Parents and teens: Can they get along?

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Where to draw the line? It’s an eternal question for parents with a teenager. It’s often like yin and yang. Together they produce all that came to be. But apart they are opposites.

Mark Twain once said, “When I was 14, I thought my father was a complete idiot and by the age of 21 (I) stood amazed at how much he had learned in those seven years.”

It’s a challenge.

Communication between parents and teens presents challenges for both. The goal, according to Erica Saxby, should not be to achieve victory in battle.

“Your goal as a parent should be to love and communicate,” said Saxby, University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service adolescence-development specialist.

“Open up room for dialogue or create an environment where a child or teenager feels safe coming to you.

“Research says teens want their parents to talk to them. They want them to establish boundaries. Often, as adults, we think, ‘They don’t want to listen’ or ‘They don’t want to follow the rules.’

“But they need those things to become responsible adults. How are they going to prepare for adulthood if an adult isn’t helping them to make the transition?”

Talk about their interests.

When parents are asked to list what they talk about with their adolescents on a given day, most conversations are about school performance, reminders of chores or things to do, curfews, the parent’s plans for the child’s future and plans for family events.

Surprisingly, little time is spent listening to the teen’s interests, feelings, ideas or plans, and little time is spent discussing feelings or praising children.

According to Evelyn Peterson, who writes a nationally syndicated parenting column, the biggest hurdle to good communications with children who are on the way to adolescence is our obsession to instruct and inform them, instead to talking and listening to them.

“Yes, we do have important things to tell them that they need to hear, but this ‘taking-care-of-business mode’ must be balanced with communication that says, ‘What you think and feel and enjoy are important to me because I love you and the person you’re becoming,’” explained Peterson.

“We have to remember that kids really don’t care what you know (even if you know a lot) unless they know you care.”

Setting rules.

When setting rules for teenagers, communicate the limits. This should be done when you and your teen are not at odds with each other over a certain rule.

“There are times when a parent has to lay down a rule and it’s ‘my way or no way’ because there are situations that will put the child in danger,” Saxby said.

“But at the same time, if you’re going to establish rules for teenagers, sometimes they need an explanation as to why the rule is the way it is because that helps them learn how to make better decisions for themselves.”

Let your teen have a say. Often, we’re too quick on setting the rules. If you give your teenager the opportunity to help establish the rules, they’re more likely to comply.

Be consistent.

If the rule is no TV until after they finish their homework, then it needs to be that way every school day.

Be fair.

On the flip side of “be consistent,” don’t add to the rule just because you’re tired. If something has come up that makes your feel that the rule needs to be changed or added to, wait until you’ve thought it through and been able to communicate it to your teen.

Don’t forget your values.

These are the things that make us the people we are. So don’t be afraid to communicate them to your teen when setting the limits.

“For example, if a parent says, ‘We don’t believe in drinking in this house,’ then it should not only be communicated in words but also in action,” said Saxby.

One component of the recently expanded curriculum is “I messages.”

“In order to get your point across, you need to tell the person how you feel, why you feel that way and when you feel that way,” explained Saxby.

“Practice reflective-type listening when communicating with your teen. Really pay attention to what’s being said and then reflect back what you’re feeling. Make sure you know the point you’re trying to get across.”

More advice.

Here are some other tips for improving communications with a teenager.

* Start early. Have conversations before they become a teenager.

* Be honest. Share what your life was like as a teenager.

* Be patient. Sometimes teenagers just get in their moods and they don’t want to talk. So give them time.

* Focus on all of the things your teen does well. Reward appropriate behavior.

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