In some families, as teenagers enter the treacherous halls of middle school, communication with parents can slow to a trickle. Kids believe they’re the first people to have ever had these strange, troubling feelings and their parents certainly never had sexual feelings as intense as they do, because they are… (Pick one: old, out of touch, naïve, angry, old-fashioned. Probably not that one. It’s so last century.)
Kids today know way more about sex than their parents did. And they’re right about one thing: Life with social media has changed the playing field immensely. Your teens and early adulthood should be a time where you learn how to handle your emotions. Some kids try out a few personalities until they find one that fits. It’s this lack of self-understanding that leads to trying out more dangerous behaviors. Legitimate growth, maturation and healing start by talking.
‘But what do I say?’ you ask. Sometimes it’s what you don’t say.
At home, some parents are constantly taking their child’s inventory. They harp on their kids about their report cards, they make ‘suggestions,’ but that’s like saying a drill sergeant is suggestion it when he yells, “Get down and give me 20, soldier!” But constant critiques, the responsibilities and the levels of achievement some kids must live up to can be overwhelming. And if you’re the source of their stress, how are they going to tell you that? Your pontificating, even if it’s motivated by love, can be disheartening, demotivating and detrimental to their self-esteem.
‘So, what do I do?’ you say.
Turn the tables and ask your children to score your report card.
Experts agree the Parent Report Card is a novel way to encourage family
communication. Google ‘parent record card’ and you’ll find detailed examples you can download online. One caveat: Some of these examples are serious stuff that will probe the very gritty corners of your parent-child relationship. These evaluations are better left to families where communication isn’t the primary an issue.
Five tips for jump-starting communication with your kids by asking them to evaluate you.
- Keep it light: With interaction-shy kids, keep it conversational. Just ask your kid, “How am I doing?” Simple as that. Some kids might be slow to process the question. Give them 24 hours to come up with the response if they need it.
- Be a boy scout: You’ve got to be prepared for what you’ll hear. It will require you to keep an open mind. And don’t forget to wear your listening ears.
- Mirror, mirror: Don’t assume that what you heard was what your child said. Repeat it back to them, starting with “You feel like….” And don’t judge!
- Follow up: Now that you’ve opened the door, there’s no better time to ask, “What three things do you need or need me to do better?” Unmet needs and stifled emotions can lead to anxiety and depression which can lead to self-medicating and self-harm. These are dangerous intersections on a teen’s road to adulthood.
- Set a good example: We all have issues. All of us. Maybe you could benefit from talking with a therapist too. You’ll be modeling positive behavior for your ‘troubled teen,’ but this is also a chance for you to solve some of your own issues, to mature, to grow.
Think of it as an opportunity and you’ll do fine.