By Marcia Hall
Teens are mysterious creatures. They seem to move from child to young adult almost overnight. Parents of teens frequently find themselves irritated by the things they say and the way they act. You may be trying to make sense of the chaos of adolescence, but it can be a mistake to judge them too quickly.
Here are a few myths about teenagers and how to be sure you dispel them.
My teen doesn’t care about my feelings. The words your teen uses might lead you to feel unloved by him, however, the truth is that he does care about you a great deal. Children from around age 11 and up are going through many changes. Some are physical in nature, but there are also many emotional shifts. Your child is growing up, learning a lot and realizing that at some point he is going to have to live a life apart from you. He is attempting to assert his independence from you and is at times unsure of how to do this appropriately. He will attempt many things, including talking back and disregarding your feelings. Your teen actually cares a great deal about your feelings and is looking for reassurance that it is ok for him to separate from you in some ways. While it may not be acceptable for him to talk to you in a disrespectful way, it’s important to talk to and treat your teen like an adult as much as you can. How do you respond to other adults when they say hurtful things to you?
My teenager is lazy. While some teens have better work ethic than others, the adjective “lazy” is not an accurate description of most teens. When motivated, a teen can do amazing things; even a teen who plays video games for too many hours a day can be inspired to do amazing things. The key term here is motivation. Finding what motivates your teen is important, and may be the only way to get him to get off the couch and help around the house. The best way to motivate a teen is to give him ownership of the project. If you expect him to help keep the house clean, then he needs to feel that he has a vested interest in the home. Letting him have input on where furniture goes, what carpet is picked out or what color the walls are can go further in investing your child in the home than you think. There is nothing wrong with offering incentives for your child to complete tasks, whether monetary or relationship based. However, nagging and hounding your teen will NOT create motivation.
My teen never listens to my advice. Teenagers are going though many changes and are trying to find their identity outside of their parents view. Your teen is most likely listening to you, but greatly wants to gain an independent life. He is afraid that following your advice will lead him to being dependent on you for a long time. Parents of teens have to walk a very thin line between giving advice and telling the child what to do. If your teen is still coming to you for advice, count yourself lucky, because that often stops at some point in the adolescent years too. When your child tells you a story or shares an issue he is facing, do not jump in and tell him how to fix the problem. Step back and just listen, ask questions to clarify and then validate the feelings he might be having about the situation. Once he has finished the story, you can ask him if he wants your advice. He may say no, in which case you thank him for telling you and let him know you are there if he wants to talk about it further. If he says he wants your advice, give it with caution, understanding the best way for him to learn is if he helps to come up with the solution. Because of this, aiding your child through questions can be the most helpful. Once the advice is given, it is his hands. He needs to be given the freedom to choose what he will do with your suggestions.
My teen does not want to spend time with me anymore. While it is very true that as your child gets older he will spend less and less time with you, it is far from the truth that your teen does not want to spend time with you. Most teens have more activities outside of the home as they get older and their interests change drastically, sometimes from one day to the next. The way they talk might even change. All these adjustments mean that you will understand him less and less each day. It is not that he wants to spend less time with you; it is that he perceives there are fewer things he has in common with you. Making an effort to understand the culture and how it changes from day to day can greatly improve the time you spend together because you will have more in common with him. The truth is that he still craves the time he gets to spend with his mom or dad, but realizes often unconsciously that he needs to pull away from you too.
It is too late to build good communication habits in my teen. It is never too late to teach and model healthy communication habits. You may feel that the habits both you and your child have are already ingrained in your mind and will never change, but that simply is not true. It takes small but measurable changes in your behavior to effectively help your teen communicate better. Your teen is likely looking for someone to work to understand him, even if that person never fully can.
Raising a teenager can be a maddening adventure, but it can also be touching. To see the child that was once so little and helpless becoming an adult can be overwhelming. Sometimes parents want to hold onto the little child they once knew. Unfortunately, attempting to hold on by treating the young adult like you did when he was little can cause a great deal of friction between you both. It is a difficult process to communicate with a teenager, but when done with respect and understanding it can be a less frustrating phase.