Tips On Talking to Teens
I am now on teen number seven, so I figured I share a few of the things I learned along the way. I hope it helps!
1. Stick with the facts and make them practical. One of my children was on a sports team where many of the players did drugs. He was behaving and making good choices so we allowed him to remain on the team. One day he came home and tried out the statement, ‘I don’t see why drugs are illegal.’ It became obvious that this was the theory that his new friends had bought into. Instead of focusing on all the harm drugs can do we decided to be practical. We did not leave out the harm they do, but it was not our main focus. Remember, no teen likes his friends to be completely wrong; there is a loyalty there, and so far in their drug careers it at least looked like these boys were doing drugs and doing fine. Later he would see them lose jobs and destroy their lives, but not yet, so we were fighting his limited perceptions which told him we were wrong, people who do drugs do just fine. Instead we chose to emphasize that fact that, right or wrong, drugs are illegal and if you get caught that will be a stain that will damage your chances of getting hired for the rest of your life. The price is too high to risk it if you want to succeed in life. (And he did want to succeed.) Find a reason your child cares about and make that your main point.
2. Give them reasons upon reasons for not doing things. When talking about premarital sex we emphasize not only the STDs, but every aspect of difficulty that comes with having a child out of wedlock. We also emphasize that a boy is not caring for a girl by potentially putting her in a position where she will have to face her parents alone (even if they tell them together, they are not married so she will eventually have to be alone with them). Bringing a baby into the world should be a time for hugs and congratulations, not a time of stress wondering how you are going to manage. By giving them multiple reasons you increase the chances that they will find a reason that truly matters to them. Unless they believe they should wait, they will not succeed in denying themselves, nor will they understand the need for birth control. In adopting older children we learned the importance of ‘buy-in.’ Unless the teen truly believes it themself, they will only wait until they think they will not get caught to do it.
3. Maintain a strong relationship with them. This does not mean that you need to smother them, but there should be relaxed family time that occurs regularly when you talk about everything and nothing. If the only time you discuss things is when you feel the need to talk to them about something uncomfortable they will not listen. The situation will prove so uncomfortable that their only focus will be, ‘Can I go now.’ A strong relationship with your teen makes these talks easier, and that involves spending time, much time, with them. (It’s the only reason I see for fishing!)
4. Handle the little issues well. If you over-react when they dent the fender you can be sure they are not going to come to you when they are being tempted by drugs and sex. You are not a ‘safe’ person, and they don’t like being yelled at. Sure, there are times to yell. Two of my teens ran into a building as it was being torn down for fun. We got them out and the lecture was pretty intense. But they were going to die from thinking like that. Most situations are really just minor inconveniences. When you blow them out of proportion what you say is, ‘I don’t have the time or the patience to help you when you mess up.’ It gives your teen the impression that they have to be prefect, which they are not, so they learn to hide things from you instead.
5. Help them define their goals. Teens with goals tend to do less self-destructive things than teens without goals. They do not want to mess up their chances of the glorious future they see themselves having. Talking about careers, having them job-shadow, and getting them on the path early helps. They may change paths, but they see themselves as being able to achieve, and that is important.
6. Strengthen their self-esteem. Find ways to give them confidence. Lies and flattery do not do this. (They’re not that dumb!) Succeeding in things that are important to them does. Find something they like and are good at and allow them to invest time in it. This may also mean that you invest time in it. Sitting in the hot sun all day to see your child run for less than five minutes is indeed a hard way to spend a Saturday when you have other children and a million things to do, but it is worth it to them. Volunteer work (helping others) also helps them to see themselves as a worthwhile human being. Believing they can do meaningful things, and achieve what they thought was not possible helps them feel good about who they are. This will help them to resist peer pressure, as they are no longer placing all of their worth in their friend’s opinion of them. Now, if they are bad at sports, this may only put them in a position where they feel the need to be part of the team any way they can, and puts them at risk for doing whatever the other teens want in order to please them. For this reason I like the martial arts, since, in a good do-jang, the only one you are truly competing against is yourself. Anyone can achieve rank if they try hard enough.
7. Let them know they are loved. This can be hard since they are naturally pulling away from the family and are on their way to adulthood. Figure out what they like to do and make sure you do it as a family. Pay attention to them while they talk. Treat them like you would want them to treat you.
8. Begin to treat them more like an adult and less like a child. This involves increasing their responsibilities (laundry, getting up on their own etc), but it also involves asking them their opinion and including them in conversations about things that affect them. When they marry you will need to compromise in order to fit everyone’s wants and needs into what the families are planning to do together. It helps to start practicing now, before there are ‘in-law’ issues, because spouses do not think they need to jump every time you speak (and they are right). Your teen also learns to work around your needs, so they do not get to be little dictators either. Practicing young makes later in life more enjoyable, and there are less fights. Too often a parent has put their foot down and demanded family time when the teen had other obligations (work, team practice etc). If given enough notice and they see that an effort was made to rearrange things so that there would be minimal inconvenience to them, the teen might gladly rearrange things, and miss some other things. Telling them that they will do it at that last minute and then complaining about their attitude is a recipe for disaster. They are older and have commitments to other people now. A little advanced notice and inclusion in the planning is not unreasonable.
9. Demonstrate a good attitude. If you are always complaining and grumpy how can you expect them to be any different? If you get your feelings under control, and learn not to blow up and lash out at those you love, only then can you expect them to do the same. Do you remember what it felt like to be a teen? The intensity of your emotions is at a peak during this time. If the parent is not demonstrating a good degree of maturity themselves then their is no hope that the teen will follow suit, and your house will be miserable.
10. Respect your spouse and those around you. Your teen learns by example. They will not respect your spouse, or others if they watch you slam them every time you get upset, even if it is behind their backs. Clean up your own act, and then you can help them clean up theirs.
11. Now is the time for ‘natural consequences.’ When they are adults, they will need to face the consequences for what they have done. Ease them into it by starting now. Natural consequences work too because it is not just you grounding them, but a very real result of what they have done. For instance, if they leave tools out to rust, they clean them up or buy new ones. If they get traffic tickets so their insurance rates go up, they now pay for their own policy. If they use every towel in the bathroom, then they need to do a load of laundry. You see how this works?
I hope this helps. But remember, every child has free-will. They will not always do what you want. Good luck with that!