We all like to think we are in the loop with our teens. But are we really? Do they tell us things, or do they clam up in fear of what might be coming? Sometimes we get so busy, we just don’t even take the time to hear what’s going on in their lives. Work, stress, commitments, cell phones, TV – a myriad of distractions and obligations are vying for your time and attention, not the least of which is your teen.
So what’s a parent to do?
We want to be in the loop with our teens, to know what’s happening, what’s going on in their minds and hearts, but occasionally we can derail our communication efforts and get cut out of “the loop.” Those critical discussions on topics and issues that cause your teen to worry or experience anxiety are going to need your attention and participation. You never know when a listening ear or an encouraging word from you can make a huge difference for your teen, and help to guide him or her away from some potentially bad decisions.
You owe it to your teen to make every effort to keep yourself in the loop. And I don’t mean trying to force your teen to talk to you. That’s a futile effort. The ways to keep those lines of communication open come through long term, day-to-day relationship building.
Here are 6 keys to building that strong relationship and staying in the loop with your teen:
- Don’t freak out.
Remember when you were a teenager? It’s always best if we keep that in mind as often as possible. When your teen tells you something major, or when you happen to find something out (because things WILL happen), decide ahead of time that you will have calm discussions about whatever the issue might be.
Determine to be sympathetic, even empathetic, about the problem and remain calm. I cannot overstate this. The minute you go off the deep end, you risk being cut off from any further information, and thus your problem solving abilities go to zero. As the adult, you must be the person in the room with the most self-control.
- Listen when they talk.
Don’t shut them down when they try to explain something to you. I have seen parents do this, and it makes me sad, because I can see that line of “communication” going nowhere fast. Nagging and fussing at them does no good, either. Just listen. Mouth closed, ears open. Don’t be preoccupied, and don’t put them off. It is important for your teen to know that he or she is your top priority.
- Ask the right questions.
Once you’ve listened and heard what they have to say, ask good, non-accusing questions to find out more about the situation. Engage them in conversation. Let them know you are genuinely interested in what is being said. Do this regularly so it’s not weird to them. Again, this is part of your long-term building of the relationship.
- Don’t be suspicious all the time without reason.
Automatic suspicion of your teen contributes to the erosion of your relationship and may lead to behavior that merits suspicion. Once again, the self-fulfilling prophecy is at work here. What you expect is usually what you get.
Letting your teen know that you trust him can set him up for good behavior, especially if your relationship is strong. He will think twice about engaging in questionable behavior because he will not want to disappoint you or let you down in any way. Mutual trust and respect are cornerstones in the healthy relationship you are trying to forge.
- Exercise your patience as far as it will go.
Then stretch it even further. You are going to need patience as a parent. I’m sure you have figured this out by now. Toddlers will test it, as will young kids, tweens, and teenagers. The good Lord will not infuse us with patience, although sometimes I have prayed that He would. But instead He “blesses” us with the opportunities to learn patience for ourselves. I suppose we appreciate it more when we earn it. And as parents, we definitely earn it.
- Make deposits into your “Emotional Bank Account.”
Dr. Stephen Covey wrote in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People about the emotional bank account. It is a metaphor for our relationships with others, whether it be our family, our friends or our bosses and coworkers.
Our relationships are similar in concept to a monetary bank account. If you make regular “deposits” – kind words, acts of service, being on time or early, going the extra mile for someone – then you will be in a position to occasionally make “withdrawals.” Those might consist of failing to keep a promise you made, but for a very good reason, or being late to an appointment. Withdrawals are going to be necessary from time to time. Make sure you have enough deposits in your account to cover them. You don’t ever want to be “overdrawn.”
Implementing those first 5 points I mentioned above will help you to enhance and grow your emotional bank account. Make regular contributions or deposits to that account with your teen, and she will most likely do the same for you. Your relationship will grow and flourish, and you will be very likely to stay in that all-important “loop.”
What kinds of communication issues do you have with your teen or pre-teen? Do you ever feel like you have been out of the loop? If so, and you feel like sharing, scroll down and leave a comment. Other parents need to benefit from your wisdom. I know I certainly do. Thanks, and as always,