At a recent “Parent Camp” sponsored by East Greenwich High School, I was asked to offer a workshop on communicating with teenagers. While fully acknowledging my own trials and tribulations as a parent, I was able to muster up a few thoughts for the moms and dads in attendance. Communication is a two-way street. It often calls for compromise, prudence and creativity. Getting one-word answers from your kids might hurt, and border on disrespect, but a change of perspective just might prove a powerful elixir.
I titled my workshop 20/20 (Well Almost) and I hope that some of it applies. 20/20 (Well Almost) It has been pointed out that the word L-I-S-T-E-N contains the same letters as S-I-L-E-N-T. While this little oddity might amuse, there can be a hidden kernel of wisdom to be learned. Sometimes, doing nothing is doing something. By this I mean the journey is long, and it is an opportunity for you, as parents, to learn something from your kids along the way.
Some Helpful Communication Hints:
1) Pick The Hill Are you drawing battle lines that will promote failure? Small battles might not ‘win’ the race.
2) Look In The Mirror Your influence will be long lasting and powerful (like your parents were for most of you).
3) You Are ‘Probably’ Not Crazy Talk with other parents and you will see that they might be crazy too.
4) Communication Is A Two-Way Street There are times when authority might be warranted–but there are also moments when you should listen to your kid’s point of view.
5) It Is Normal Your kids are only doing what ‘little birds’ do.
6) Let Them Break Free (To Some Extent) They are learning to socialize, explore, sort things out. Mistakes will be made.
7) Safety First Pink hair, obnoxious music – debatable. Health and safety, non-negotiable.
8) You Have Enough Friends Kids have their friends–you have yours. Be a good Jacques Cousteau.
9) Rebels With A Cause Their rebellion just might be conformity (or the need to do so). You probably did the same things.
10) Find Common Ground Sometimes it is OK to back off, have fun and just be a parent. Go to a movie, have an ice cream cone, etc.
11) Know The Culture Your music most likely drove your parents nuts. Your kids like their stuff, just like you enjoyed yours.
12) Different Languages–Same Meaning Maybe your kids act like ‘Aliens’ but they want to be liked, loved and to feel successful.
13) Communication Isn’t Always Verbal This applies to both parents and kids. Also, your actions speak as loudly as your words.
14) Sometimes Right Is Wrong Being right and doing the right thing is not always the same. It is OK to be fallible.
15) Being Wrong Is OK Admit it when necessary.
16) Make Sure You Have A Life It is OK to get out, laugh and get together with loved ones. You will be a better parent for it.
17) Setting The Table How we engage family, create a sense of history and belonging is essential. We all need our roots and mythological lore.
18) The Road Less Traveled Many have found success after dropping out of school or getting into trouble. It is serious–but does not have to be the end of the world.
19) A Different Voice Sometimes an aunt, uncle, coach or family friend can convey your message.
20) It Is Never Over No matter what, you will always love him/her. They may do, or say, some troubling things but in the long run, you will be the most powerful influence in their lives.
Hopefully, some of these 20 might apply to you. It should also be noted that there are many other considerations as well. Pick the ones that work. Hold those that do not in storage. Raising young people is a journey and process. Chances are you are doing a pretty good job and might need a bit of support along the way. The best parents doubt, question and change. You are an incredibly powerful influence on your children’s lives.
Bob Houghtaling is the director of the East Greenwich Drug Program. He also served on the Exeter-West Greenwich School Committee, taught at Providence College Graduate School of Education and was a consultant at the Rhode Island Training School.