January 9, 2013

My Simple Advice on Talking to Teens

As soon as a child is handed over to your care, you quickly learn how much you've yet to learn. I've crashed and burned so many times on this parenting path; but each lesson has been worth the bumps. Today, in honor of my eldest daughter's birthday, I thought I'd share some tips I've learned about talking with your teen. If you're parenting, aunting/uncling, mentoring or teaching children on the brink of teen-hood, I hope this'll give you a helpful start.
Don't talk, listen.
When my firstborn hit puberty, I wasn't listening very much. I wrongly assumed she didn't want to talk since she holed up in her room most of the time listening to music. But a wise friend pointed out that I should try being around, and that's when it all switched. I sat on my daughter's bed and just hung out. At first it was awkward and uncomfortable for us. She asked if I needed something. I told her I just wanted to spend time with her. Then I got quiet. *crickets* After a bit of silence, she began to chat about her music. Soon we were lounging on the bed side by side as she shared an earbud with me chatting about why she liked certain songs. That day I discovered it wasn't that she didn't want to talk; it was that I hadn't been listening. Don't assume your child doesn't want you around even if they're giving off that vibe.
Own your wrongs.
Teens are different than children, their growing cognitive ability makes it easy to see our faults and failings. When my teens started questioning me or reacting to a way I was acting, my first instinct was to blame them. I saw their actions as disrespectful or disobedient. But soon I realized they were simply more aware that I wasn't perfect. When I spoke with impatience or anger, they knew it wasn't right and their defenses went up. Once I started owning my wrongs and asking forgiveness immediately, I found their trust in me begin to rise. They were able to be honest about how I hurt them so we could repair the relationship. Being a parent is humbling in this way, it mirrors back your struggles. But owning our wrongs is the best way to demonstrate how to live an honest life.
Get interested in their interests.
This is a tough one. My girls like music I don't always like. Being interested in that is difficult. But I've found that usually there is something I can appreciate about what they love, even if it's just appreciating why they are passionate about it. My son became much more talkative when I began to sit with him among his Lego creations. People want to be known and loved for who they are, children are no different. This is one way to love them sacrificially and care about what they care about. I've been astounded at what this one step has taught me about my kid's hearts.
Let them teach you.
I know this sounds backwards, we're supposed to be the teachers, right? But there's so much your child may know that you don't. I've found when I allow my children to teach me something I may not know (often computer related) I also learn something about them. I've found them to be patient teachers (most of the time) and it shows that I value their opinion if I'm willing to listen to their lessons. It seems easier for them to listen to me when I've been a good student.
Be honest.
There were some things I wasn't allowing my kids to do that seemed confusing to them. I finally sat them down and shared honest stories from my past and why those particular activities were difficult for me to allow. Having the story behind the decision helped my reasons make sense; even if they didn't completely agree. I'm not necessarily an advocate of children knowing reasons behind every decision, but I think it's good to share as often as we can at this age.

What tips would you offer your parents if you could travel back to your teen years and advise them?

22 comments :

  1. Great tips! I have a 13 year old niece and I'm putting these in practice right away. Thanks for the insight. My little ones are still far from those years, but I will say one thing I'm trying to do now to keep and open communication channel with the 4 year old is to make sure I listen carefully to her and to validate her feelings no matter how silly I think they may be.

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    1. You've got a HUGE headstart with listening carefully and validating her feelings! I was a slow learner on that lesson.

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  2. thanks for sharing these thoughts. I am in much need of guidance and all of these seemed to convey what I'm wanting to communicate and will be challenging. I find myself doing a lot of talking and not a lot of listening...praying for lips that stick shut and ears that pop open!

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    1. Shelly, I think this is a difficult transition for any parent ~ challenging to change the way we've been parenting. Wishing you well with your sticky lips and open ears! :D

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  3. This post is for me today, I guess :-). I have two teenage-boys and you give a lot of good advice.
    Hopefully I will be able to go in that direction too!

    Thanks for sharing your experience

    Ilona

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  4. So glad you shared all this! Great advice and since my wee ones are on the verge of the teen years, I'm going to hold this close to my heart. :)

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    1. That makes me happy, Esther; I hope you'll bypass the mistakes I made. :)

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  5. These are terrific, Catherine. My daughter will become a teenager this year, but she's already exhibiting the traits of one. :) She's also starting to push back a bit, challenging me on certain areas, and sometimes it's hard to deal with. But it does make me look at myself through her eyes and I agree that it's a great lesson.

    I would also add to the listening part - if you're reading a book or on the Internet or on your phone and your child wants to talk to you, put the book/phone/computer down and give them your undivided attention. This lets them know that you value them and want to hear what they have to say. I've tried really hard to do that with my daughter and it works well.

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    1. That's such a great addition, Melissa, and good reminder to me. It's hard to stop in the middle of what we're doing, but you're right; it sends a strong message that they are important.

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  6. I am filing your wisdom away for my future children! Such great advice. <3

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  7. Good and honest advice here Catherine. Raising teenagers is difficult. I am done now, but if I could go back I would have done a lot more of number 1...listen more and definitely talk less.

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    1. Lisa, I think we all would improve #1. I'd love to hear your wisdom. :)

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  8. yes, to try and connect more. I would like to, thanks for the advice, it's very good for me! Heather x

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    1. Connection is such a big thing and would be sage advice. So glad it was good for you.

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  9. I don't have any teens (or kids yet) but thinking back to my own days as a teen, I think these are awesome pieces of advice. :)

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  10. found this interesting to read and agree with your points :)

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  11. Beautiful thoughts, brought tears to my eyes...sweetness.

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    1. Thank you. That means lots coming from you! :)

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