We call them ‘children’ or ‘teenagers’ but in actual fact, they are growing people whose lives, like our own, change from day to day. How can we keep pace and not lose touch with what is real to them? Here are some tips that might help.
1. Avoid using guilt or shame.
Two things that will not help with staying in tune with our children are using the person’s past or the person’s identity to try to control behaviour: guilt directs attention at the past, shame directs attention at the person. Both result in the child or teenager becoming introverted and mixing themselves up with whatever it may be that they have done. What a person does -their behaviour- doesn’t define who they are, and making a person feel negative about themselves doesn’t accomplish growth or maturity. On the other hand, being able to move on from the past and away from trying to define someone in negative terms leads to hope and a willingness on the child’s part to stay in communication and even draw closer.
2. Encourage production.
Whenever a child or teenager gets busy doing something positive, we as parents should be as supportive as we can, even if the activity is simply painting a wall, laying bricks or finishing a homework assignment. As a child accomplishes more and more he or she gets happier and happier. If they associate this upward curve with their parents, all to the good. Be an ally in their quest to get things done; remove barriers where you can; lay out pathways to achievements and completed projects, small or large. Some of them may not come to fruition, some may be dropped in favour of other, more appealing endeavours -but it will engender confidence and compassion in them if you are there for them every step of the way.
3. Heavily reward when things get finished.
Part of encouraging production is to help them to recognise when something is achieved, when a project is finished or a task accomplished. This can range from doing the dishes to completing a year at school. Play games with this and make sure that they get prizes all the way when things get done. It’s not really a case of ‘bribing’ them to do unpleasant tasks, it’s more a matter of associating completing things with positive elements. They will benefit doubly, both from the joy of finishing the thing and from whatever they get as a prize. And double-benefits for good work never hurt anyone.
4. Be open to new ideas.
An older teacher was once overheard complaining ‘I just don’t understand what they are on about these days!’ Don’t be that person! Keep abreast of current affairs and youth culture as much as you can. That doesn’t mean pretending to be a child or teenager or any cringeworthy activities like going to clubs or hanging out on the street corner: it means checking out things from a child’s or teenager’s point of view. What’s happening in the music world? Who are the current celebrities? What is the hot topic of gossip? It’s not hard to find these things out using modern technology, and you will score double ‘brownie points’ for being familiar with a modern cultural reference that they never expected you to get. Far from demeaning your status, it cultivates an aura of respect and makes them aspire to be someone like you when they grow up -which is hopefully what you want.
5. Stay ahead of technology.
‘Technology’ in terms of smart phones, social media and apps moves along at a faster pace than even the young people of today can keep up with. There is a new app for doing just about anything conceivable these days, and all of this has replaced what used to be sparkling and new in most parents’ youths, like television and transistor radios, Walkmans and VHS players. All that it means is that it is now easier and quicker to gain access to a wider field of knowledge and experiences. This can be both bad and good. As a parent, your job is twofold here: you need to stay alert to the dangers associated with, say, social media and other forms of technology that place more power in your child’s or teenager’s pocket than ever before, and you need to make the most of the advantages that technology can bring to further build your relationship with your children. Participate in on-screen games; encourage the use of safe and positive apps; use these things to enhance and educate wherever you can. Technology is a friend as well as a potential enemy -be aware of both sides of it.
If you apply the above tips, there is a strong chance that your relationship with your child or teenager will grow as they grow. You can draw closer to a maturing child -adolescence doesn’t have to mean a drawing apart. But it takes work and a sensible and vigilant approach on your part.