How can I reach my adolescent effectively?

Photo Credit:  Ben White

Photo Credit:  Ben White

I remember, sometime during junior high, what my parents said to me became less important than what my friends and I were talking about.  My parents didn't understand my mind they appeared to be more concerned about what my grades were, who I was hanging out with, and what I was doing, then truly understanding who I was, how I felt, and what was important to me as an emerging adolescent.  My girlfriends, on the other hand, understood my thoughts, validated my feelings, had similar dreams and desires.  We "got" one another.

I could feel my parents were sometimes frustrated with me, and much of the time didn't "get" me.

But that's the role of a parent, right?

To not be the friend, but to be the voice of wisdom, to "know what's best for you".

I can tell you today that every grounding "for my own good", every condescending and disapproving look to try and rein me in, every slight about my grades did absolutely nothing for the girl struggling to figure out who she was, what she believed, and what life meant to her.

Conversely, I had a best friend whose parents didn't really raise her at all.  At least not the way my parents were raising me.  She didn't have a curfew, her mom made frozen pizza every night for dinner (if she wasn't out for the evening), and my friend knew how to do her own laundry by seventh grade when we met because SHE actually did all of it for herself, and had been for years.  

It's funny; my best friend envied my family life...and I (of course) envied hers.

But the truth is, the healthiest and most functional families find themselves somewhere in the middle of my experience and my friends.

Because the fastest way to shut a kid down and create disconnection is to lecture them, or to ignore their existence.

And the quickest way to build, or strengthen the connection with your adolescent is to allow them to explore who they are, what they believe, and know that you will be right there by their side while they do it.

Yes, adolescence is traditionally a time of emerging independence and questioning of parents, buts it's also a time when we very much want our voice to continue to be heard by our children.

I've spent some time over the past several years thinking about how my parents raised me in terms of what did and what didn't work, and what would have been a kinder, more helpful approach and response for me.  I've done this because I've wanted to be deliberate about how I raise my own kids.  And, you see, if you don't think about your upbringing and question how that experience impacted you, you will defer to what you experienced as you continue down your parenting path. Or, if it was an awful experience for you, you might decide to do the OPPOSITE of what you experienced...which still may not be a healthy, relationship building approach.

Real life example:

I grew up going to Catholic school, attending mass weekly with my family.  We didn't talk about God much at home, but we did dutifully say our prayers each night before dinner and before we went to sleep. There were things I didn't understand about the religion I was being fed, but somehow I got the impression it wasn't okay to openly ask about what I either didn't understand or, worse yet, didn't agree with. I mean, who am I to argue with God, right?

As a young adult, when my husband and I were planning our wedding, we became more willing to question what we'd been taught while growing up.  We looked into options other than the Catholic church for a ceremony...but, ultimately decided since the tradition of the mass had been drilled into us, that was the "right" choice.  

Then kids came along and, of course, we baptized them.  Committing ourselves to raising our kids in the same faith and structure we'd been exposed to in our own raising.

Don't question, just do.

It's the "right" thing to do.

Then one day, not too long ago, I heard a message from a speaker so contrary to what I'd been fed for decades that it caused me to investigate further how that message might fit into my life.  The more I learned, the more I understood what aspects of my religious upbringing still didn't sit well with me.  With work on my part, I began to understand what I really believe.

Which caused a bit of a problem because I was (and still am) in the midst of raising my kids in the religion handed down to me.

So, as I have examined and reframed my approach to what God, religion, and spirituality in general means to me, I have also been very open with my kids that they feel okay to question/evaluate/investigate what they are learning and hearing, whether that be with regard to religion, the news, things their teachers tell them...

I want them to know that it's okay to question in order to help determine what they truly believe.  Even if that means questioning what I say and do.

As parents of adolescents the best way to reach your adolescent is the OPPOSITE of lecturing or ignoring them.  The most effective way to connect with your child is to ENGAGE them.  And, in order to engage them, they have to feel like you are listening to them as they question the world in order to figure out who they are, and who they want to become in the world around them.

Permission to question, to know you (mom and dad) sometimes question life yourself, is one of the best ways I know to reach your adolescent.  As a next best step to that:  listen, without attachment or judgment, and validate (notice I didn't say agree here) their feelings.  It's also okay to ask questions about their questions!

Our kids are going to shift gears and their peers will have a louder voice at some point (which is normal and natural), but you never want yours to disappear in their ears and if possible, you want to be loudest and longest voice, for all the right reasons.

Like because they know YOU are truly on their side.

Don't let them slip through your hands, if you can build the relationship with them during this developmental stage...imagine the rewards when your son or daughter becomes an adult.

Tell me, what do you do to reach your adolescent effectively?  I'd love to hear it!