’s take curfew as an example. You each have your own concerns that need to be addressed. With respectful discussion, it is possible to come to a compromise which reduces your anxiety while allowing your teen time with his/her friends on his own. For example, you can agree to a specific time, allowing for change under different circumstances especially when the teen checks in with you and lets you know where he/she is and with whom. 4. Avoid overreacting. Adolescence normally is a time for experimentation that is necessary for the teen to learn and to grow. They are going to make mistakes. Making a poor choice once does not mean all choices will be poor. There will be natural consequences which provide an opportunity for the teen to learn and make better choices in the future. We cannot create a world free from disappointment or hurt for our children. If we try to do this, we will deprive them of the opportunity to develop their own coping skills. What will be helpful is to be there for them when they make a mistake to listen sympathetically, letting them know we trust them to learn and only offer advice if specifically asked. Kids are much more likely to talk with a parent who is calm. 5. Be respectful and sensitive. Adolescents are often very sensitive and highly critical of themselves. If we are also critical, they will be angry or simply avoid contact with us. They need us to point out their strengths, to encourage them and provide the hope that tomorrow can be better. Even when the teen is being disrespectful, it is important that we remain calm so he/she will feel comfortable approaching us when the storm is over. 6. Be clear about rules. There will be a need for a few non-negotiable rules – like no alcohol, drugs, sexual activity or illegal behavior. Those rules should be stated clearly, without emotion and the consequences for violation should also be clear. The consequences should be reasonable and allow for “earning” a lighter sentence. When the focus on discipline is learning, the teen is more inclined to cooperate in the process. Unfortunately, short of putting our teen in a bubble, there is no guarantee that they will be 100% safe when outside our supervision. However, if we create and nurture an atmosphere in which they feel comfortable talking with us about anything, there is a much greater possibility that we will have the opportunity to influence them in a positive way. If we try to keep in mind the goal of maintaining an open channel of communication, we are more likely to behave in ways they will choose to emulate themselves.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_facebook][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_googleplus][/vc_column][/vc_row]