Adolescence, with its associated issues and angst, has baffled parents from generation to generation. You can almost hear them asking: What exactly does my teen want, and how do I maintain my relationship with them?
Recently 4 teens went on CNA938 to share with Susan Ng what teens really want from their parents, and how parents can bridge the communication gap with them.
‘More independence and space to make mistakes please’
Most teens want independence, but what does this look like?
17-year-old Nicole recalled adapting to a very different environment and culture when she started her polytechnic studies. “I think initially, you really want to be your own person and just do whatever you want without your parents controlling.”
At 14, Zoe felt that life now is “in an awkward zone when you’re expected to behave like an adult but you’re treated like a kid.”
While she craves independence to juggle her different responsibilities, it does not mean she wants to be left completely alone.
She confessed, “It’s not like I have my whole life figured out. I definitely need my parents’ help because they have gone through so many experiences, and made so many mistakes and learnt from them.”
That said, Zoe thinks parents can give teens some space in areas where they are more aware of what they are doing.
“I think they can have some freedom to actually make their own decisions as we all have to go through certain experiences to learn. If we make a mistake, we’ll learn not to do it again,” she added.
While she craves independence, it does not mean she wants to be left completely alone.
Okay, we get it. Teens just want more independence and space. But often parents want to know that their teens are safe, and be informed of what they’re doing or who they’re hanging out with.
Parents want to keep the communication lines open but at times it seems like the teen is retreating and distant.
So how do we begin to bridge the gap?
1. Start slow with us
Inspired by a Pinterest post, Zoe shared this quote with those tuned in, “Don’t discourage your children just because they are making a change.”
If your teen has grown distant, and one day he or she starts to open up to you, don’t respond with sarcastic remarks like, “Oh, you’re finally telling me all this” or “Wow, you’ve come out of your cave”. Offer a listening ear and empathetic comments like, “Oh, that sounds tough” or “I think you gave your best”.
For Nicole, what works for her is to open up the conversation during meal-time. She mused, “As a family, we treasure our dinners very much because that’s when we can have ‘together time’ and have those conversations that are important to us.”
Another 14-year-old, Jillian, also suggests starting slow. Make small conversations often, beginning with questions that are safe and neutral, such as “How’s your day?” or “What have you been working on at school lately?”
Don’t discourage your children just because they are making a change.
2. Let us know you’ll be there for us
Even when our teens seem distant and quiet, they like to know that somebody is looking out for them and will always be there if they need help.
Zoe confided, “I might not want to share what’s bothering me, maybe I’m not ready yet. But it feels good to know that my parents are there for me. It’s like an assurance that I’m not alone in this problem.”
For Jillian, knowing her parents are available to talk about her worries at the end of the day is very comforting. Decompressing together makes her feel safe in their relationship. Such moments help build the emotional connection between parent and teen.
“Even though my parents may not have gone through the exact same thing, they can still relate to what’s going on.”
Sometimes it gets overwhelming, and we really don’t need you to shoot us down. We only hope that you’ll try to understand our struggles.
3. Empathise and don’t judge
When our teens approach us with a problem, it’s vital that we listen first, withholding judgement or reacting quickly and emotionally.
Zoe shared, “Accept us for our problems and flaws, and don’t underestimate the issue just because we are kids. As teenagers, life can feel pretty crazy, with homework, sports training and other responsibilities.
“Sometimes it gets overwhelming, and we really don’t need you to shoot us down. We only hope that you’ll try to understand our struggles and points of view.”
4. Tell us we are loved
It can be hard to express love to a teen, what with their sometimes erratic and difficult-to-read behaviour. But it doesn’t mean we stop trying to say “I love you”.
16-year-old Sean said, “Sometimes friendships don’t go well, and school is stressful. At times, I feel that there’s nobody here for me. Then I remember that, oh yeah my parents are always there for me. They always tell me they love me, so okay I’m not alone.”
For Zoe, that feeling of being loved in spite of her mistakes and blunders is hard to describe. The assurance of her parents’ love reminds her that they trust and believe in her, and it can carry her through some of the hard days.
So parents, don’t hold back the “I love you” even if it seems awkward. Look for opportunities to keep that door of communication open, and to find ways to express your love and admiration for your teen.
Connection with our teenagers is established with a million little steps, and we only fail when we stop trying.
Want to build a stronger connection with your teen? Sign up for The Parent-Coach Dialogues today!
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