The teenage years are perhaps the scariest of any parent’s life. Concerns about rampant drug use, STD’s, alcohol, depression, and other risks could leave any parent feeling terrified. Virtually every study on parenting, however, shows that the key to getting through the teenage years relatively unscathed is good communication and mutual trust with your teen. Parents who are involved, but not invasive, have the least problems with their teenagers. However, teenagers are notorious for being secretive, slamming doors, and refusing to talk to their hopelessly uncool parents about much of anything. Fear not, though; it is possible to keep the channels of communication open during the difficult teenage years.
Lay the Groundwork
Good communication with your teenager starts long before she enters the world of dating and proms. By the time your child is a teenager, you should have already discussed with her important issues like drug use, sex and sexuality, and expectations for friends, behavior, and school. If you haven’t discussed these things already, do it now! And remember that tough topics can’t be covered in just one “Big Talk.” You should be talking about them frequently, with increasing complexity and nuance, and continue talking about them right through the teenage years.
Become a Good Listener
It’s easy to forget what it’s like to be a teenager, but remember that your teen’s feelings are just as real as yours. You may not believe he’s really in love with that girl or that that fight with his friend is really the worst thing ever, but it’s important to honor your teen’s feelings. Communication is a two-way street, so remember to ask for your teen’s feelings on things rather than just sharing your own.
Engage in Negotiations
The terror instilled in many parents by the risks of the teen years can cause parents to want to lay down the law and adopt an authoritarian parenting style. Avoid this. Your child’s independence and critical thinking skills are increasing in leaps and bounds during these years, and it’s important to encourage these developmental skills. Talk to your child more about the rules; get her opinion on things, and explain why the rules are in place. You can tell her when you are afraid she might get hurt or concerned about friends, drug use, etc. Share your own fears and concerns and your child will share hers.
With the rare exception of a child who is in severe trouble with drugs or alcohol, snooping can only harm your relationship with your child. Parents who snoop engage in less open ended communication with their children. Furthermore, if you snoop, odds are good that your child will eventually find out. This will only cause him to hide things better and want to communicate with you less. Instead of reading diaries or emails, ask your child what he talks about with his friends.
Get To Know Your Child’s Friends
Your child’s friends are the window to her life. Peer relatioships are of incredible importance during the teen years, and the skills your child learns during these years will help her in her adult relationships. Even if you dislike some of her friends, it’s important to get to know them. Talk to them, include them in family discussions, and welcome them into your home. If your child gets into trouble and you have a good relationship with your child’s friends, they may come to you with their concerns, and you may be able to talk to them and get them to exert positive peer pressure on your teen.
Share Interests and Hobbies
The more fun things you and your teen do together, the more opportunities you will have to build trust and communication with your teenager. Give your child space to develop her own interests, but provide her with opportunities to do fun things with you. Go shopping, volunteer, or learn a new skill together. This will provide a great opportuity to talk and show your teen that you really do care about her and the things she cares about.