Helping Your Child Survive the Teenage "Rollercoaster Ride"
We all look back to our teenage years with nostalgia for the highs: a triumphant sports event, red carnations as the curtain closed on a musical, friendships that meant the world, graduation, a teacher who made an extra effort to care.
And yet we can’t help but remember the low points, so much so that most of us would never want to go back to being a teenager again. There may have been feelings of inadequacy in the classroom, on the field, among peers. Or there were unmet academic expectations, a tightly knotted stomach on test days, first dates, pimples, car accidents and questions about sexuality.
Today, as a parent armed with memory, you strive to make adolescence as painless as possible – and hopefully pleasant – for your son or daughter. Following are tips to consider when relating to your children on their rollercoaster ride through the teens.
You can’t fix everything.
Teenagers must solve many problems for themselves. You should, however, make yourself available to your son or daughter, ask questions and talk about your feelings. If you are open with them, they are more likely to speak freely with you.
Communication is key
Learn new ways to talk and listen with each other and practice them regularly. You’ll not only gain a better sense of whether to step in or back off with your teen, you will also help your teen become a better communicator outside the home. Just being able to talk constructively about emotional lows will make them more manageable for your son or daughter.
Be aware of more drastic changes.
Falling grades, a new group of friends, isolation and changes in eating or sleeping habits are just a few of the warning signs for eating disorders, drug addiction and depression. While these are serious problems, they are all treatable. Talk with school counselors and other health care professionals. Ignoring problems will never make them go away.
Be there whenever possible.
For parents who work long hours, it’s sometimes difficult to cheer on your teen from the sidelines, to get to parent-teacher conferences or just to be home for dinner. Set aside time whenever possible for your teen’s high moments, and make enough time to become aware of the lows. When you can’t be there, let your son or daughter know why and make a date to talk – even if it’s while you’re grocery shopping.
Good grades don’t always mean everything is OK.
It’s just as important to stay tuned in to your teen with the top grades as it is to the one struggling academically. Straight "As" don’t mean an easy adolescence. When we think back on our own childhood, we don’t remember an "A" fondly. We remember experiences. What kind of experiences is your son or daughter having?
Good communication is the aim with our children, but just how do we accomplish that? Following are two strategies – active listening and the use of "I-messages" – that open the door for better relations.
Active listening is a way of drawing people out. It entails feeding people’s messages back to them to better understand their feelings and help them come to their own conclusions. Active listening takes patience, so if you don’t have time, say so and make a point to talk later. Below is a conversation between a father and son, as cited in an educational textbook* that demonstrates the skill:
Allen: Do I have to get up?
Father: You don’t feel like playing baseball today?
Allen: I’ll miss messing around with my friends.
Father: You’d rather mess around with your friends than play baseball?
Allen: Yes. We have fun together.
Father: It’s not fun to play baseball?
Allen: No. Sometimes other guys razz me when I don’t get a hit.
Father: You don’t like being teased.
Allen: It makes me feel like I’m not a very good player.
Father: You’d like to be good at baseball?
Allen: Yes. I felt terrific that day I got that base hit.
Father: Would you like to practice before the game?
Allen: Hey, Dad, that’d be great. I’ll get dressed.
Good communication also entails letting your teen know how you feel. But even the best-intentioned parents more often give orders. In the situation above, the father could have barked, "Get up now." He could have warned, "If I have to tell you one more time, you’re not going to play baseball again." Or he may have moralized, "You have a responsibility to your team. Let’s get moving."
All these statements place the boy on the defensive. Nobody likes being told what to do, warned or made to feel wrong. The alternative is to use an I-message: "I wish our Saturday mornings were easier. This is frustrating to me. Is there something you would like to tell me about baseball practice?" This gives the teen an opportunity to understand how his actions affect others, and it opens the door for him to express his emotions.
*Adolescence: Continuity, Change and Diversity, Fourth Edition, by Nancy J. Cobb. Published by Mayfield Publishing Company.