Find out how you can make sure your teen hears your voice when they go out into the world.
In today's world of instant contact with peers and a constant connection to one's social media world, it is more important than ever to be sure that your teen hears your voice. When they are faced with a dilemma or a challenge in their world outside of the home, will they know what you would expect, will they know your thoughts, will they know your expectations?
Here are 5 ways to be sure your teen can answer all of those questions and hear your voice in their head amongst all of the other pressures and noises they are hearing:
1. Be sure your teen knows her own story.
Little kids love to hear the story of their birth or the day they arrived in a family. Teen's are no different. They need to know their story. They desperately want to feel a connection to their family. Sometimes that is to stand out and be different and that is OK. Mostly though, it is to feel a connection as they face huge changes in their own lives. Give them chances to hear funny, cute stories of themselves as babies and children. Give them new stories that they weren't old enough to understand or digest as small children. Give them a connection to their younger self. Sometimes a teens greatest strength was their greatest strength as a young child. Was your teen the most smiley baby? Was your teen stubborn and determined as a young child? Was your teen the roundest, chubbiest baby with an infectious giggle? Those stories may inspire your teen to gain confidence and a sense of connection to his social skills or may find his determination or maybe, if you are really lucky, your teen will smile and laugh a little bit more often!
2. Do they know who came before them? is there a connection to other generations?
Teens typically feel very removed from other generations. Their parents probably had no internet as teens, their grandparent s probably remember getting a TV in their home as a child, and their great-grandparents might even remember getting a telephone with a party line in their home! If a teen can understand how rapidly the world changed, they can start to grasp how rapidly it will change again. They can start to see themselves as bigger than just a teen. They can start to see the connection between the struggle unique to each generation and their own challenges. A modern teen can begin to feel a connection to something other than peers. Even if past generations weren't the role model you want for your teen that is ok, they can handle the family stories and decide for themselves what their story will be. They understand that they are a part of a greater, bigger story. They can hear the voices of not only you, but past generations too!
3. Give them a cheat sheet for quick decisions.
A teen's brain isn't fully developed until their early 20's and therefore, they are incapable of making decisions as quickly as they need to in the world. Find the delicate balance of giving your teen freedom to explore his world while limiting the amount of decisions they need to make rapidly. Talk to them about what to do in very specific situations. Give them the actual words to navigate many different scenarios. If they are at a party where they should not be, it is not enough to tell them to call you, no questions asked. It is important to give them the words and actions needed to get the phone call made. Maybe your teen calls in front of all of his peers and says "what did you want mom? No, I'm fine. (insert sarcasm and eye rolling to impress the friends) Oh hey, I forgot to tell you I got called back by that dude from dad's work". Little do his peers know, "that dude from dad's work" is the secret code to come and get me or demand that I come home or call parents to check on me, etc. The code can be anything, (how is Granny feeling today?, that cake you left on the counter was moldy, have some fun with it) but it should be discussed ahead of time so there is a cool way for your teen to let you know she is in trouble without having to make decisions about how and where to call. Think about other scenarios your teen may face and talk through the decisions and role play the potential solutions.
4. Establish routines that teach family members to be tuned in to each other's schedule.
Know where your teen is and whom he is with. Period. Not cool. Agreed. But necessary. No need to track their phones, or develop highly specialized spy technology. Ask them. Follow up on occasion as a spot check. That’s it. It is a polite way to behave in a family. Mom's and Dad's talk about their day; what they have special or deviations from the norm. Mom's ask little kids if they are having hot lunch or cold lunch. When a grown up is going to be late, they call so that no one worries. It is OK to ask where they are going and how long they will be gone. If their plans change, they check in. Set that expectation early on in your family.
5. Highlight what works and don't ignore what doesn’t work.
As your teen becomes an adult, she may have lots of new ideas and opinions to test drive and swirl around. They are developing a sense of who they are and what they stand for. Don't be afraid to have your own opinions about those things too. Highlight or compliment the opinions that you support, i.e.: it's nice to see you studying and caring about grades, I'm proud of you. Or I am glad you are such an independent thinker. But don't shy away from having an opinion that is different than theirs. Express your belief. Tell them your opinion. Respectfully. But tell them. If you hate tattoos and piercings, tell them. They may still get one down the road, but they should know what you think. If going to visit grandma is important to you, make sure they know it is important in your family. They don't have to love it, or agree that having the longest most boring meal on the history of the planet is a family obligation. But if it is to you, it is to them. That’s how they learn. That is how they grow. They need to know the expectation.