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SALT LAKE CITY — Valentine's Day is around the corner. Though known worldwide as a day of love, for parents of teenagers it can seem more like a nightmare.
As your little angel matures, you will start to hear about who is taking who on a date; or who they hope they will go to the dance with; or how cute their lab partner is. You may even hear the words, “But daddy, I love him!” If this is all too real for you, there is one simple trick to survive this emotional and hormonal time of year: communication.
Communication is pinnacle in helping our kids keep their head on straight with love, sex, drugs, alcohol and every other influence on them. A 2002 study on parent-child communication found that kids who do not talk with their parents about drugs have the highest drug involvement. If they're not talking to you, they are most likely getting their information from peers.
Now is the time to get involved and build communication with your kids. Here are a few tips on how to get started:
1. Start early and often
Build a relationship that is open while your child is young. It is a bit easier to develop this type of relationship when they are not in the teenage stage of life. But remember, it is never to late to start communicating with your children; it may just take some time. Make as many positives interactions as possible. Even if these interactions are a few seconds at a time, they build up and create a relationship. Spending 15 minutes with your child, one on one, will also facilitate closeness.
2. Don't avoid awkward subjects
Yes, this means the "sex talk." If you can talk straight with your child about sex, drugs and alcohol, they will be more inclined to ask you questions when an issue comes up (and it will). When this happens you can be a positive influence on them.
If you are worried about drinking, ParentsEmpowered.org breaks it down to three easy steps: bonding (close relationship), boundaries and monitoring. The website also has great information on the impacts of drinking and how to approach the subject. Another wonderful resource is Canada's Teen Talk website, which is a youth health education program. The website has resources on everything from sex, dating violence and HIV to body image, self-esteem and diversity.
If it is hard for you not to stumble over your words while talking anatomy, just be open with them and explain that you are flustered with the subject. After all, you want them to be honest with you so be honest with them.
3. Sneak it in (if you have to)
If your teenager's face is always buried in his or her phone, it may be difficult to talk. Go do something active — a hike, a bike ride, a game, skiing, snowshoeing, or rock climbing. If a child has to focus on an activity they are less likely to keep up their defenses. Before you know it, you'll be in an in-depth conversation.
4. Respect their feelings and opinions
The teenage stage is the awkward stage right before adulthood. It is very important in developing the person we become. As naive and mislead as some of the statements our teenagers make are, that is their way of experimenting with who they want to be. The key is to listen to what your child is saying; think about it from their point of view and respect what they feel. Even if it sounds ridiculous to you, it is a very real thought for them. The only exception to this rule is if they are going to hurt themselves or others, then it is time to step in.
5. Lead by example
The best way to teach your teen how to develop a loving and respectful relationship is by example. As much as our teenagers roll their eyes at us, it is hard to believe they are paying attention to what we are doing. However, they model our behaviors throughout their childhood and it continues into the teenage stage as well.
When it comes to your own relationships it is important that you show respect and love in an appropriate manner. Even if you are divorced, it is important that you have respectful communication with your ex. This shows your teen how two adults can no longer be in a relationship but still be kind and respectful to one another for a common good (their children).
Jessie Shepherd, MA, ACMHC is a specialist in assisting children, adolescents and parents to overcome life's challenges. She practices at Life Stone Counseling Center's Salt Lake County location. Learn more by visiting www.lifestonecenter.com.