- Focus on Connection. Our kids are running in all different directions and the older they get, the harder it seems to get THEM to have time for US! So don't lose a single moment. Use every opportunity to connect with your teen. A ride in the car. Time around the breakfast table. Right before they turn in for bed. Take these few magic moments and connect. Even if you can barely get out the words, "I love you", make them meaningful and not robotic. Try asking open ended questions and then... listen. Let them rattle on about whatever it is that is important to them for the moment. Get those few minutes of connection in before the night takes away the entire day.
- Make Time. When your teen comes to YOU and wants to talk, make it happen. Give them your full attention. Set the phone down and away. If you're driving, turn down the radio. Turn away from the computer. Fold up the newspaper. Let them know they have your full attention. Let them know that you value their connection. If there is a deadline looming that you just can't stop for at this very moment, let them know and give them a reschedule time. "Sorry, I have GOT to finish this report for work, give me fifteen minutes?" "I have to leave for a meeting in just ten minutes, but can we reschedule for tonight when I get home?" Then commit to it! Don't let anything else get in the way of that time together. It is so important!! They need to feel valued, and making time for them is a great way to show it.
- Remove the Speck from Your Own Eye. If there are issues that you need to address with your teen that are causing you concern, be sure you have your own issues under control. In the life of a teen, the "do as I say, not as I do", child-rearing method just does not work. If you are smoking, your kids aren't going to hear ANY advice you have to say about NOT smoking, for example. If you are concerned about your child gaining weight and you, yourself are over-weight, your words of wisdom will fall on deaf ears. Get yourself right, or do it together. Teens are the first who will call you out on anything they even suspect as being hypocritical! Start working on your own issues and your child will see that. In most cases, actions speak louder than words.
- Nothing is Off the Table- Oh yeah... this is a toughy. Your teens are getting bombarded with more information than we EVER have. They have more outlets and more influence from more devices than we can even fathom. (And our parents were worried about the violence in our television programs and the sex in our music! Ha! Child's play!) Wouldn't you rather your kids come to you with their questions than to get advice from their peers? Be ready. Be willing. There will be some tough subjects coming your way. But by keeping the door open on your communication will deepen your bond and engage their trust. You want that. You want them to come to you with their issues instead of them feeling that they are all alone. Pray about what to say. Drugs, abortion, sex, body image issues, homosexuality, peers... God knows it all, give it to Him and He'll help you with what to say and how to love on your child when the time comes. So just trust Him and keep that door open. If they feel uncomfortable or feel you will judge them for even just asking a question, they WILL find their answers elsewhere.
And one more note... Stay calm. Even if every single muscle is rebelling wand dying to react, take a deep breath before uttering one single syllable! If your child thinks you can't handle the conversation or are going to "freak out" or you're going to turn everything into a lecture... they will be less likely to confide in you and go elsewhere to find their answers. Stay calm...
-Blame Stops Here. Everyone makes mistakes. We need to teach our children to take responsibility for our own mistakes. Learn from them. Grow from them and don't repeat them! Lol! This is again, where they learn by watching how you handle your own mistakes and those dealing with them. Are you quick to blame someone or something else? Blame is what we use when we don't want to be held accountable for the issue, no matter how big or how small. Do not try to get them out of trouble that they need to be held accountable for. ("It's that Jimmy who is a bad influence on my Steven." "If the teacher would have done this, my Becky wouldn't have done that.) Accountability is a key factor in growing up to be a responsible, productive adult.
- Make Plans! I go back to the fact that we are busy adults and our teens are busy too. And even though their friends may rank higher on the priority list than their parents, you are still important to them and they need to know that they are still important to you. Make plans! Let them know in advance that Thursday night, the two of you are going out to dinner! Or, set up a time WITH them. "Okay, I have Thursday night free, how about you? Can we sneak in dinner between your class and my meeting?" Do something new. Do something traditional. Do something reminiscent of their childhood. Take turns planning! DO SOMETHING!! Have some one-on-one time with each of your kids. They are each unique and valuable. Leave the phones in the car (or promise not to answer them unless in an emergency) It's important. Even though they may fuss about it, and may even act out WHILE on the parent-date, I promise you, it will be one of their favorite memories. (And if you are a guilt-driven parent, you'll be happy to know that they will kick themselves later for not enjoying the parent time more! Lol!)
- Get it Out, So You Can Let It Go! If there is something wrong, don't let the anger build up. Find a way to solve it. Problems that are left unsolved have every opportunity to fester and only get worse. They rarely "just go away". You and your teen are going to have disagreements. You will not always agree about everything. (More likely, you hardly agree on ANYTHING!) But at least come together to agree to disagree. Find compromise. The best way to push your teen away from you is a dropping-the-hammer attitude. My-way-or-the-highway option... Will NOT turn out well, I promise! Talk through the hurt or the anger or whatever is causing the gap between you. Never, never use it as a manipulation tool. Anger walks a fine line, don't let it cross over into the un-healable side. Your young adult is growing up whether we like it or not and is developing his own personality. You will clash, but there is unconditional love underneath. Tap into it and keep the doors of communication open.
Those were some tough examples, I know. And sometimes those are the ones we sweep under the rug and "worry about it if the subject comes up". My advice is to be prepared for anything! I know that the teenage years are trying and exhausting at times, but they can also be extremely rewarding.
Never let your child wonder for even one single moment if you "still" love him or not. Show. Tell. Do.