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Teaching through talking

EDITORS NOTE: This is the seventh column in a ten-part series on parenting teens, sponsored by the Lake Placid-Wilmington Connecting Youth and Communities Coalition. This organization of local community leaders, youth, parents, and youth development workers creates and supports local programs for youth and parents. It works to mobilize the community for the health and well-being of our youth. Teens voices Stay true to your word. Dont say one thing and do another. I came home all disappointed because I did badly on my English test. The first thing I got is even more pressure from my mother. Its not helpful. More disappointment just makes me wonder if its worth the effort. Sometimes parents dont even realize what they are saying to their children. Please, stop and think how it makes us feel. Your parents are always telling you what to do. Dont drink, dont smoke, get good grades, be home at ten, clean your room, go to church, that skirt is too short. But how much of that actually has an impact? Sometimes I wish shed just listen and let me finish my sentence. Lake Placid Middle-High School Students I dont always use my brain. I go against my better judgement sometimes in an attempt to be cool. But when it really counts, I follow what you taught me as a kid. Northwood School Senior, Lake Placid In the last Raising Teens column we talked about teaching by example. Teens learn to become adults by observing and imitating us. They also learn to negotiate the decisions and ups and downs of life by communicating with us. Its not always easy to talk with our teens. Sometimes the subjects seem difficult: rules, problems, poor decisions. Sometimes our teens are difficult: sullen, silent, evasive, too busy. Dont give up! We need to talk even when they act bored. They still depend on us to serve as steady influences, interpreters, and sounding boards so we need to have an ongoing dialogue with them. We need to communicate to find out how they are doing, what they need, and how to guide them. And listen. Communication means sharing. We need to listen as our teens talk about the lessons they are learning outside the home. We cant control these but we can discuss them. We need to listen to their opinions and ideas and give them chances to test these. At times we need to gently challenge their thinking, but first we need to listen. No topic should be off-limits. Although we are entitled to some privacy (and so are they), we need to answer their sincere and respectful questions fully and truthfully, taking into account their level of maturity. In this column, we present some strategies for communicating on everyday issues. In the next columns well discuss more difficult conversations -- on drugs, alcohol and tobacco use, and on sexuality. Making it easier for our teens to talk with us We can make it easier for our teens to talk to us when we: Pick an appropriate time (not when they are just coming home, or just leaving, or in front of their friends). Ask questions about their interests music, what their friends are doing, what they like on TV, movies. Take advantage of opportunities such as driving in the car or watching TV or movies (discussing issues of plot, presentation and emphasis can teach many lessons). Observe their moods and dont push them into conversations they clearly dont want. Some teens say their parents follow them around the house asking questions. Wait for a better time if the subject isnt urgent. Ask open-ended questions. Give them our full attention (dont interrupt or multi-task). Ask for their views and input, and respect what they have to say. Talking about ourselves is a teaching tool We will set a good example for our teens when we talk about ourselves and our experiences appropriately. We can use these conversations as teachable moments. Even if they seem inattentive, our teens are listening and learning. They watch what we do, but hearing what we think is also important. Appropriate talk about personal matters means that we dont burden our teens with our distress or helplessness. Instead we talk calmly about our challenges and how we make decisions about them. For example, if we come home from work burned out or disgusted and just complain about it, our children may get the impression that all work is miserable. However, if we talk in a calm way about what is bothering us and why we dont like it, we are teaching valuable lessons about the world of work. When we speculate about solutions, we teach our teens problem solving and stress management. When we talk about interactions with others, we teach our teens how to respect people and negotiate with them. Our teens would love it if we ask what they think about a situation we are in, but we must sincerely listen to what they have to say. Its the same with personal opinions and positions. By talking with our teens about our views on social, political, moral and spiritual issues (if we choose a good time and dont go on and on), we demonstrate the value of thinking about and discussing ideas and events in the larger world. When we ask our teens their opinions, we give them a chance to test their ideas. We show respect for their growing maturity, and we demonstrate fairness and reciprocity. Talking about problems Often we need to talk to our teens about problems: broken rules, poor school performance, poor decisions about friends, irresponsible or unsafe behavior, problems with dependability. These conversations will go better if we: Speak calmly without exaggeration, hopelessness, or raised voices. Start with telling them about some of their good traits or behaviors. Set ground rules for the discussion (for example, no interruptions, talking over, or yelling). Communicate positively by listening without judging, criticizing or correcting. Avoid lecturing or trying to score points. Avoid acting as if we know all the answers. Explain our own feelings and values on the issue in very specific terms (for example, When you dont show up at the place and time we agreed upon, I not only worry about your safety, but I also wonder if I can depend on you when there is more at stake than a ride home). Negotiate when possible. Take a break if the discussion gets heated. Remember, we will always be our teens most important teachers about who they are and their worth. Our words will resonate for them for years, just as our parents words may still resonate for us. Resources In our experience, the best short, to-the-point book that will help with communication with teens on a host of subjects is Parenting at the Speed of Teens: Positive Tips on Everyday Issues from the Search Institute. This book gives practical advice about parenting teens in the arenas of home and family, school, friends and peers, emotions, work, image, and separation/divorce. It contains valuable tips on dealing with the "everyday issues of adolescence including getting along with siblings, TV, the Internet, chores, curfews, junk food, school and homework, friends, body image, dating and sexuality. This book is available through your local library. Please think about checking it out. It can be also be purchased from the Most Valuable Parents Web site, www.mvparents.com (go to the Parenting Resources section in the MV Parents Store). The cost is $11.95 plus shipping on this site. The Raising Teens column was first published by the Lake Placid News, a community partner of the Lake Placid-Wilmington Connecting Youth and Communities Coalition (CYC). The columns express the judgments and opinions of Anna Lee Court and the experts she cites. They have been reviewed by a wide-variety of local experts in the fields of health education, youth alcohol and drug prevention, and family practice counseling as well as parents and youth. Funding for writing and researching the Raising Teens columns comes from a grant provided by the Drug-Free Communities Program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to CYC.

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