Unfortunately, children don’t come with an instruction manual…
If they did, raising them would be much easier.
The teenage years are often characterized by silent treatments and occasional rebellion. Which isn’t something most parents look forward to.
But setting yourself up for successful teen parenting is often (usually) done years in advance. So start practicing now, even if your child is still years away from being a teenager.
Here’s a bit of encouragement to help you take the experience one day at a time and learn how to bridge the communication gap.
As your children grow from toddler to youngster to tween to teen, words usually start getting lost in translation. And from the blank stares you probably get (at least occasionally) from your teen, you’d think your words weren’t even audible.
It’s not easy to maintain or repair the flow of communication with your teen, but it’s important to try to preserve your relationship as he grows into an adult. The choices he makes during these years will have a major impact on his future.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
1. Watch your body language. How you move says a lot about you. For example, a tired person tends to slump. When angry, your jaw muscles tighten and your eyes narrow.
Believe it or not, teenagers are adept at interpreting body language. Your body language can betray you when you’re talking with them, even if your words don’t. Keep your posture open and honest. Avoid crossing your arms, looking away from them, or squirming in your seat.
Sitting beside them instead of facing them can also mitigate potential conflict. Good sales people like to sit next to their prospect rather than across a desk or table to demonstrate unity and being on the same team. No reason you can’t do the same.
2. Make and keep eye contact. Looking away from the person you’re talking to implies that you’re either hiding something or not at all interested in what they have to say.
Your teenager will shut down emotionally and shut you out if he suspects that you aren’t tuned in to him. Sit comfortably and give your teen your undivided attention, with consistent eye contact. It lets him know that you care.
Likewise, avoid multitasking (whenever possible) while talking with your teenager, especially during serious conversations. Texts and emails can wait… you only have a limited time with your teen.
3. Keep your emotions in check. Remember back when you were a teenager? Some of the things you said to your parents were designed specifically to freak them out and get a reaction.
Teenagers will push your buttons, often as a defense mechanism. Don’t go overboard and get upset. They (often subconsciously) target situations they know will make you mad. Instead of reacting strongly, take a deep breath and ignore the taunt.
Do the opposite of what they expect, because at the end of the day, they really do want you to see through their ploy and help them deal with the real problem.
4. Ask them about their day. This technique works with spouses also. Even if your teen only grunts or responds with the obligatory “fine,” ask anyway. Your show of caring will go a long way to convince them that you actually are interested in the things they do and how they feel.
5. Be honest with them. If you don’t understand the situation they’re talking about, then say so. Being a parent doesn’t mean you always have to know exactly what to do and have all the answers. Kids know when you’re being insincere. Discuss the situation until you understand where they’re coming from. Your teen won’t mind explaining, as long as he knows you’re listening.
6. Allow them their privacy. This one is tricky. Since you know your children better than anyone else, you have to be the one to draw the line.
Teens value alone time as they go through the process of figuring out who they’re going to be. While the policy in your home may be that there are no locks on the doors, always show respect by knocking before entering their room. If they don’t want to be pressed about a situation, wait until they’re ready to talk about it (unless it’s urgent or they’re in danger of harming themselves or others).
7. Share your values and opinions. You have a lot more experience and wisdom than your teen, and sharing what you’ve learned can help ease their transition to adulthood. Make sure you impart your wisdom in a non-condescending and unthreatening way. Avoid creating situations where your child feels like he has to defend himself or his friends.
8. Do fun things together. Sure, there are serious issues to discuss and work through. But remember that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. And all seriousness and no fun makes your relationship with your teen way too one-sided. Help make life fun for them. Don’t relegate all the fun to their peer group, unless you never want to see your teen and have them engage with you.
9. Understand that their diet affects their attitude more than you realize. You are what you eat, and so is your teen. If they’re eating junky processed foods, their body will lack the nutrients it needs for mental and physical health. As much as possible, feed your family foods with high nutritional value and consider supplementing with omega-3 fish oils for brain health and mood support.
10. Make sure you’re all getting adequate exercise. It has a tremendous effect on mood. If you want your kids to be in a good mood, exercise is a critical factor. Studies show that it works better than anti-depressants, and without the side effects. Incidentally, it also enhances academic performance.
11. Keep them off prescription drugs. More people are currently addicted to prescription drugs than illegal drugs. Every drug you allow your child (or yourself) to take can have drastic and potentially life-threatening side effects.
It’s downright scary how commonplace mind-bending drugs are today. Ritalin and other ADHD drugs can have tragic outcomes, as they’re linked to murder and suicide. And once on them, your child will need to be carefully weaned off them with the help of a natural physician or other knowledgeable doctor.
If your child gets plenty of exercise, you won’t have as many attention problems, and you’ll have far fewer problems of all sorts. This is especially true of boys. Whenever my boys were getting antsy and aggressive toward me or each other, I had them go outside and run a designated route through our neighborhood that was about a mile long. When they returned, they were ready to settle down!
Parenting a teenager takes thick skin, a willingness to be vulnerable, and lots of love. You will make mistakes, but whatever you do, don’t ever stop communicating.
As you already know, being a mother is tough, and sometimes life can be hectic and disorganized. The truth is, you don’t have to accept the chaos or resign yourself to the attitude of “this is just the way it is.” By God’s grace, you can purpose not to settle for anything less than His pattern for motherhood, and His pattern is victorious, triumphant, and glorious.
Now, you can journey with Leslie Ludy through the realities of motherhood. She’ll encourage, inspire, and equip you to be successful in raising your kids, managing your home, and keeping Christ at the center of your mothering. Written from the perspective of a mom who is currently “in the trenches” with several young children at home, she will help guide you to become a mother who is set apart for God’s purposes. Check it out here: Set-Apart Motherhood: Reflecting Joy and Beauty in Family Life.