Written by Ivette Moutzouris
I have many parents complain to me that they just feel out of touch with their teenager. It seems that home life with a teenage son or daughter involves providing accommodation, food and transportation for them and sometimes little else!!!
Let me tell you that it is important to continue to bond with them even if you don’t particularly understand their world and believe it or not I have had many teenagers tell me (usually the more challenging ones) that they would like to have a better relationship with their parent(s), even if they express the exact opposite in their behavior!!!!
It’s never too late to start to work on your relationship and it begins with awareness and commitment.
The following is a list of points and challenges that will hopefully encourage you as a parent to be proactive in establishing a better bond.
- Spend time with your son or daughter. I know it sounds simple but one of the major factors in relationship breakdown that I have seen as a Psychologist/ School Counsellor and as a parent has been the lack of time that we invest into the lives of our precious teenagers. By this I do not mean the occasional family holiday (which is of course great) or the involvement in out of school activities, I mean actually having regular time together where the sole purpose is to allow you to get to know them better and meet them where they are at in their lives. In other words…do you know them, what they feel, what they like, who they hang out with, what their dreams are etc….I think you get the picture. A lot of parents tell me that they just don’t know what to talk about and that’s ok because initially creating a bond will be more about spending time together with few spoken words but a clear message of …. I am putting aside other commitments because I want to spend time with you. Words will come later.
- Show them that they are important to you. This can be expressed in various ways which include physical affection (e.g. hugs), verbal affection, increased listening and attentiveness, and of course as already mentioned setting aside time for them.
- It is important to create an environment at home that allows conversation and attention to flow more easily. This means that there needs to be regular times at home when there aren’t any distractions from electronic and entertainment devices. In other words…no TV or phone usage during dinner times. By doing this you are creating the space for conversation to take place and for all family members to be more attentive towards each other.
- Choose your battles wisely. It doesn’t help any relationship if there is always arguing and bickering. It is therefore important to think through what is not negotiable versus what you can let go or at least make less of a fuss about. Your teenager will be able to have a better relationship with you if they aren’t always expecting conversation to be negative and heated!
- Notice the ‘exceptions’. If you have a particularly challenging teenager it is helpful for them and for you to notice and praise them when they are actually doing something good or acting in a mature way. Everyone loves to feel good about themselves and children/teenagers need to feel valued by their parents.
- Use words that build up rather than words that tear down. By this I mean be encouraging and don’t call your teenage son or daughter any negative names. Unfortunately I have had a lot of teens tell me the names their parents call them…they include ‘stupid’, ‘dumb’, ‘fat’, ‘bad’ and so on. I think that as adults we don’t like to be called any of these names so we shouldn’t do that to our impressionable young kids. They often have a sensitive self- esteem and need time to develop the maturity to feel good about themselves regardless of what others say. Also they get enough name calling from social networking posts….and we have seen how hurtful and damaging that can be.
- Love their uniqueness. Sometimes this can be a challenge but it is important to value their differences as young people.
This is just a short list to get you started and hopefully encourage you to see the value in helping your young one to develop into a mature young adult. And hopefully an adult that has a relationship with mum and/or dad!!
By Ivette Moutzouris
Alpha Psychology and the Resilience Centre
*For additional information on understanding your teenager better look up www.andrewfuller.com.au