As a parent and someone who works with parents and youth, I understand that raising a child is challenging. Especially when your children begin to reach those often dreaded teenage years. Do you remember your teenage years? The “rebel without a cause years,” or “I have arrived and have figured out everything about life in 16 years; what you old folks have yet to figure out.”
Now of course, I’m saying this with tongue in cheek but think back to your teenage years. Did you always listen to your parents? Of course not! Did the sound of your parents simple questions like “how was school,” instantly trigger a defensive reaction? Probably. I remember, as a teenager, the shorter and quicker the conversation the better. The communication often could be summarized like this:
“How was school today?” My answer would usually be “fine.” The follow-up question wasn’t met with much enthusiasm either. “What did you do in school today?” My answer was a short and smug “work.” Short, sweet, and to the point. Hopefully enough to stop communication immediately and proceed with teenage life.
Over the years, I’ve had consistent dialogue with my now teenage daughter on a number of topics that have ranged from making good choices to following your passion. I also coach parents on effective communication techniques ranging from the early years to young adulthood. While there will always be growing pains in raising children, the hope is to always install values that will help them develop into successful human beings. I reflected on the many conversations I’ve had with my daughter and the joy in seeing those conversations come to fruition. Recently when we went to tour colleges of her interest, I realized how much our conversations paid off and how she internalized our discussions. Watching my daughter go through her thought process in generating the factors that were important to her, made me proud to see that all those conversations actually did make a difference. She was thoughtful, insightful and humorous during the tour which made for a great couple of days. I coach parents to create a non judgmental, trusting and safe environment so the lines of communication stay open. This environment makes it easier for your teens to come to you, even when they’re fearful, uncertain, or unsure. The ability to be a sounding board for your teens, and someone who they trust, is invaluable in their development process. You are often modeling the type of relationships they will have throughout their life.
So here are 7 must have conversations to have with your teenagers:
- Enjoy Life– Have fun and surround yourself with positive people. Knowing who your teens biggest influencers are is important. But teaching them the importance of surrounding themselves with positive people is more important.
- Decision Making– The decisions we make ultimately can change the course of their life. Allow your teen to hear some of your experiences as a teen. If you are honest about the peer pressure, difficulties and regrettable decisions that you made, they will be more open to confiding in you about theirs.
- Asking Questions is Always a Good Thing– Let them know that nobody has all the answers. So make it safe for them to ask questions about any topic (sex, drugs, etc). This “safe space” will allow for open dialogue with your teens. If they don’t learn from you, they will learn from someone else.
- Be Kind and Giving – Who have you helped other than yourself? Be nice to people and treat people with respect. Highlight the joy of selfless service and giving of yourself without expectation of pay back. We do things like feeding the homeless on the holidays but also stress the importance of having a giving spirit daily.
- Education Vs Certification– Speak to your children and encourage them to follow their passion. Allow their non attached creative spirit to sour. A degree opens doors and is important for opportunities. But encourage them to invest in an education they’re passionate about. A degree is a piece of paper that opens doors, but an education is sustainable, rewarding and lasting.
- You Are Great Just As You are. Teach your teens that they don’t need to look, sound or act like anyone else. Encourage them to be themselves and embrace the gifts that make them special. Show them the importance of self-improvement and being the best version of themselves.
- Make New Mistakes. Parents, admit when you’re wrong and discuss the importance of learning from your mistakes. Nobody is perfect and we all make mistakes; but try to learn from your mistakes and use it for positive change.
Parenting teens is never an exact science and can be a challenge. Try to think back to your teen years, and see how your experiences can have a positive impact on the conversations you have today with your teenager.
What conversations, not listed above do you have with your teens?