How Parents Can Stay Involved with their Teen or Tween
Research consistently shows that teens with involved parents are more likely to do better in school and less likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as drugs, crime and sex. That sounds great, but anyone who has ever had a teenager (or preteen) in their household knows that “staying involved” with them is no easy task. Clearly building open and trusting relationships with teens is important and makes the child feel valued, which means they will be more likely to respond to you. But between the eye rolling and the rebellion and the know-it-all attitude, how does a parent establish a healthy relationship? We have come to your rescue with a list of ways that parents can stay involved with their teens.
Schedule time for you and your child.
Establish a weekly routine of communicating with your child. You absolutely cannot wait for an invitation from your teen – it will never come. You are the parent, and you must work hard to keep the lines of communication open. Finding that routine time will be different for every family. Some parents establish a weekly routine of doing something special, such as going out for ice cream. Other parents use the time cleaning up after dinner or right before bedtime to catch up. For very busy families, write an appointment with your child on your calendar, and most importantly hold yourself to it. It can be short, but you cannot cancel!
Catch your child doing something right.
Parents tend to focus on the bad things our kids do. “Catching” your child doing something right, then offering a compliment, can encourage good behavior and keep the communication lines open. Affirming words and encouragement makes everyone feel good.
Prove you’re listening: Ask questions.
Become an active listener. One of the best ways to show you are listening is to ask follow-up questions. If you’re really listening, you will know things about your teen, such as her favorite classes, his best friends, her worst enemies, and his biggest fears. Your child will know if you are really paying attention to them or not. It may only take 15 minutes a day of your undivided attention to learn about your adolescent’s daily events.
Recognize that most teens have a time of day that they are most receptive to talking… it is usually not first thing in the morning. Although the time may not be convenient to you, it would behoove you to figure out when they are most likely to gab and make sure you’re available. If you rarely listen to your child when he or she wants to talk, your child will be less likely to open up when you really want to connect.
Be sure to let your teen speak his mind, even if you disagree with him. If you listen to him, he will be more likely to listen to you when you have things to say. And remember that nothing turns a teen off faster than judgment or criticism. Try to ask them questions that will help them think through a problem, rather than tell them what they are doing wrong. And when you do have a suggestion, don’t push for a response. Wait. Teens need time to process information.
Post a family calendar and have family meetings.
A good way to keep your family connected is to have a space in a central location where family members write down all of their meetings, appointments and activities. In this way, you can better monitor your child’s plans as he or she gets older and more independent. In the meantime, your child will feel more connected to you simply by knowing where you are. It is also a good idea to hold regularly scheduled family meetings to provide a forum for discussing triumphs, grievances, projects, questions about discipline, and any topic of concern to a family member. It’s a good idea to set a few rules for the meetings, such as using kind words, taking turns to speak, and no interrupting. To get resistant children to join in, combine the get-together with incentives such as pizza or give them a special role in the meeting, such as referee when it comes to interrupting.
Create rules, then enforce them.
Rules are the boundaries that every kid, even a teenager, needs. Don’t set rules you do not intend to enforce. It is important that teens know exactly what is expected of them and the consequences for breaking the rules. It would help significantly if you sit down with your child and discuss what rules should be in place. You can let them have input into the rule-setting and spend time explaining the reasons for your decisions. This shows respect to your child, lets them understand your reasoning, and generally results in a better likelihood that they will obey. After discussing the rules, you may even want to write them down to avoid discrepancy over what was said.
Regularly share a meal with your teen or tween.
Teens who report eating meals with their family are less likely to be overweight or use drugs. Even if you cannot always eat with your kids, maybe you can find a few days a week when you can. Turn off the television, prohibit cell phones, and focus your attention on each other. Meals are a great opportunity to talk about the day’s events, to unwind, reinforce and bond. If you find that no one is sharing things about their day, then have a topic in your back pocket to throw out, such as a current event.
Share your day.
We cannot expect our teens to open up to us if we’re close-mouthed ourselves. If you are always trying to extract information from your teen, but never offer your own stories, you will be met with silence when you try to talk to your child. One way to help your child open up is to share a brief story about your day first, especially if you saw something funny.
Write your child a note.
Writing notes to someone is a great way to show you care. You can slip a note in a book they are reading that tells them something you like about them. Slip a written prayer under their pillow. Give them a thank-you note (for doing a chore without complaining or helping a friend or saying something nice) at the dinner table. Written words of affirmation will help teens feel valued.
Ask for advice.
No, we do not mean that you should consult your child about your workplace problems or financial woes. However, everyone likes to know that others are interested in their opinions. Ask your teen what you should wear to their school event. Have them weigh in on how to redecorate the living room. Include them in small decisions around the house and then act on their advice.
Give your teen family responsibilities.
Assign your teen a chore that helps the whole family, like organizing your home recycling effort or caring for the dog. By giving your child responsibilities you are implicitly saying you trust his or her competence. You will help prepare them for adulthood by developing their life skills and by giving them confidence that they can accomplish these tasks and add value to the household.
Engage your child on their “turf”.
Schedule fun activities that fit your child’s interests. Treat your son or daughter to a movie they want to see and ask questions afterward about the film’s themes. Listen to music your child enjoys and keep an open mind. Commit to a vigorous outdoor activity they’ve been wanting to do (mountain biking, whitewater rafting, horseback riding) over the weekend. Read a book your child likes and discuss it together afterwards. Play hoops at the park or go shopping at the mall. Exercise. Whatever your child is into, join him or her.
Monitor your child.
Don’t be afraid to ask where your kids are going, who they’ll be with and what they’ll be doing. Get to know your child’s teachers, coaches, and their friends and parents so you’re familiar with their activities. Be able to answer these four questions at all times: 1) Who is your teen with? 2) Where is he or she? 3) What is he or she doing? and 4) When will he or she be home?
All adolescents will try new experiences, and even make some mistakes. That is why it is up to parents to provide them with the experiences that will help them make good decisions. Staying involved does take a parent’s energy, time, and attention, but the outcomes are well worth the effort!