What is the best time to begin establishing good communication with your teen? "Good communication must be established with our children when they are very young," says Lynn White, M.D., director of the St. Louis Children's Hospital Adolescent Center. "The earlier we start talking to our children, the easier it will be to keep lines of communication open when they become teenagers."
No matter how good your relationship is with your child, it is bound to change when your child hits adolescence. A parent experiences considerable stress as their adolescent undergoes numerous challenges and changes.
To help parents cope, Russell G. Hoffmann III, Ph.D., pediatric psychologist at St. Louis Children's Hospital, helps parents understand what's going on inside their child's mind. "The adolescent brain really does change," Dr. Hoffmann says. "For the first time, the child starts thinking abstractly. Abstract thinking is a critical component of problem solving, and the adolescent needs to master this skill to live in the adult world."
This evolution to abstract thinking can help explain why adolescents start to challenge their parents' judgment and decisions, why they start turning to peers for advice, why they begin to test limits and rules, and why they separate physically and emotionally from their parents and families.
What can you do to soothe out these situations? Continue to show interest and start conversations on a positive note, Dr. White advises. "When your child wants to talk, drop everything. Stop ironing, turn off the television, put down the paper, give your child your attention and listen," she says.
Dr. White suggests that when you talk with your teen, try not to let the conversation turn into a lecture. Instead, allow for a give-and-take of opinions. That's why setting aside a regular family time and purposefully scheduling enjoyable family activities is important, Dr. Hoffmann adds. "This time together offers the chance to learn how teenagers see their world, and how their view is similar to or different from their parents view. It also offers parents the time to demonstrate their values through the activities with the adolescent."
When criticism is necessary, make sure it's the behavior and not the person that's being criticized. "They may not show it, but teens still want your approval and respect," Dr. White says. "Don't forget to tell them how proud you are of them when they make the right choices."
One of the best behaviors your teen can learn from you is the ability to laugh and to keep worries and fears in perspective. "Maintaining a sense of humor is key to surviving the teen years," Dr. White says.