Are you shocked to find yourself as the parent of a teenager? Time flies by, doesn’t it? All of a sudden you have a near adult with big opinions, big attitudes and a big independent streak. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking your teen doesn’t really need you too much aside from food, clothing and shelter. There’s a reason kids do not become adults until they’re 18. They DO still need you. In fact, they probably need you more than ever but they’re less willing than ever to tell you they need you! (No one said this was going to be easy or fun!) There are ways to connect with your teen and have real conversations. However, the path to really connecting is going to require you and you teen to change a few 21st century habits.
It’s Your Phone!
Unless your child is paying for his own cell phone, it’s your phone. Make it clear to him the day you give him the phone. You make the rules. Unless/until your child gives you reason, you do not have to inspect his phone daily, however, let him know you will do this. Before giving your child a cell phone set house rules. These will differ from family to family but your rules should include:
- A curfew for electronics – computer, phone, games. Many families opt for a school night, weekend night curfew. If you do this, mean it. Collect cell phones, keyboards, game controllers each night at a certain time. If you don’t follow through your rules are meaningless. The killer for parents is that the best example they can set is that they subject themselves to the same rules. This isn’t always possible but, when it is, it’s a powerful way to teach your child.
Make Your Car A Phone-Free Zone
Whether you have a new teen or an old teen, make the times you are driving together phone-free.
Now that just about everyone has their own phone number it’s easy to believe that we’re all that important. Gone are the days where you could go on a drive and no one could reach you. That does not mean that every text, email or call a person receives is all important. Start when your teens are young. Turn your phone off or put it in the back of your car where you cannot reach it until you’ve stopped driving. No cheating, no exceptions if you expect your child to do the same.
Take advantage of the time in the car to have real conversations. This is not the time to drill your child on his every activity. Ask about his opinions on current events or what he thinks about the SAT or anything that gets you talking. If your child knows he’s not going to be grilled on his every movement/thought of the day, he’ll relax in the car and you’ll learn far more than you ever did with the Q & A approach.
Rediscover Eye Contact
There is no substitution for talking to your teen face-to-face. It’s easy to spend your days and evenings multitasking. A quick text here, an email to yourself, a text to you child about an upcoming assignment, a call to a co-worker. Stop. Think about the message you’re sending to your children. Kids, even giant kids that look eerily like adults, are not a task. They deserve your full attention. Set a schedule with colleagues and friends. Let them know you will be available to answer at x:xx time but not after x:xx time unless it’s a dire emergency. This one, simple thing sends a powerful message to your teen. You are saying that he’s worth you looking up from the shiny screen and giving him your full attention.
The thing about teens (the new teens and the old ones) is that they can seem so self-sufficient. And, in many ways, they are. But, these are the years where they are defining themselves and what kind of adults they will become. Is liking a Facebook post a good reason to miss out on this stage of your child’s life? No one is suggesting you give up technology. Rather, putting technology aside while you have time with your teen will benefit you both.