Michele Borba: 10 Secrets to Stay Connected-Even Civil-With Your T(w)een

by | Jun 16, 2010 | Communication, Listening

Last year your daughter was so sweet, suddenly she has an “attitude.”

Two months ago your son was your best bud, now he treats you like you’re totally “uncool.”

Welcome to the world of parenting an adolescent. Throw out any of those child-rearing manuals you’ve used in the past. For the tween to teen ages you need a whole new perspective. Mark Twain offered one of most ingenious solutions: “Put them in a barrel,” he said, then and nail it shut until they turn nineteen. Only then should you let them out.”

Of course we know that staying connected with our kids is critical. Yep, we intuitively know that the strongest indicator of whether our kids are less likely to engage in risky behaviors is the strength of that relationship. But how do you connect with a moody kid? And how do you converse with a species who seems to only have “uh huh” and “don’t know” in his vocabulary. There are secrets and some of them actually work.  The trick is to find the one solution that works best for you and your teen and then keep on using it until it becomes the common bridge that helps you stay connected.

10 Tips to Boost Your Connection With a Teen

Here are a few more realistic (and legal) tips I shared on the TODAY show that might help you save your sanity and stay connected with your teen.

1. Know They’re A Little Bit Crazy. If you think you suddenly have an alien in your midst, applaud yourself. You’re right. Research shows that at no other time in your teen’s life will his body be undergoing so many physical, cognitive and emotional changes. So alter your parenting to fit this new kid living in your house.

2. Get Educated! You’ve read all those baby books and mastered child development 101. Make sure you know about normal teen development as well. The more you understand typical adolescent behavior, the better you’ll be at tailoring your parenting to this “new tenant” of yours. Invest in one great book about teens, attend those parenting workshops your school puts on, do a little more of an internet search on adolescent development.

3. Don’t Overreact. You’re not imagining that those mood swings: Your teen’s quick-fire emotion switches show up on brain scans. Teens experience feelings more intensely and often overreact because they think we’re upset or angry. So try these tips:

  • Count to three (at least) before you talk to a teen (and even then .. do so carefully!)
  • Stay calm. Take a lot of deep slow breaths.
  • Slow your pace and honor the silence.(Teens acutally need more processing time!
  • Lower your voice, don’t raise it.
  • Clarify emotions: “Are you thinking I’m mad because I’m not.” (New research show that teens have trouble with emotional identification and may misinterpret our fatigue with anger. So let your child know how you really feel.
  • Bite your tongue! Nothing turns a teen (or anyone else for that matter) off faster than judgmental comments and criticism.
  • Take a time out: “I need a moment to get it together.”

4. Pick Battles Carefully. Teens will be more defiant and will take issue with things they don’t consider fair. They will argue. In a few years they’re going to be out on their own and their need to be “independent” or at least treated as an adult are paramount. Do think through what is not negotiable.You don’t want to argue every little issue so select those issues you really do care about and will not buckle. Then let minor issues go. For instance: Obeying curfew is your major; cleaning her room is your minor. Hint: I personally would never negotiate anything that would jeopardize my teen’s safety or our family values. But that’s me. The secret is to identify your major-will never bend type-issues and rules. Then stay firm!

5. Find a Common Connector–ANYTHING! Finding ways to stay connected and involved in your teen’s life is your goal. National surveys say our teens do want us in their lives (Really! Honest!) and need our guidance. The key is to find the balance between being too involved and backing away too much. For instance, try tailoring your conversation around your teen’s interests: her CD collection, his baseball card, her TV show. It might be a great entrée to what’s really going on in her life. Hint: Research shows where the generation gap is least: music! Today’s parents and teens are sharing the same CD collections. This one I know — I’m missing half of mine.

6. Get with it! If you really consider yourself “not with it” about the teen scene then peruse a current teen magazine–Seventeen, Teen People, CosmoGirl– and casually bring up “So what do you think about that (name his favorite band) concert?” Instant credibility boost. (My teens were blown away when their Granny could name–and discuss-their favorite bands. So was I!)

7. Use technology! Have your teen teach you how to text and then send text messages to each other. Ask your teen to show you how to load your ipod. The secret is to get into your teen’s world! And by the way, teens say texting is their preferred way of communicating — even with their parents.

8. Go to your teen’s zone. If you want some one-on-one talking time with your kid, then go to a place your teen enjoys: a mall, the batting cage, the golf range, Starbucks. Chances are she will be more relaxed because she’s in her territory and just might be more likely to open up.

9. Hold an evening “meet and greet. Don’t let your teen’s activity schedule stand in the way of connecting. Find a time such at 9:30 pm when the family stops and meets in the kitchen for five minutes to reconnect. Ask about their schedule and any needs. Find out how their day went. Give a snack and a back rub.

10. Name your feelings. New research shows that adolescents (boys and tweens in particular) actually have a tougher time “reading” facial expressions. They often mix emotions such as “angry” with “tired.” And that misinterpretation can sabotage your relationship. Just label your real emotion, “I know you think I look upset, but I’ve just really had a bad day at work and I’m pooped.”

11. Befriend their friend’s parents. This one can be a goldmine. Have a BBQ. Invite the mom for coffee. Start up a Mom-Daughter Book Club. Offer to coach and get to know the other dads and moms. Adolescents will pull away from us. The trick is to find ways to stay “in” their lives. One way to do so: get to know your kids friends (that goes without saying) and then get to know their parents.

Above all: DON’T GIVE UP!!! If you need to communicate via a white board or post-its, do it! Keep showing up and letting your teen know you’re there for him. Remember, in just a few years that teen will be gone and you’ll wonder where the time went. (Really! I promise!!!)

For more secrets and tips to help you boost your relationship with your child,  turn to the issues on Doesn’t Listen and Communication in The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries or check my website, micheleborba. You can also follow me on twitter @micheleborba