Communicating with teens is so critical, but it's not unusual for parents to check out during these crucial years. Some moms and dads wrongly believe they're no longer needed in the day-to-day lives of their kids. They turn their attention to their careers, hobbies, and personal lives, thinking their adolescents want to be left alone. Teenagers, though, need to know they have mom and dad's unconditional love, support, and acceptance during this awkward and scary time as they transition from children into young adults. They need to know they matter in their families as the rest of their world becomes bigger and more indifferent.
Communicating with teens means you must be present because adolescents will open up on their schedule, not yours. If you're too busy and stressed out, you won't be available when your teen comes to you and wants to share her thoughts and feelings. You may react with judgment, exasperation, and frustration, and she'll make a mental note to self: Mom and Dad are not the ones I can turn to in my time of need. That's why, even in the teen years, it's extremely important to eat a relaxing dinner together as a family. This is the time set aside each day to touch basis with one another with no cell phones, no i-pads, no television, and no headphones.
Communicating with teens means letting them know they matter. Don't fall into the routine of being the all-knowing adult: dispensing advice, giving lectures, and nagging. These behaviors make teens feel inferior and incompetent. Instead, ask them for advice about technology (what parent doesn't have questions from time-to-time about apps, blogs, emojis, etc.). Let them be the experts and teach you a thing or two.
When communicating with teens today, it's also essential for parents to get their heads out of the sand. It's a different world – a lot more brutal. If you haven't looked at comments online, you don't appreciate how uncivil and cruel written communication has become. You don't see how adolescents deal with an assault of words on a daily basis. Whether it's directed at them or someone else, it affects their mental and emotional health. If you can't get them off social media, at least talk with them on a regular basis about how insane it all is—how people become heartless behind a keyboard and how important it is to interact with folks face-to-face.
Communicating with teens means being porous, receptive to new ideas and a changing world. If you're dismissive of what's happening with teens and their sexual identities, their love of rap and hip-hop, and their interest in veganism, socialism, and animal rights, you become just an old fogey to them. They shut down and become isolated, depressed, anxious, and even suicidal.
Thanks for your question. I, too, had parents who checked out when I was an adolescent, so I'm very mindful not to do that with my teenage sons. My 17-year-old came out to me last year. I was so grateful that I had kept the lines of communication open and he felt safe enough to tell me.