The truth is every teenager wants an open and deeper relationship with their parents. If you’re having a difficult time trying to bridge that gap, the following advice from, psychiatrist Dr. Stephen Preas, Medical Director of Promedica Psychiatry Group in Loganville, Georgia (http://www.PromedicaPsychiatryGroup.com), will give you some insight:
- “Children learn best when parents share the mistakes they’ve made in a similar situation and how they’ve fixed them. The worst thing you can do is to be an accidental know-it-all, so they’re scared to ask you questions if they need help.”
- “Never underestimate the power of discussing an issue with both parents present. It’s critical for the child to know that parents are on the same page and are the leaders. You don’t want the child to outvote one of the parents on an issue.”
- “In the course of a discussion, if a child reveals something they’ve done which warrants a consequence, it’s okay to defer that discussion until later. While you do want to keep the door open for communication, you may also need to impose appropriate consequences.
- “If your child is under the influence, ALWAYS postpone a discussion until the child has sobered up or isn’t high.”
When your teen has just told you they’ve done the thing you fear the most (drinking, drug use, sex), it’s difficult to hold your tongue and stay calm. However, the most important thing you can do in that moment is to listen and respond without judgement. Eventually, your child will learn that you’re a “safe” person to talk to when they’re in trouble or worried. Atlanta-based psychotherapist, Tara Arnold, PhD (http://www.TaraArnoldInc.com) , tells parents not to be afraid to ask questions. “Sometimes parents don’t ask because they don’t think they can deal with the answers. As a parent you will be able to handle it and get the support you need.”
Teenagers offer some of the best insight as to how to communicate with them.15 year-old Chad* says: “It doesn’t work to say, Don’t do drugs, they’re bad. Give examples of things that actually happened to you or a friend that had a bad outcome. It makes more of an impact if I know something actually happened to my parents or someone my parents know.” And from 18 year-old Nina*, “Make sure you set up a scenario that allows for a free flow of ideas and discussion. If you’re both at ease, what is said will be exactly what you want to say to your child.” Parents are often inclined to discount their children’s feelings in the moment because they can see the big picture. If your teen is hurting or angry, simply listen and don’t try to talk them out of what they’re experiencing. Later, when the emotional part has subsided you can offer advice or input if they want it. And the final, simple request that 17 year-old Jeff* made, “Don’t yell. Ever.”