2002-08-01 / Other News

Being Friends With Your Adolescent Children

By Marilyn Atherley, Ph.D.

Adolescence has been dubbed the most difficult stage in the growing up process for both the young person and the parent. Those "raging hormones" have been blamed for a lot of things - messy rooms, talking back, too much attention on sex. And don’t even bother to answer the phone. It’s never for you.

While most parents recognize adolescence as a time when young people are learning to be more independent, many are unsure about just how to loosen the reins and allow more freedom, yet also keep that teenager close enough for needed guidance and support. After years of making decisions for the child, it’s now time to step back and watch the teenager experiment. He or she wants to be more in charge, to have more independence, to be "cool" with friends. How does a parent allow that necessary growth while still staying needed and connected with a child?

If your relationship with your child has been a close and loving one, then there’s no reason for it to change. If it hasn’t been that loving, make it so now. This is the time when love, attention and affection are needed more than ever. Don’t stop hugging your adolescent and telling him how much you love him; don’t stop praising and validating him.

Don’t take negative responses to Mom and Dad hugging and kissing personally, and don’t let it stop you. Do it in private. Encourage the yucky noises and fussing. It’s all part of the figuring-out process they’re going through. The chance to express these feelings helps them to clear up their thinking and understand about closeness and relationships.

A teenager put it very nicely when she said, " Don’t lecture. Don’t talk AT me. Talk TO me." Have something interesting to say to your teen besides, "How’s school?"

Teenagers also require good listeners. Teens will share their thoughts and feelings if they know it’s safe to share and that you’re listening in a caring way with full attention. You also must remember that you and your teen will have different values on certain issues. Respect his or her feelings.

Minor issues for you can feel like a major trauma for your teen. Listen without criticism, judgment or condescension, and respect requests that information be kept confidential. Whenever your teen is ready to talk, be ready to listen. The more you prove to be a good listener and hold confidences, the more he or she will open up.

Spend time together. Setting aside special time to be with your teen shows you’re willing to place him or her first and to share yourself. Giving your teen your time and full attention tells your child he or she really matters to you. Invite your teen on shopping trips and other errands. Simply talking in the car about recent activities and what’s on your teen’s mind aids the bonding process a great deal.

Show respect and trust. Many teens feel that adults always want respect but don’t think they have to give respect. Teenagers want to be trusted to make good decisions and choices for themselves; to show their integrity; to make mistakes and, if necessary, to deal with the consequences. They’re anxious to show us that they’re growing up. But they need assurances that they’re doing it well. And they need good models. Sure they’ll make mistakes, but what they learn from these mistakes depends on how the adults around them deal with them.

Be interested in their hobbies...listen to their music...go to their football or hockey games...pay attention to new clothes and hairstyles. Stay close and available, but don’t barge in or crowd their lives. You don’t have to love, or even like, all the things your teen is wild about. Just show interest. Don’t try to be cool or a teen yourself. Just be someone who’s interested and caring.

What not to do if you want to be friends with your teen? Don’t dump all your problems, worries and cares on your teen. Don’t ever embarrass or humiliate your child in front of his friends to make a point or exert control. Don’t be judgmental or compare your teen to other teens. Don’t ever start a sentence with, "In my day...!"

As much as you want it for them, adolescents also want a good, healthy life for themselves. They really want to do the best that they can. Let them have their own dreams and help them to fulfill them. Continue to hold their hand and stay close to them as they find their way into adulthood.

Dr. Atherley is an Educational Consultant and Counselor born and raised in the Caribbean. Her work, which takes her around the globe, coupled with her experience as a mother of two, has provided her with rich insights into human behavior and especially the process of learning.

"The Counseling Corner" is provided as a public service by the American Counseling Association, the nation’s largest organization of counseling professionals, and with support of the American Counseling Association Foundation. Additional information for consumers and counseling professionals is available through the ACA web site at www.counseling.org.

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