A common expression parents learn is that "kids turn into monsters when they get to the age of about 12." I am here to tell you that this is a myth and that your behavior as a parent is crucial to your teen's openness toward you.
Here are some things you should do, and if you have younger kids, start doing these things with them too:
- Trust what your teen says. It is a well-known fact that what you do has a lot more impact than what you say. If you smoke, but you tell your teen not to smoke, he will smoke, because actions speak louder than words. So if you want your teen to trust you, you need to show them HOW.
- When your teen talks to you, note any internal response in your mind that says, "I don't believe you."
- Stop it.
- Assume that what your teen is saying is the truth.
- Keep the conversation going as if it IS the truth.
- Say things that show your faith in your teen, such as "this makes sense," "I trust your judgment," "I would do the same" or "it makes it easier for me to know you always tell me the truth."
At first, this may not reflect the way you feel, but keep saying it anyway and your teen will live up to your expectations.
- Confide in your teen. The flip side, of course, is sharing your own thoughts and feelings with your teen, even if they are difficult, complicated or a little embarrassing:
- Tell them about your day, starting with the facts. This may ease your way into a conversation.
- Tell them about your feelings in different situations, including things you consider to be failures. This conveys the message, "It is OK to fail, as long as you learn from the experience."
- Tell them about yourself and your experiences growing up. Start with the general descriptions and avoid specific examples at first. Just set the stage and allow your teen to get to know you as a person.
- Use "feeling words" to describe your emotions, like "I got really frustrated today" or "I was so happy, I wanted to jump out of my skin." This will give the message that emotions are OK and provide examples your teen can use to describe their own feelings.
As before, if you are uncomfortable being "too honest" with your teen, start small and build it up. Teens can sniff out any show you put on, so always be real!
- Value your teen's input. If you want your teen to value your input, show him how by respecting his first:
- Especially in this day and age, where teens know far more about technology, fashion and what goes on around the world, find opportunities to ask your teen for his opinion on something he knows better than you do.
- State your appreciation of his knowledge and willingness to share it with you. Say things like, "I am so glad you could help me with this," "I didn't know you were THAT good" and "You obviously know about this more than I do."
- When making family decisions, ask your teen to participate in the decision-making and give serious consideration to what he says. This is excellent decision-making practice in a safe environment and ensures your teen's "buying into" the outcome.
Be patient in the early stages. Your teen may be suspicious and may take time stating his opinion. Some of the arguments may seem strange at first, so inquire into them and lead your teen to full expression.
- Focus on the positive. This is your kid, right? You love him/her, right?
- Find good things in everything your teen does and praise those good things.
- If the result is not good, focus on any progress made and praise that.
- If progress was minimal, focus on effort or even intention and praise them.
- Always separate the person from the action or the outcome. Instead of "You are a bad kid," say, "I did not like what you just did, but I know you meant well. Maybe you can try..."
You will be amazed that by focusing on the positive, your teen will start to look like a sensible, understanding human being.
For more specific situations, book a session with a good life coach or family therapist.