Parents and teens: You can be on the same team
Involve your teenage children when you’re setting expectation
By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by the Healthy Futures Initiative
As children learn, grow, explore their independence and face consequences for their choices, parents can manage the stress by having strategies in place for how to deal with difficult situations. In short, raising adolescents doesn’t have to be so challenging.
In Summit County, where the resort town atmosphere can normalize party culture, it’s especially important to talk to your children about marijuana and other drugs, sex, alcohol and other subjects that may be uncomfortable. Therapists and parents agree that it’s also important to give your children some freedom as they march toward adulthood. Here are some ways to strike the right balance.
Start difficult conversations early
Many parents often wait to have uncomfortable conversations when in fact these talks should happen early and often. Broaching subjects like marijuana and alcohol use before they ever become disciplinary issues helps establish an open dialogue while the stakes are lower and the child isn’t on the defensive.
“You want to talk about these topics normally and naturally,” said Gemma Taylor, a licensed clinical social worker at Summit Community Care Clinic, which works in collaboration with Summit School District. “If you’re talking about weekend plans, go ahead and talk about peer pressure.”
Role-playing might seem awkward at first, but Taylor said it produces great results. You might think your children are equipped to respond to certain situations since you’ve talked about them before, but the extra step of role-play ensures they’ve had a chance to think through the specific words they’re going to use and the actions they’re going to take.
“Practice using the words. How are you going to stand up for yourself? How will you explain?” Taylor said. “How will you tell a friend that you’re not getting into the car after they’ve been drinking?”
Without judging or giving your opinion, ask open ended questions about how your child might have handled a situation, or what they may have done even as a bystander, said Catherine Smith, a Communities That Care board member and Summit County parent,
“Keep your conversations short so the child stays engaged, but try to have these conversations often,” Smith said. “Above all, don’t turn it into a ‘lecture.’”
Involve your children when setting clear expectations and consequences
When children feel involved and validated, they’re less likely to act out and more likely to respect the house rules. Smith said it seems to backfire when parents don’t give their kids a voice.
“Having a calm discussion about your perspective on the rules and why they are important to you and your family values, but also allowing the kids to chime in on their perspective,” Smith said. “A discussion like that may lead to a slight change in the rule that ultimately works for all, yet still ‘enforces’ something that parents feel strongly about for their child’s safety and well being.”
Don’t become your child’s enemy
Kellyn Glynn, a licensed professional therapist at Summit Community Care Clinic, sees many parents come down with a heavy hand on a child’s first offense, or for things that fall under the “normal teen behavior” category. When punishment is severe, parents run the risk of becoming the enemy.
“At this age, parents need the relationship to be open so they can support, guide and mentor. It’s important for parents to step back from their emotional responses and be able to discuss the event and talk to the adolescent with understanding and empathy,” Glynn said. “You want to nip behavior in the bud and make sure it’s not done again, but more conversation as opposed to severe punishment can be more beneficial.”
Validate your children
When your teenage child is struggling, show them compassion and understanding rather than contempt. This helps keep the lines of communication open when it comes to decisions about alcohol, marijuana, sexual activity, vaping and other tricky topics.
“Parents can get nervous in difficult situations, but if you can first establish a connection before instructing the consequence, you’ll go a lot further,” Glynn said. “Little nuggets of validation and empathy and understanding to show you’re on their side will make it more likely they’ll come to you.”
Smith suggests taking some time to look at the world through the perspective of today’s teens.
“Look at all of the challenges our teens face that we didn’t,” she said.
If parents are drinking every night, what kind of message is that sending to your children? Taylor said parents should be mindful of how their behaviors are influencing their children.
“Kids learn how to behave, react, handle emotions by watching their parents or caregivers,” Taylor said. “It’s important that parents are taking care of themselves, too. Take the time for yourself to exercise, eat well, invest in your marriage — whatever that self care looks like for you.”
Help your children find their passions, independence
How can your children learn about themselves and what they want to become if they don’t try new things?
“At an early age, encourage kids to do extracurricular activities,” Taylor said. “Parents need to help kids foster their interests and passions. It develops their interests, deepens their sense of self, increases confidence and keeps them surrounded by other supportive adults.”
Helping them find these interests also requires giving them some independence, which Smith said is such an important part of parenting.
“They need life skills — is it better to let them try and fail while you’re around to help with the result if needed?” Smith said. “Won’t it feel great to let them try and when they succeed, be right there to celebrate the accomplishment, to be able let them know how much their success says about who they are becoming.”
Be on the same page as parents
Parents have to be a unified front so that teens aren’t getting mixed messages about where the boundary lines are. Glynn said parents might have different styles, but they need to agree on the expectations they set for their children. Parents should get in front of challenging situations by having a plan for how they’re going to react. And when things don’t go according to plan, acknowledgement will go a long way.
“Nobody is perfect, parents will have reactions, but being able to own up to that and admit when you’ve overreacted is important,” Glynn said. “Be flexible.”
And if you’re divorced, Glynn said you shouldn’t talk badly about your ex.
“If you talk negatively, it’s going to separate you more from your children,” she said.
Smith suggests that parents discuss each other’s thoughts and feelings on what’s most important about their children’s safety and values.
“What is each parent’s top priority for instilling values and keeping their children safe? Stand together on those priorities.”
It’s also important to build relationships with the parents of your children’s friends. Get their phone numbers and communicate when issues arise.
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