Having a teen is requires another level of parenting that may never have been necessary before. Contrary to most opinions, teens have a lot of stress to deal with, which is why they may sometimes behave out of the ordinary. It may feel impossible to deal with school work, a social life, fellow peers’ judging, and bullying, as well as learning to love oneself – these are all challenges that face today’s teens. With the constant pressure of social media, the task just got even more monumental. Trying to figure out what your teen needs from you can feel almost impossible, and you may even sometimes feel as if you hardly know them anymore. But, there are some things you can try to ensure they always feel your presence and never think they’re alone – that said, here are some tips on how to stay involved in your teen’s life.
Keep the conversation going
The number one mistake most parents make is giving their teens unnecessary space; this is totally normal, seeing as it may sometimes appear as if they would rather be left alone. But, by always being connected with your teen, they may opt for going to you with their problems instead of keeping it to themselves and thinking you won’t understand.
Most families have that time in between work and school to squeeze at least 20 minutes of teen bonding time. That’s really all you need, and it’s something to shoot for. When your teen is grabbing breakfast in the morning, give them some love. Hug them and say, “Good Morning.” Make sure the first thing you say to them in the morning is something loving, and not a directive. “Go take a shower” is not the thing to say, even if they need one. They are still your baby, after all, and they may need to be reminded of the fact that your love is not dependent on whatever they are doing or not doing. Don’t let go of that hug until they break it up!
If your family is not the hugging type, how about creating a ritual that shows you see them: Set out their favorite cereal bowl. Cut them some fresh fruit. While they prepare their lunch and eat their breakfast, you can pour yourself a cup of coffee and sit with them. You know they will eat that breakfast in less than ten minutes. That’s not too much of your time. Sneak them a comic or a brain game with a pencil in their lunch sack. If they are having social issues at school, maybe this is something they can use as an icebreaker at the lunch table. If they won’t like that, how about placing their favorite energy drink or iced coffee drink in their school bag? That way, during the day, no matter what they’re dealing with, they’ll know you’re thinking about them.
According to a recent study teens, and most notably girls, whose parents don’t bother to communicate with them as they move into the middle and high school years, show higher levels of depression and anxiety due from alienation and distrust of their parents. It pays off to engage with your child so trust levels can be reinforced.
In that crucial morning time, slow down a bit. Sometimes teens need to see you relaxing in conversation instead of rushing around like a chicken with your head cut off. It models the importance of connecting with others. Ask them how they slept. “Good dreams? Bad dreams? What do you have planned for today? Anything good? Anything annoying?”
Whether they ride their bike to school, take a bus, or drive, be there to wave them off. It shows you care. If you can’t be there when they get back, leave out something good to eat or a note that you can’t wait to catch up with them. If you watch a series together, encourage them to finish their homework so you can have some ‘veg-out’ time later.
When your teen gets home from their day at school or work, you will need to be observant. This is a step you don’t want to miss. Pay attention to their mood: Are they low energy, dropping their backpack on the floor and plopping on the living room couch? Something might have happened that they really need to talk about. Are they chatty and super-hungry for snacks? They may want to share in something exciting that pumped them up. Do they avoid you and B line to their bedroom as soon as they enter the door? Time to respect their space. You can knock on their door to see if you can squeeze in some time soon to talk. See if they might want to grab a coffee at the cafe or a smoothie or boba drink and talk. Maybe they will go for a walk with you or go to the gym a little later.
Just knowing you will make time for them helps. When you have their attention, try asking them how their day was and if they are struggling with anything at the moment, school or social-wise. You can make yourself a bit more relatable by sharing things you may have struggled with when you were their age or sympathizing with them in a way that helps them understand what they’re going through.
For example: If your teen is saying they feel like the teachers are allowing the rowdy kids to take over. There’s no discipline at school, your teen says. Can you think of a time when you felt that way? Teens can best relate when given a parallel story from a parent’s childhood. They do better with real life stories versus abstract ideas. You can say, “Oh that’s the worst! I remember when I was a sophomore, and my high school Biology teacher was so clueless….” Then you and your teen can come up with ways to deal with those types of situations together. When you start to really have a bond with your teen, they will ask you how you dealt with the situation to see if the same solution will work for them.
Don’t forget to always eat dinner at the table. No electronics. This is prime time with teens and an excellent opportunity to check-in. Start with the question, “What was the funniest thing that happened today?” or “What did you learn today?” and see what comes up.
Know when they need help
Even though teenagers are actually very strong emotionally, sometimes they need an extra hand to help carry the weight that’s been weighing them down. You, as their parent, have been carrying them for their whole lives and are the one who has gotten them to this point. But, sometimes, they may need an objective opinion or someone who isn’t emotionally involved to help them understand what they’re going through. Luckily, there are plenty of excellent people and facilities out there who have made it their mission in life to help teenagers who may be struggling with certain things. Places like The Potter’s House Stone Mountain are dedicated to your child’s well-being and may be the best solution if you feel like your teen is going through something that may be out of your depth.
Counseling is another option. Public high schools have two kinds of counselors: academic and social-behavioral. Most involved parents have developed a relationship with their child’s academic counselor. They make sure your child has the right classes and the right number of units to graduate. They handle testing and high school logistics. But what many parents need to know is that the social-behavioral counselor is not just for the ‘troublemakers.’
Well-adjusted teens sometimes need help too. Life is life, and many teens go through huge life changes that are too tough to handle alone: divorce, moving, bullying, screen addiction, substance abuse, and peer pressure. If you find your teen is dealing with any of those things—even if they seem like they are on top of it—you can ask the administrative staff or academic counselor for a referral for counseling. School counselors are trained on the teen brain, and they might be able to help with free weekly or monthly sessions. They will be able to pull your teen out of class for a confidential session, and the counselor will give the parent notice of the meeting so you know your teen is being seen … and heard. If you don’t want to go through the school and you don’t mind spending the money, ask around for a professional family therapist who specializes in adolescents.
Leave the judgment
Few things make a teen clam up as quickly as judgment. They have a special radar for it, so be careful. Plus, every day they go to school, they have to deal with the teenage thought police: Quick quips: “Yeah, she doesn’t get it.” Loose accusations: “Dude, what’s up with your backpack? You totally hit my arm with that filthy beast.” And of course, basic, stupid comments like: “Nice hat.” Imagine coming home after being the brunt of one of those comments to your parents saying they checked your grades and you aren’t trying hard enough. Frame everything you say with love and logic.
Ensuring they have a safe environment to come home to can make the world’s difference to them after having a ruthless day at school. No judgment doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t face any consequences when making mistakes, but that they’ll be met with forgiveness and love instead of condemnation. Not judging your teen is what will ultimately ensure an honest and close relationship between you too.
These methods may help as a simple guideline when things get tough. After all, your teen will always stay your baby in your eyes, and you’ll always want what’s best for them, especially when times are tough.