Don’t Believe the Hype, Parents and Teens Can Talk To Each Other

parents and teens can talk to each other via @MissLori

I graduated my first born and sent him off to Prep School this year. Before I sent him on his way though I asked him for an exit interview about my parenting. No, seriously, I actually asked.Although I consider it more of a midterm of sorts, as I still have two more teens left to finish cooking. Best to get a clearer sense of what I have done right and what I could use some work on to help me improve my parenting recipe. He gave me an A-. I think he was being deferential, but I will take it. He probably wanted to give me a B at the time because “ImWithHer” and did not “FeelTheBern” that he did. But in a way, that alone speaks to some successful parenting. I’ve raised a young man who not only can argue politics with me but actually wants to. PLUS as soon as the Democratic National Convention was over he got on board the Hillary train with me. Win, win!

When my kids were 8, 10 and 13 my eldest daughter would marvel at how open and talkative my son was with me. At that time she thought it was completely weird that her teenage brother chose to talk to his mother, about everything! Now that she is 15 she has changed her perception. In fact, she tells me she is grateful that I parent the way I do because so many of her friends can’t talk to their parents at all. I wish that was surprising. It seems like everywhere I look there are people, programs, studies and television shows telling parents, “teens don’t talk to their parents” and “parents can’t trust teens.” Over the years I have even encountered school administrators and teachers that foster this notion too. I have never bought into it though. Truthfully, when I first became a parent I didn’t really have an action plan, I was going by feel. However, being the daughter of a psychotherapist, having spent most of my life in theatre studying human beings and the art of communication, and working with children as an instructor and a performer I had some well-honed instincts to build from. Add some bravery, humor and a healthy dose of humility, and I have been cooking with gas. Don’t get me wrong, life is in no way perfect. I’ve “singed my eyebrows,” so to speak, more than a few times. But I’m super proud of what we have been able to accomplish, my kids and I. We are definitely a team.

Our teamwork didn’t happen overnight. It is the result of years of conversations big, small, late, early, in the car, by text, lying in bed, over a meal and more. All of those moments are what have brought us the trust and and street cred to feel safe with an open dialog. Believe me, I tried to pick out one or two specific big events, ones that I could point to definitively and say, “THIS! This is where the light switch flipped on.” But as my son said, “There wasn’t just one conversation. It took time. Our whole life time.” At least I think that is what he said. He was looking at his phone while answering me, so I’m not 100% sure.

Yes, my kids and I do talk to each other, but they also ignore me, and don’t do their chores, and mumble, and piss me off. They aren’t magical unicorns or mystical beings, they are kids, just like yours, and yet, we talk. They talk to me. Heck, they even encourage their friends to seek my counsel. And no, I’m not a fairy with magical teen hypnotizing wand either. I’m a single mom who yells more than she would like, and has gone to bed more nights than she can count thinking she is a failure as a parent. And yet again, my kids talk to me. We talk to each other. It’s doable. HEAR ME? It Is Doable.

I think the biggest obstacle to kids talking to their parents is other parents. If we adults would stop worrying about what other people will think about us, or say about us. If we would get over our amnesia about our own maturation and most importantly if we would sum up the courage to follow our instincts, even if those instincts go against the grain, I think more parents would be able to cultivate a communicative relationship with their kids into the teen years. And you know what? Our teens would be better for it, and, I’m willing to bet, more than a little relieved not to have to face all that comes with growing up all on their own.

The thing to keep in mind if you are currently a parent of young children is that the way you parent your kids now will greatly effect whether they will talk to you in the future. One imperfect parent to another, I offer you my suggestions. My recipe is for me and my kids, but maybe some of my ingredients will help you fortify your own recipe for success with yours.

Here are my 8 best parent to parent tips to get you started talking to your kids.

 

1.Put Your Tools Away

 

As parents our instinct to help, fix and solve is overwhelming. It’s understandable, but it can be a road block to open communication. Resist the urge to interject your opinion. Just keep your eyes and ears open. Be present.

 

2. Perfect Your Pokerface

 

As young children are getting to know their world, their bodies, and their emotions they are likely to ask questions or blurt out discoveries that could lead to blushing, sweating, laughing or gasping…by YOU! Keep your cool. Keep your wits about you. Don’t unwittingly sully their observation with an uncontrolled cackle from you. Make your children feel comfortable and supported in their exploration of their world, their bodies, their lives.

 

3. Give Your Children an Emotional Vocabulary

 

In order to have an open dialog your kids as they mature, they need words to describe what they are feeling. Help them develop their emotional vocabulary through role-play, face making games, books. The more they can identify what’s going on within themselves, the more capable they will be of discussing their observations with you.

 

4. Walk Them Through It

 

If you want your children to adopt your thinking walk them through your process. How do you evaluate a situation? How do you formulate a plan? Why are you mad? Why are you leveling this punishment? You aren’t restricted to the example of just your own life. Utilize situations from a book you are reading or a television show you are watching. Be clear. Be concise. And most importantly, be consistent.

 

5. Don’t Hide

 

If you are regularly keeping things from your kids, don’t be surprised if they do the same to you. Your kids don’t need you to be perfect or infallible, they need you to be present and dependable. Own your past and your present to help inform their future. Sometimes the greatest lesson you can offer is how you dealt with adversity not how you avoided it.

 

6. Keep The Hypocrisy to a Minimum

 

I firmly believe that “because I said so” is a legitimate parent response. But like anything that potent, it must be used in moderation. If you do more preaching than practicing, your kids are going to know. They will loose respect for you and that is a non-starter. Be the honorable person you want them to grow up to be. Own your choices and your behavior, leading by example. And never be afraid to apologize.

 

7. Stop Spelling the Word S-E-X

 

One of your jobs as a parent is to raise your child to have a healthy sex life. Yup! It is. Read the parenting contract. It’s in the fine print. That does not mean have a a single awkward TALK with them somewhere between birth and the time they graduate from high school. It means having many, many, many age appropriate conversations without sweating, hemming and hawing, cringing, stuttering or evading. I’m talking about you Parent. We need to get over our ‘ick” factor when it comes to sexuality and our kids. If we don’t then someone else will end up being the voice in our children’s ears.

 

8. Never Side Against Your Child In Public

 

This is the cardinal rule in my house, and how I have been able to cement my partnership with my kids as they have gotten older. When it comes to discipline, grades, activities, anything that involves outside adults, the deal is when in public you are their advocate, teammate, and spokesperson. Now that in no way means that when you get home you won’t blow your top if your kid did something wrong, but in public, always be on their side. Don’t lie or make excuses for them, just give them your full support and guidance. The caveat is this only works if your kids are completely honest with you. The great offense is kids allowing their parents to be caught unaware. I have always told my kids, “If you make me look like a fool or a duped parent, all you are really doing is hurting yourself.” If your kids diminish your credibility by withholding information, or lying to you, you can’t properly advocate for them. Bottom line kids should think of communicating with their parents as self-preservation, but they can only do that if you are truly their lifeboat.

 

SMILE On!

 

Miss Lori

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